Image Source: Starz
Ambers Stevens West has starred in a handful of iconic shows over the years, including Greek and The Carmichael Show, but for the actress, her recent role on Starz's Run the World is definitely her most meaningful. The series, which premiered on May 16, follows four Black women living in Harlem as they navigate life, friendships, and relationships. While roles like Ashleigh on Greek helped start Stevens West's career (and introduced her to her now-husband Andrew J. West), the actress told POPSUGAR that Run the World is super special because it has the most value to her in her personal life and as an actress. "I stretched myself in a direction that I haven't before," she said about the role.
After previously starring on network TV, Stevens West was excited (and a little nervous) about the opportunity to appear on a Starz series. "The show approached me and they were saying, 'They just want you to read the script. It's for Starz. So that alone, I knew it was going to be more adult content and I have yet to be a part of anything like that. So I was like, 'Okay, am I here yet? Is this what I want to do?' Because I'm very network, TV, comedy, lighthearted, that's all the stuff that I do, which I truly do enjoy, but maybe it's time for me to step it up a notch and try to see what else I can do. So I read the script not knowing which character they had me in mind for, but I really identified with all the four women in the show. And the sexy parts of it, like [the] intimacy stuff, wasn't gratuitous. It was through the lens of a female."
Stevens West emphasized that the series being created by women, for women was another added bonus for her. "The show was written by a woman. It was inspired by real women. That just gave it a level of authenticity," she said. "When you tell a story from a real place, it's just better, because real life is interesting. So, I just related to all four of the characters and I was like, I'll play any of these people. I just want to be a part of something that's highlighting what it's like to be a woman. I loved the female friendships. That's my favorite genre. Just give me women who love each other and they're there for each other, and have fun together. I relate so hard to that. My girlfriends are my family. There were so many things. It checked so many boxes. And I was like, 'Sign me up.'"
Image Source: Starz
Stevens West ended up booking the role of Whitney, who she describes as "very ambitious, driven, and focused." She added that she loves the character because in addition to all of those attributes, she's also real and flawed. "Basically, the narrative for Black women for the last decade or so has been like, 'We're coming up, and we're killing it, and we're in the workforce, and we're making all this money, and we're being fabulous,' but it's almost like you can't be flawed. They're just being excellent all the time and killing it, and it's intimidating to men, and can you actually get a man and also have all these things? What I love about this show and my character, is that, yes, she's killing it. She loves her career. She is in a loving relationship with a lovely, successful man who dotes on her and adores her. She has it all, and yet, she is super flawed. You see all of her flaws, especially this entire first season. It's like she's coming undone and it just humanizes the experience. You can go out there and you can go after everything you want, but also you're going to make mistakes. You're going to stumble and fall and you're going to need to lean on people. So, that's what I love about it. I just find that it's such an admirable character and all of the women on the show are that way."
"We're showing the diversity of the Black female experience."
Of course, one of the biggest reasons she loved the show is getting to highlight all different types of Black women on screen. "The more that we learn about the specificities of the differences between us, the more we realize how much we are more alike," she said. "I'm really proud to be a part of something like that. It's been very validating to be a character that gets to be herself, and we're showing the diversity of the Black female experience." She added, "It was just so validating to me to finally feel like I can really be who I am as a biracial woman."
As a biracial woman, Stevens West admitted she didn't always see herself represented on screen. Even as I asked her what actresses or celebrities she personally looked up to growing up, she struggled to come up with an answer. "There weren't many," she admitted. "When I was growing up, I was really interested in music. So I focused a lot on that world, and the people that jumped out to me was someone like Alicia Keys. She really stood out to me because she kind of looks like me, and she was being very authentically herself. Then it was people like Fefe Dobson. She had one song, but she was a Black girl who dressed like Avril Lavigne and that was me in high school. That representation is so validating as well. I needed to see a girl who looked like me, who still dressed like what the typical white girl was wearing at the time. So little moments like that are the people who stand out to me [and] meant a lot at that time. Off the top of my head, those are the only two I can think of, which is not a long list."
