You know that excitement you feel when you see one of your friends on TV, even if it’s the news? Imagine if it’s a friend who had been working toward becoming an actress for years and then they finally get a break! That’s the thrill I got last week when I was pitched Baking Christmas, an upcoming TV movie, premiering on OWN, starring Tim Reid, Jackée Harry, Khalilah Joi, Aloma Wright, and Leigh-Ann Rose (pictured top left).
I met Leigh-Ann Rose back when we were in college. I went to Hampton University, and she went to Syracuse, where she and my then friend from high school became good friends. You know how it goes when you get cool with your friend’s friends, right? It was that type of situation. Leigh-Ann, a Plainfield, New Jersey native, was always super stylish and about her business. After we graduated, she became an assistant buyer for Bloomingdale’s. We were a crew of young women with major goals running around New York City. Everyone knew that I wanted to make waves as an entertainment journalist, while my friend from high school was pursuing a career in education, and with Leigh-Ann, we just knew that she was working her way toward fashion stardom.
However, plans don’t always go the way you think. I eventually had a falling out with my high school friend, and Leigh-Ann immersed herself in the world of acting. She liked her job at Bloomingdale’s, but realized that it just didn’t give her the spark she needed. So, she began taking acting classes, quit her 9-5, picked up a waitressing job and eventually moved to Los Angeles to make her new dream come true, and it did. I haven’t spoken to her since then, and that was probably about a decade ago.
But I did start seeing her in commercials, in a Lifetime movie, she was even a series regular on Tyler Perry’s Love Thy Neighbor, where she played Troy, and more! I was hyped! And when I got the chance to reconnect with her during this interview for Baking Christmas, it was all love.
Here, Hello Beautiful catches up with rising star Leigh-Ann Rose about her journey toward working with veteran actors, and how anyone can put a plan in place to make their dreams come true.
Hello Beautiful: Leigh-Ann, do you remember me?
Leigh-Ann Rose: Wait, is this Starrene?
LR: OMG! When they said I’d be talking to Starr, I didn’t even think it could be you at first!
[Screaming, laughter, and redacted small talk]
HB: Wow. I think the last time I knew anything about what you were up to was that you had moved to LA to become an actress and here we are! Talk about your journey.
LR: I was an assistant buyer at Bloomingdale’s. You know I went to Syracuse and did the buying program. I got the coveted job like, if you did the buying program you wanted to work for Federated. We all wanted to go to Bloomingdales, you see it on Friends with Rachel, she was a buyer, and so I did their program and I became an assistant. I did men’s suits and then houseware, but it was a lot of accounting and numbers. I love math, but I didn’t know if I could see myself doing that forever. I was passionate about fashion. I love all the business behind it, but it just wasn’t feeding my soul and I decided to look into acting.
I wanted to express myself more and so I looked into some classes. I started taking classes while I was working [at Bloomingdale’s], but I wasn’t sure where to start with pursuing acting. so I would just be searching and talking to people and then finally, I gave myself the birthday gift of quitting Bloomingdale’s after two years. I finally quit, but it was scary because my mom was like, “What are you doing? You’re making a good living and now you’re about to do what?” She was so scared, and that energy can mess with you. I understood that she just wanted me to be secure, but I needed to be happy. So, I quit that job, finally, and I started working as a waitress in Harlem, and I found a great acting conservatory program called the William Esper Studio, and I did that two year program, and it really helped me figure things out. I didn’t know what I was doing, but at least I knew how to get better. So, it was about growing my acting career and growing my muscle.
I started doing commercials in New York and doing indie films for Columbia grad students, and I continued to grow with the work and I was very thankful for that. Then, I just got tired of New York because I was there for like, eight years, and I wanted to go somewhere else. It was either LA or Atlanta, but LA just made more sense for me for my career goals. I tried to move to LA in 2011, and I didn’t like it. It made me nervous.
HB: Was it that you were you lonely and didn’t have a network out there?
LR: Yes, and it’s tricky to make friends in LA too, especially if you’re just coming out by yourself. So, I was like, let me go back to New York. And in New York the energy is different. Like people say what they feel, they’re just more open like an open book.
HB: I hear you. It’s like in NYC, you could go out one night by yourself and end up with friends that you keep kicking it with beyond the time the night is over.
