New York City’s magnetic allure is palpable by watching Starz’s Run the World, but it doesn’t have Amber Stevens West thinking it is the greatest city in the world.
“I’m an Angeleno,” she tells Los Angeles Confidential. “I can’t ever say New York is better than L.A.”
However, she adds, “I love New York and I'm so glad we tell the story there because it's such a vibrant, unique place on our planet. And there's so many different people there and I'm glad we're telling the story of these particular women up there.”
Created by Leigh Davenport, Run the World follows a group of four intensely loyal best friends who live and, mostly, thrive in Harlem. When season 2 returns on May 26, the quartet has shrunk to a trio with Andrea Bordeaux’s Ella out of the country to work on her book. But Stevens West’s Whitney— a banker and lifelong people pleaser— finds plenty of support and love from Bresha Webb’s Renee Ross and Corbin Reid’s Sondi Hill while her manicured vision for life falls apart.
“I think that her intentions are always really good. This is probably the first huge mistake she's ever made in her life,” Stevens West says of Whitney. “But it's because she never really was choosing herself. She has a lot of confidence. She graduated top of her class at Harvard Business School. She's a really hard-working person who's always prioritized relationships in her life and going after her ambitions, but I think I just admire most that her intentions are always to do what's greatest in life and in considering other people's feelings as well. I think that's really a nice way to be a human being.”
Read more below from our conversation with Stevens West about Run the World season 2, being a parent in the industry and why she loves working in comedy television.
Rachelle Williams took over as showrunner for season 2. What were your conversations like with her ahead of filming?
There were so many directions we could take this character. We were left with such a big cliffhanger, so I was actually just so excited to talk to Rachelle and see where she thought these characters could go. And she picked a brilliant path. I think that it's a really believable path. It's not just for the drama of TV and to try to keep watchers. It's really about what truly could happen in a scenario like this. And I think this whole season, for all the characters, it's about choosing themselves and being as authentic as possible. And I think that's where the focus is for my character for sure.
Everything is just elevated from the first season. Our friendship is even more fun to watch because you now know these characters and it's really fun to just pretend you're a part of the group. The fashion is way more elevated this season, which we have so much fun with. Every single outfit that you see is something that you want to pause the TV and take it all in. So that's really fun. And you get to see these characters really choose themselves for the first time probably in their adult lives. And I think that's really refreshing to watch. They're not just trying to get a man and trying to do the right thing. They're really looking inward and living out their true authenticity, their true passions.
Do you have a favorite look from this season?
One outfit that I thought was really so fun is we meet Hope’s (Sasha Hutchings) fiancé and we go to his art studio. I'm in this vintage Richard Taylor blazer and a school girl-looking skirt with this giant, long ponytail-like braid. I had on this beautiful choker with this big silver rose on it, so that was an interesting choice of mixing all those things together. I loved that outfit. I ended up taking that coat home. I love it so much. One thing that I did say when I met with [costume designers] Patricia Field and Tracy Cox for the season 2 fashion— I love what they do, so I let them do their thing. But I was like, “It would be fun if we leaned into ‘90 supermodel,” but the tailored blazer version, so everything's just long and lean and structured. And so I thought that outfit gave a little bit of nod to that with the vintage blazers. It’s got these big shoulder pads and it goes in at the waist and then modernizing it with hair and makeup.
On Run the World, not only do we get to watch this tight-knit group of Black women friends, but we get to see them experience. Why is that important for audiences to see on television at this moment?
Because Black women are relatable just like any other woman. We are just women. And I think what's important about our show is that we're not stereotypes, we're not tropes, we're just human beings who are very different from one another, yet still really good friends. We show the dynamic people that we are and all sides of us. And I think it's just important to show well-rounded characters on television of all cultures because that's what makes us relatable.
And if you can show that authentically in a character on TV, then you relate to them and you understand them. And in our show, a comedy, we're not trying to prove anything like Black women are running the world. We’re trying to just have a good time and show what real people are like. But through that, I think there's a lot of power. We can start conversations. Like Sondi’s character is talking about critical race theory, but we're not trying to beat you over the head with it. Hopefully, we're portraying a character that you like, who you admire and who you want to listen to and then hear her point of view on a subject that matters to us in our world right now. And hopefully that will get your own gears going and you can think to yourself, “Okay, well maybe she does make a good point” or “That's an interesting perspective.” And when we do that, then I think we all link to each other more and have more patience and grace for one another's perspectives on life. There's just a lot of power in media and so I am really grateful that we're showing… the diversity of the Black female perspective and experience in the world, and hopefully everyone can relate to us a little bit more.
What do you enjoy about working in comedy television?
First of all, life is challenging enough. And so when we turn to television and film, it's usually for an escape to enjoy another story that's not our own so we can get out of our heads. And comedy is a really good way to do that.
I think it's just a connecting tool for humans. We lean into each other a little bit more when we've got a smile on our face and it doesn't feel like you need to have your defenses up when someone is showing their authentic, true self and they make you laugh and smile. You want you can relate to them more. And the other part of that is that I just want to go to work and have a good time. I've got one life to live myself and I don't want to be crying all day and talking about heavy things. Life is challenging and tough and I go to work and I spend 10 to 16 hours away from my family. I want to enjoy those hours because those are part of my day too.
Has becoming a parent influenced the kind of roles you choose to take?
There's a lot of sacrifice that goes into working in this industry. The biggest one of all is probably the long hours. And so if I'm going to be away from my family, especially when my kids are so little, it's got to really be worth it. And in the end, I want to tell a story that my kids will be proud of one day, like “Oh mom wasn't around, but she made this awesome show about these women who were strong and powerful and funny and kind and flawed” and be proud of the things that I went off to do. I also want to enjoy myself while I'm away from them. And then also, it can be hard because I had to move my whole family to New York. I'm from Los Angeles and that's a big ask of everybody to take them away. My family's here, their grandparents are here, now all their best friends are here. So to take them out of what they know and their comfort, it’s got to be worth it. And we don't have help, so I'm asking my husband, “You're going to be alone with these kids for a long time. I hope it's worth it.” But when I come home from work, I'm really fulfilled. And that I think makes the sacrifices worth it.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Photography by: Justin Wilczynski; Courtesy of Starz