From Broadway and backup singing to the big screen and hit television shows, actress Erica Ash is proving that she can and will do it all. That’s why her latest role as Gwen Sullivan on BET’s new original procedural drama, In Contempt, may be one of the best ones yet.
The show, which explores crime and court proceedings from a unique, ethnically diverse perspective, also brings into account what public defenders go through when handling complicated cases. Through Gwen Sullivan, Ash portrays an opinionated, witty, no-nonsense public defender whose tactics have earned the respect of those around her. Real, relatable and a bit of a workaholic, Sullivan represents a very real narrative as a black woman struggling to find a healthy work-life balance.
“Gwen Sullivan is human, and the character in this show offers people an opportunity to get so much information about the legal system and how the justice system works, how people fall through the cracks and the loopholes, and how police officers get off when they brutalize people,” Ash said. “It lets you know exactly what the public defenders deal with in terms of being understaffed, under-resourced and underfunded, and how creative they have to be in order to be able to give their clients a fair trial. I think this show is going to be gripping, fun, start conversations and open a lot of eyes to the underbelly of the justice system, and I think this show is going to speak to a lot of people.”
Ash, 40, is best known for her roles as Bridgette Hart on the sitcom Real Husbands of Hollywood and the bold, outspoken, yet funny M-Chuck on Survivor’s Remorse, but her latest role as Sullivan has been what Ash calls a full-circle opportunity.
“It means that manifestation works because this is something that’s been on my vision board forever, to be able to lead a show,” Ash said. “To be able to lead a show like this exceeds my expectations. It’s also further validation that God is real to me.”
Catch Ash as Gwen Sullivan in In Contempt, airing Tuesday at 10 p.m. EDT on BET.
How much of yourself do you see in this character?
There are certainly some very strong points of the character that are very similar to Erica Ash. Gwen is very headstrong and very vocal. I have always been very mouthy and opinionated. I really love that about her and about me, but also the love vs. career factor. We have a lot of similarities there. I’ve always been very committed to my career and committed to being successful, and I toy with the question of whether that’s been a detriment to my personal love life. I’m still figuring out how to reconcile it.
You landed a role in Uncle Drew, the sports comedy being released this summer. What was that like?
That was an awesome experience. Just to get to spend that much time around these basketball legends was amazing. Getting to hear the locker room talk made me feel like I was doing something naughty. Like, ‘Ooh, should I be privy to this? Do they know I’m here?’ It was great. I got to hear very candid conversations about moments in basketball history.
They were all amazing to work with. They treated me like the little sister. … I still keep in touch with those guys after the movie because it was such a beautiful, pure, sibling-type relationship we established after spending that much time together. There were a lot of laughs. That was definitely top two of the most fun times I’ve had on a set.
What was one of the craziest moments you’ve had on set?
It was actually onstage. We were doing this show and I forgot my bra. It wasn’t a Broadway show because they would’ve had some bras for me, but we had to do this running scene, and the whole scene was just talking and running. I was like, ‘Oh, my God, my boobs are just all over the place.’ And I don’t even have big ones, but I don’t like for them to flap. I was trying to do the scene running but trying to hold my boobs with my forearms so they wouldn’t be bouncing around. Afterwards, my friends were laughing at me and told me I should’ve just ran because everybody saw that I was trying to hold my boobs and run.
I have another one. I was doing The Lion King and I was Nala. I was singing Shadowland, and I would put my everything into those notes. When I got to the high notes, the pinnacle of the song, I was belting it — and I peed. I trickled. It was enough of a trickle to where I had to have my costumer meet me with some panties in my dressing room.
Have you ever been starstruck?
Two weeks ago, I went to a women’s conference and I was able to meet Michelle Obama. I’ve never had this moment, but they allowed me to go back and take a picture with her and I was just so awed. When I walked up to take a picture, she grabbed me when she saw me and was like, ‘Oh, my God, I love you. Barack and I watch your show all the time. You are so good. I’m so sorry to fan out like this, but you are so good.’ Her photographer was capturing pictures of all of it. When they sent me the photos, it’s just me with my mouth agape and my eyes are as big as saucers. The look on my face is just priceless. Under any normal circumstance I wouldn’t post, but I [posted] that to social media.
If you weren’t acting, what would you be doing?
If I weren’t acting, I would probably be hanging around a set hoping to get put on. Or I would probably write for actors or produce something because I love the idea of art and I love putting that out there. It would be something around the arts for sure.
Acting is it. I absolutely love what I do.
What’s the last show you binge-watched?
The last show I binge-watched was Seven Seconds.
Which pro athlete would you never want to trade places with?
I’m going to go old school. I’d probably never want to trade places with Dennis Rodman. He just seemed very troubled. I’d never want to trade places with him because I think there was a lot of things he had to struggle with and deal with.
What is the worst purchase you ever made?
It was this sofa. Maybe a week after I purchased it, the springs in the middle of it just collapsed. And it would slide all over the floor. It was so cheap, but I wanted to hurry up and furnish my place. I bought it and I was like, ‘Oh, this is wack.’ And I’ve kept it for years because I was just too busy to get something else. Once I do something, I don’t always have time to get back to it.
And best purchase?
My home in Los Angeles. It’s a townhouse instead of a house — someone else takes care of all the gardening and the garbage and all that stuff. My townhouse feels like a home. Everything was done, renovated, and I love everything about it. It gives me so much peace and happiness when I come home.
If you could go to dinner with one person, dead or alive, who would it be?
I would love to go to dinner with Harriet Tubman because I think she would have some really great stories. And I love someone who’s gritty. I think she would be a tough, cussin’, tell-it-like-it-is person. In my mind she’d be a scrapper, and I’d want to hear about all her stories because I know she had some run-ins that she lived through.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
The best piece of advice I’ve ever received is to find a middle ground so that no matter what’s thrown at you — whether it’s crazy, positive accolades or crazy, negative criticism — you’ll stay in this middle space where you’re untouched and you’re unfazed because what you’re meant to do is bigger than you.