JAMAICAN ON A MISSION - Roxanne Beckford
Hollywood actress and entrepreneur Roxanne Elizabeth Beckford was born at Nuttall Hospital, right here in Kingston, to Jamaican S Douglas Beckford and his wife at the time, English-born Christene Ann Crawford, in November 1969, seven years after Jamaica got its independence. Beckford remembers going to her grandfather Stanley Beckford's business — Beckford's Auto Supplies — after school and just how much fun she had growing up on the island. She also recalls being a very young girl and doing a radio special with beloved actor and playwright, the late Charles Hyatt. "Growing up in Jamaica meant the world to me — first because my primary education was second to none. I think I have a dog-eared copy of First Aid in English in a box around here somewhere. But being able to run a little wild and free on Lime Cay or in our backyard in Gordon Town or to play 007 at my grandparents' place in St Mary all helped to develop my overactive imagination. We lived next to Miss Lou at one point (I had a disastrous singing debut on her show and as such, that was the last time I ever sang in public).
"I attended St Andrew's Prep, where I was even Head Girl (yes, bossy even back then), but left after taking my Common Entrance so never got to go to the big girls' campus. I remember our headmistress, Mrs Milner, as well as my teachers, quite fondly."
When her parents divorced Beckford emigrated to Miami in 1976. She still has many relatives, including her father and sister, Alexis Robinson, who are resident in Jamaica and got married to fellow actor Bob Hoge at Round Hill Hotel & Villas in 1996.
The respected actress has appeared in such films as Father of the Bride Part 2 alongside Diane Keaton and funnyman Steve Martin, and has worked with illustrious actor Jack Nicholson in Something's Gotta Give. Her television credits include appearances in Dexter, The New Adventures of Old Christine, Hannah Montana, Bewitched, and The Bernie Mac show, among many others. Even with four active children: Cameron, her firstborn, Lila, and twins Georgia and April, Beckford has also added businesswoman to her résumé with the business for pregnant women she operates with her husband, One Hot Mama Maternity — www.onehotmama.com. SO caught up with a very busy Roxanne Beckford, who was juggling mommy duties and prepping for an audition.
Heather Elliott (HE): Your work in film dates back as far as 1995 when you played Nina (Diane Keaton's nurse) in Father of the Bride Part 2 with Steve Martin. What was it like landing that role?
Roxanne Beckford (RB): When I came to LA, I gave myself a year to find work. After 11 months, and some days, I did! I earned my SAG card on a little independent movie called The Linguini Incident. It was like film school for me, especially because I was an unschooled actor. I ended up working steadily in television, but in those days, there was a big division between TV actors and film actors, who mostly would rather die than appear on the small screen. So it was a big deal to get a part working with Nancy Meyers and her partner, Charles Shyer. I auditioned several times and when I got to the final with them they had me improvise the scene a dozen different ways. But a big movie is less egalitarian than a play or independent film or TV show, so all the improvising is for the stars, whom I was thrilled to watch! Diane Keaton was a dear heart, and very interested in the OJ Simpson trial and my take on it. (I had played a part in his last TV pilot, Frogmen, which was nearing completion when he was suspected to have killed his ex-wife and another man.) It is a huge honour to get to work even on those very small parts in big shows and movies; it means you're trusted to work with the best and not mess up!
HE: In 2003, you again played a nurse alongside Dianne Keaton in the mega film Something's Gotta Give starring the larger-than-life Jack Nicholson. What was it like working with Jack?
RB: Well, he was wearing a flimsy hospital gown — just the gown. So I had to be careful where I looked! But again, it was like going to film school to see that entire cast at work — and Diane Keaton was amazing in that movie. It was directed by Nancy Meyers, who I'd worked with before, so I must have not been terrible. Nicholson noticed me reading a book by Patricia Cornwell, and that got us talking about basketball, which is something we both love.
HE: I know a lot of people reading this right now are saying to themselves...I have seen her before in movies and on TV, yet not many knew you were Jamaican. You are more like the all-American, girl-next-door, charming co-star. How influential was your Jamaican upbringing to your career and family life?
RB: I've always had an ear for accents, so once I got to America I could sound like the people I was around, whether in the South or here in California. I've never had the opportunity to play a Jamaican on camera. I've done some voice-over work, and several times I've auditioned and done a Jamaican variant on the character, but when shooting they became Cuban, or American, or something else. I don't regret it at all, because friendship is paramount to me, but when I first was in LA I was helping an American friend learn a Jamaican accent so she could audition for a Steven Seagal movie and while I was in the waiting room, they asked me if I was there to read, but I just couldn't step over her like that. Of course, she didn't get the job either, so maybe I should have been more ruthless! As I look over my résumé, I think I've more often played characters who are completely annoying, but thanks for saying I can be charming! As for affecting family life, now that I have a teenager (my eldest just turned 15 on Sunday) I am adamant about entertaining the Jamaican way - Americans will have adult-only or teen-only parties and I want all ages around so I can keep an eye on things.
HE: What do you love most about your Jamaican heritage?
RB: I love my food, the beauty of the island, the people — the fact that we are everywhere. That there's a common ground when we find each other in far-flung places. That, no matter where I go, other people want to be Jamaican, to play reggae music and attempt to say irie in the most ridiculous accents. I mean, in Finland, and Russia and everywhere we went on a Scandinavian cruise, people knew our country. And it's little — but our influence is large. I loved that, on that cruise, when I was leaving the boat in Russia, so all the passenger passports were stacked up at the front for inspection, an entire contingent from the crew was there to find the Jamaican passenger — me! They had seen that oversized blue folio poking out. And because I'm Jamaican, I'm the fastest mother of a certain age at sports day!
