Interview with Robia Scott

Thursday, May 23, 2019

From silent films to pre-codes to wartime romances and more, the entertainment industry has evolved tremendously over the decades. What was allowed to be shown on screen has shifted with the interests of the generations of audiences. By the 1960s, Ginger Rogers had quickly come to the realization that roles were not what they used to be. Gone were the days of elaborate, cheery musicals and innocent, heartwarming love stories. This was a generation in which the Production Code was diminishing fast, and the boundaries of what could be screened for the public were not as strict as they used to be. In her 1991 autobiography, Ginger stated, "I had been turning down scripts that were, in my opinion, too permissive in their dialogue and scenes."

We all know that Ginger herself was very outspoken about her beliefs as a Christian Scientist. Throughout her career, she was faced with situations that made her uncomfortable or, to us, seemed out of character from what we know about her personality and love of God. A good example of this comes from the 1933 film Professional Sweetheart. Her character, a radio star, puts on the facade that she is pure and innocent, when in reality she desperately wants to break the rules and drink and sin and date boys. Much later in 1971 during Ginger's stage run of "Coco," Ginger adamantly requested that a vulgar four letter word be removed from her dialogue. That same year, Ginger is even seen on an episode of the Dean Martin Show thumbing through a copy of "The Exorcist." So what do you do, as a devout religious individual, when faced with a situation that you might not feel comfortable with, or that might seem to be going against your religion? Of course everyone is different and Ginger is not here to answer those questions, but coincidentally I know someone who will be able to provide a modern day perspective on what I find to be a very intriguing topic. That person is speaker, author, and teacher Robia Scott.

Robia is almost like a modern day Ginger Rogers. She is passionate about her religion (Christianity), she is an actress, killer tennis player, and even found success years ago as a professional dancer. She, like Ginger, reached her peak before roles became more and more unattractive. "It started when I was twelve and saw the movie Flashdance (1983)," she told me on the phone while I eagerly listened and took notes. "That was a pivotal turning point because I was that girl that danced around the house putting on shows for the family. But when I saw Flashdance, I realized you could actually be a professional dancer. So I started taking professional classes and got a dance agent at sixteen. Debbie Gibson's 'Shake Your Love' was my first job, and after that I did numerous music videos. Then I auditioned for Prince, which was only supposed to be for the 'Cream' video. He hired me and another girl who looked like me and decided to name us Diamond and Pearl. The one video turned into almost two years, being on the album cover, and touring.

Robia as Pearl (left) in Prince's "Cream" music video
"After that, I retired from dancing because I'd already been doing it for about seven to eight years. I felt like I had had a lot of great success. Prince was the pinnacle, and so I wanted to transition to acting, so I took acting lessons. It wasn't long before I booked a part in 'Beverly Hills 90210,' and many shows followed that until 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer.' 'Buffy' was similar to Prince. It was just supposed to be one episode and then it turned into thirteen episodes. That was at the time I was becoming a Christian, and there was a big shift in my life. Entertainment was coming to an end, and God called me into ministry.

"As a Christian, when I was going out to auditions I felt like roles that I was auditioning for were roles I didn't want to do. I was not the girl next door type. I have that dark femme fatale vibe. More sexual types of roles. I didn't want to do anything with witchcraft. I loved ['Buffy'], and it was so well written, but at the same time they really pushed the witchcraft which had an effect on young girls especially. And I didn't want to be a part of that."

She began to get overwhelmed with the dark atmosphere on 'Buffy' that was all too real. "It definitely got more intense as I was there. The writers of 'Buffy' took their job very seriously. and when they were doing the scenes that were witchcraft scenes, they didn't just make things up. They researched and they would have actual spells and actual things going on and you could feel the environment shift."

I then asked Robia if there was a specific time during filming for the show that became a turning point. She replied, "They brought me back the following season after my character died. It was one of those situations that can get tricky in the industry. I had just signed with a new agent, and there's pressure to work when you're with a new agent. I didn't feel like I was confident to just say no. As I recall, they didn't have a script for me until it was too late. They just said they wanted me to come back. At that point, I still could have said no, but I didn't have that security in myself or confidence to say no, and that was my one big regret with 'Buffy.'"