Stevens West pinpoints this as one of the biggest ways Hollywood still has a lot of work left to do when it comes to representation. "The thing that's missing is, yes, we have more ethnicities being represented on television, but they're still kind of one-note, she said. "[With] a lot of these characters, we're still showing people in only one light. She added that that's another reason why she loved starring on Run the World. "What's special about our show is that we are now highlighting how different the Black experience can be. If you are a Black girl who grew up in Houston, your experience as a Black person is very different than mine growing up in Los Angeles. It's very different if you come from a Nigerian family, as opposed to just the Black American family. There's so many different ways to be Black. That's what I'm excited about doing more of in television. Because I found that there weren't a lot of characters in shows or movies that I could relate to. So I didn't realize that that was lacking so much until I got this job and someone asked me, 'What is it like to be a part of the show that's highlighting the experience of four Black women?' and I burst into tears because I didn't realize I finally was being seen for me. I was Black enough to be a part of a story of women who are living with friends that are Black in Harlem. I didn't know that that was something that I could play, but I am that, and I can be that, and I am representing lots of other people who look and sound like me. So there's work to be done, but we have come a long way for sure."
Image Source: Everett Collection
While Stevens West is especially proud of Run the World, she also has a lot of love for her previous roles. "I've been really lucky that I've been able to be a part of shows that allow me to just kind of be me," she said. With Greek, she never imagined the show would be as big as it is now, but she always knew there was "something special" about it. "It was highlighting the college experience in a way that hasn't been done before and just seemed so necessary and obvious," she said. "It was also showing the experience of what it was like to be a gay man in school, but not using it as a gimmick. [Calvin] was just a regular boy who got to date. It was a lot of visibility for people on that program. So I was excited to be a part of something like that." To this day, the series still has a dedicated fandom, and the cast is just as close. "It was really special because we were all growing up together," she said. "Half of us haven't even really gone to college. That was our college experience. So it got us all to be really close. For most of us, it was like our first big project. So we are all still friends."
As for The Carmichael Show, she noted that the series inspired her in her own life week after week. "I loved doing that job, because I learned so much about myself doing it," she said. "I'm a very open-minded person. I love learning. I'm adaptable. I'm willing to change my mind, but I'm not challenged often to really express the way that I feel about something because I live in a bubble. I think most of us do. So you just believe what you believe and you move through your life. But doing that show, every character on the show had a very clear perspective and point of view that needed to be voiced. I loved being enlightened every week with what my thoughts were on our culture and our world, and what was happening around us."
Now that Stevens West is a mom — she welcomed her daughter Ava in 2018 and is currently expecting her second child — she's much more conscious of the films and shows she's showing her daughter. "It certainly informs the things that I want to do with my career," she said. "I think about, 'What will my daughter see me doing? Am I doing a service to her in doing and picking these roles?' As far as what she watches, she only watches cartoon animals at this point. So very diverse, very into pigs and mice at this point. So we're not fully there yet. I do talk to her about her skin tone though. I do want her to know that it is special the way that she looks and that all people look differently. And as she gets older, I'll have to explain the harsh realities of what it does mean to have to look the way that she does and be Black. But she's two and a half. We'll get there."
"As she gets older, I'll have to explain the harsh realities of what it does mean to have to look the way that she does and be Black."
Of course, Stevens West has a handful of projects she's eager to introduce her daughter to when she gets older. "Well, Greek is important to show her because that's where mom and dad met," she said. "I think that'll be really awkward for her. Our first kiss was on camera. It is all on tape for everyone to see. So that'll be kind of fun to show her one day if she's ever interested. She might also be like, 'That's disgusting. Don't ever show me that.' The Christmas movie that I did last year, [Christmas Unwrapped], I did because I thought my daughter would really like it one day. It wasn't about the romantic parts of the holiday season, it was more about believing in the magic of Christmas, and Santa Claus. My parents did such a great job of making Christmas so magical and special for my sister and I. I do hope that she watches that because she can watch that sooner than the other things, and is appreciative of that movie." As her daughter gets "older and more mature" she's also excited to introduce her to Run the World.
As more people tune into the Starz series, she hopes audiences ultimately feel seen on screen. "I just hope that they do feel safe," she said. "Like I said, all four of these characters are really different from each other and yet they're still best friends. I just hope it's validating the experience of being a woman and what a female friendship could and should look like. I just hope that people find themselves in these characters and also aspire to be a little bit like them as well, because they are really just admirable, good, flawed human beings, who are really focused on all the right things."