LR: Exactly. And at first, I thought I wasn’t ready to move to LA but I came back two years later, and fell in love with it, and now I want to move my mom out here. Being in LA, I saw a whole new world because I saw more of the business side of acting, and that’s where I did my actual first—crazy story— so, I moved to LA and then two months later, I booked a guest starring role on Law and Order back in New York, and I had to fly myself out there for that because they still thought I lived in New York because I was still working as a local hire there. But it was something like, I flew myself back to New York for that callback audition and I got the part, and that helped me get a manager back in LA, which helped me to get my first contract role for Tyler Perry. One job led to another and it’s—God is good. I am very thankful for the journey and I’m still learning, and I just keep growing. But that’s pretty much what happened.
HB: And now here you are. This is so trippy because I remember when I started seeing you in commercials and I was just so happy for you.
LR: I’m so happy for you too! This is such a blessing.
HB: I think our last frame of reference for each other was being on the grind in New York.
LR: Yes, hustling! I remember seeing you somewhere interviewing someone, I can remember who it was but I was like, ‘I know her! That’s Starrene!’ I think it was Love and Hip-Hop.
HB: It was probably Love and Hip-Hop [laughs]! But let’s get back on track. Tell me about Baking Christmas. I just spoke to Khalilah and she seems really cool, like our kind of people. So what was the experience like on set working with these other experienced actors.
LR: It was such a great group of people to work with. It was sad when we finished filming because we only filmed in two weeks, so toward the end of the two weeks we got so connected. We were like, “That’s my sister, that’s my brother!” Arnell [Powell] and Khalilah were so fun to work with. Ninja [Devoe] plays my sister-in-law, and Aloma plays my mom. It felt real, it felt nice to have that because I don’t have a sister, so playing along with that—Khalilah makes it so easy. She’s so personable, and I gained weight on that set eating [laughs].
HB: So you guys were really eating baked goods on set?
LR: Girl, they were laughing at me! They would take a little bite and I’d be like, ‘Let me finish this for continuity.’ Arnell would laugh at me. He plays my brother. He’d be like, ‘You gonna finish it all, huh?’ And Aloma would be like, ‘Those pants are fitting tight!’ Yeah, I definitely enjoyed working on that. But the film is about three siblings. Our mom is the head of this baking company. It’s called Patty Cakes, and we are competing to see who takes over the family business. My character worked in France, and had just earned a Michelin star. So I’m posh and I’m coming back home like, ‘Oh I’m taking this over!’ but my siblings each have their thing going for them that makes them qualified. So we are just competing out of love so that we can keep the business in the family and not let our mom sell this business. It’s a nice fun-loving family-oriented movie. It’s a good movie. I think everyone will enjoy it and it’s perfect because it’s coming right after Thanksgiving.
HB: What advice do you have for people who might be in a situation where they don’t like their job but want to quit to pursue their passion, especially if it’s something creative like acting?
LR: You should definitely set a date. Work realistically towards quitting, like if you need to save or if you need to find a hustle job, be realistic about it. Don’t quit without having a safety net to where you can’t afford to live and get through. Sometimes people quit just emotionally—like they’re just ready to quit and then they’re not really ready and then start struggling. It’s a struggle, don’t get me wrong, life is a struggle, but you have to make sure you do it right and be realistic about it and be logical. Once you figure it out like, okay, I’m going to work this hustle job and I’m going to do this to get through and study the class—whatever it is, study it. Just go after it all the way with both feet on the ground. You really have to to go after it and really respect the craft. Don’t you think because you see people doing it that they were able to do it easily or quickly. There’s so much more behind that overnight success—years of grind—but you just happen to see them now. So, you have to really respect the craft, whichever it is, and do that work. It doesn’t come easy.
HB: I know you definitely had a plan. This was not by accident!
LR: It’s not! I’m enrolled in a new class now. It’s good to keep going and don’t put a time limit on it. Don’t say, ‘I’m gonna do this by this time.’ As long as you keep growing, you’re gonna get there. Keep pursuing it.
HB: Do you ever think you’ll ever get back into for fashion?
LR: A little bit but in different ways. I haven’t been thinking about it like that but I know I do want to get back into it in some way and combine the two loves. I’m not sure how I’m going to do that, but I know I will.
HB: Are there any other projects you’re working on that you can talk about right now?
LR: There’s a film coming up next year, but I can’t say too much.
HB: But you’re working! And that’s what matters.
Watch Baking Christmas on Friday, Nov 29 at 9PM ET on OWN.