Robia as Jenny Calendar in Buffy the Vampire Slayer
In the third season of 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer," Robia reprises her character in the form of what is essentially the devil disguised as her. "Being the epitome of evil, I remember how I felt. I remember going back to my room after filming it and being upset that I even participated in it. I knew at that point that that experience made it clear to me that I was not going to go against what I felt in my heart just to please an agent. It was hard for me emotionally and I regretted it. But sometimes we make a mistake and it turns out to be good because it helps us define our boundaries and find our voice."

I asked her if at the time she felt that God might be disappointed. Her response was, "I never felt that God was disappointed in me. God has a lot of grace. One of the things I teach as a minister and speaker is condemnation and feeling bad about the past is not from God. We've all made mistakes and there is a way we can let go of the regret and move forward. God doesn't hold onto it. Sometimes we have thoughts of things we did in the past. That's not from the God camp. All of it led me to where I am today.

"After my character got killed from 'Buffy,'  I stayed in acting for a little bit, but the more I went on auditions, the more it just felt like I was saying no to every single audition. And when I did go on auditions, I didn't want to. Most actresses are just striving to get an audition, and I was getting so many auditions, but I didn't want to go on any of them. So much of the content was things I didn't want to do. Nothing felt like what I was built to do. I quit the theatrical side, but I stayed in the commercial side for a while. I had always done really well with commercials. They were a bit more wholesome and clean, and I kept doing that because that was also a good way for me to keep earning a living and to stay in the industry. But honestly even that got to be where it felt like a little bit of a compromise.

"I remember getting some soda or something and I was supposed to go on a magic carpet ride and I was like, 'I don't really wanna do magic.' And then I also just felt that ... Not to get super conservative, but I just felt like the whole spirit behind advertising really plays on people's insecurities, and if they only had the beautiful hair of the actress in the commercial, or if they only had the cute outfit of the actress in the commercial ... So I just started to feel like even advertising was manipulative, and I didn't want to be a part of it.  So that's when I made the real decision that I'm completely done. I am retiring completely. It was just really saying goodbye to an entire life and stepping into a new one."

More recently, you might have seen Robia in the new and politically charged film Unplanned, released just this year. She explained, "I was intrigued by going back to acting, and this was different from anything I had done before. The story was a very God infused story. At first I was a little disappointed in the role, I would have loved to actually play a minister. But I prayed about it and realized it was different from roles in the past because of the nature of the project. The character wasn't glorifying darkness, but was integral to the story."

Robia as Cheryl in Unplanned
She went on to say that she had never been on a set with so many Christians. "When you work on a TV or film set, there are various departments. Makeup department, camera crew, wardrobe ... On this movie they actually had a prayer department. There was a hired team of five men and women that were there all day every day praying over scenes, directors, and actors. During intense scenes, the prayer team would be standing outside the set praying. That was extraordinary."

To begin wrapping up our interview, I then asked if she thought it was possible to be in God and also an actor playing roles that the public might view as unholy. She replied, "I think that really depends on the actor and the level of conviction that they have in their heart. I think it's challenging to be in mainstream Hollywood because so much of what's available definitely goes against much of the Christian values. So I think it's to each person, what they are comfortable doing, and I guess the level of their walk with God and what's important to them."

Finally, I wanted to get her perspective, as someone in the industry, as to why she thought films and television have such a huge impact on audiences, especially young people. She responded with, "The media is a powerful medium. Film, television, really influences what we believe. That's why they call it television programming, because it's programming us as a society."

I was honored to give Robia the stage here to tell her story and share her perspective. No two journeys are alike, so as a disclaimer I would like to add that none of the views expressed in this post relate to Ginger in any way, I just thought it would be exciting and interesting to share her outlook on being a religious woman in the entertainment industry, and this definitely allowed me a fascinating departure from what I am used to writing about. And I like to think Ginger would definitely get behind that prayer department idea. I should also mention that I was able to snag this interview because Robia happens to be a dear friend of mine. I met her about five years ago, and since then have attended her church several times. She has helped get me through some trying times, never failing to to be at my side to help pull me out of a rut when I need it. I have so much to thank her for.

You can find Robia on Twitter and Facebook.

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