HE: You have appeared in over 45 TV shows, several big screen films, in voice-over work for big names like Honda Civic and for animation series such as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but you are extremely contained as an accomplished actress with all that under your belt. Do you intentionally shy away from the glitz, glamour and fame that come with these accomplishments?
RB: Two answers — nobody's asked me to do anything terribly glamorous! But the other is that, once we decided to have children, I had to make a choice about how I wanted to raise them. I refused jobs that took me away while they were little and do I find it terribly fulfilling to spend time working rooms when there's a junior ballet recital or basketball game. The truth is, however, that most working actors in LA are working, and those who do the glamour circuit do it as part of their job. It's very important for people who want to stay sane to have a grounded family life. My friends who are internationally famous and are not stark, raving nutters see the glitz as work and come home to friends and family. It's also really strange that people who start in "scandal" or "reality tv" now have fame. No talent, but fame. I digress. I'll get off that soapbox now. I'd just like to be able to come and go and work when they'll have me. I've been on a bit of a mother's hiatus since 2000, really, and am just now able to swim back in. But that's the great thing about this business. I'll happily be like Gloria Stuart, the actress who got discovered again in her dotage and did Titanic. That wouldn't be bad at all. A good friend's mum works all the time — she's 82 and took time off to raise a lovely family. That's most important to me.
HE: You are a family woman, married to fellow actor Bob Hoge, with four beautiful children including a set of twins. How hard it is to balance career and family?
RB: We actually juggle a lot of hats. Bob and I own a business as well, One Hot Mama Maternity, and our girls work a bit. We've only let them do a few things because kids can learn horrible things on a set; mainly, that their parents are very low on the totem pole. Our twins have done a couple of commercials, including one with Jennifer Lopez, and our eldest daughter has done some voice-over work and is a complete natural. Our son, Cameron, is all sports all the time. But acting is not like being a lawyer or working in a factory. It's sporadic at best — you'll always be able to spend extended amounts of time at home.
HE: What's a typical day like for the Hoges?
RB: A typical day for us is driving, all the time. LA is ridiculously spread out. It's summer holidays, so tomorrow for instance, I'll get the girls to camp, then take our eldest daughter with me to Long Beach, which is an hour's drive from our house, to see a friend. Our son needs to get to basketball practice, then a game. Last week we drove him to Santa Barbara on Monday and picked him up Friday. We work long hours on the computer — my husband mostly, then I have an audition on the other side of the hill in the afternoon. Changes in technology mean that you can do voice-over auditions from home, which has cut commuting down immensely!
HE: Of all the work you have done in your career so far, what has been your most memorable role and why?
RB: The most memorable to me was a role in In Justice, a short-lived procedural drama where I played a rape survivor recounting her ordeal then setting free a wrongly convicted man. That was gruelling and challenging as an actor, and I was very proud of the work, which was so moving to so many people. But nothing has been seen by more people than my very first TV role, which was written by Yvette Lee Bowser, a great comedy writer who's written a couple other awesome roles for me since (Living Single and For Your Love). I played Whitley's cousin in two episodes where she got married, and people loved to hate my character! By then, Whitley was nice and loveable, so I was completely dreadful and overbearing and annoying. Like I am in real life...
HE: Was there anyone special or anything in particular that inspired your drive as an actress?
RB: Carol Burnett and Lucille Ball were IT for me. I love women who don't give a damn that they're making fools of themselves. They are who I wanted to be when I grew up.
HE: Apart from your acting career, I heard you are also something of a maternity expert. Can you tell me a little bit about what you do in this field?
RB: Well, being pregnant or nursing as much as I have, you'd be an expert too! Seriously, though, I found that it was difficult to find stylish clothing for nursing after I had my first baby. Now, of course, stylish maternity and nursing clothes are in abundance, but back then, not so much. After listening to me grumble for the hundredth time, Bob challenged me to stop complaining and do something about it. I started designing and manufacturing clothes and we created www.onehotmama.com, which is still going strong 14 years later. Styles have now evolved to the point where I don't need to make my own stuff, so we retail online and sell all over the world. It allows us to be present for our kids while working, which is a boon. And since I remember how tough it is to be a new mother, we're doing good as well. Around moms and doctors, we get recognised constantly for an episode of Bringing Home Baby that we did when our twins were born. We wanted to show that you can have a natural birth, breast-feed and use cotton nappies and not be a total hippie. It's been viewed in dozens of languages and we get e-mails every time it airs. I've also done a series on dressing for pregnancy on Expert Village - that part of my life is pretty helpful to people, and it feels good to do it. We merged Hollywood and maternity when we were featured in the Little Black Book of Hollywood Pregnancy Secrets by Kym Douglas!
HE: When you do come to Jamaica, where do you stay?
RB: With whoever has room for us. We're a big brood, so we'd take over anyone's house now that the kids are grown. It ends up being easier to be on the North Coast and have any available family come down and make a mini-vacation of it. Well, easier for us, anyway. But we can't fit in Kingston without parcelling out kids to different houses. Because I've spent 14 years travelling with a stroller, trips home have been sporadic and revolving around family weddings and other big events. But I can't go more than a couple years away. We all packed into the Starfish in Trelawny last year! And my kids love love love their grandparents and cousins there.
HE: What's next for Roxanne?
RB: Funny you should ask. I'm working on a screenplay (I know, so cliché. It's actually a requirement of living in the city of Los Angeles) about a vacation at a Jamaican all-inclusive gone horribly pear-shaped. But don't worry. Every little thing is gonna be all right.