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Exclusive Interview: Actress Stephanie Charles Chats on Tyler Perry’s ‘The Paynes’

Stephanie Charles

Stephanie Charles

By Naomi K. Bonman

To kick off Women’s History Month, I did an exclusive interview with a rising actress. Ms. Stephanie Charles is an actress and producer. She has been acting for a decade since childhood, but she is known for her roles in Adulterers (2015), Instant Mom (2013) and NCIS (2003). Her most current role is playing Nyla in Tyler Perry’s latest series The Paynes, which is a spin off of House of Paynes.

Ms. Charles chatted with me about her inspirations in getting into acting, her current role in “The Paynes” and her next career moves. This rising star is definitely on the move.

So for those who don’t know you or need to be re-introduced, can you briefly describe who you are, where you grew up and all of that fun stuff?

Oh, yeah. I’m Stephanie Charles. I was born in Boston and raised in Haiti until I was six years old and then I moved to [Los Angeles] around 8-years-old. I was signed to Universal Motown for a couple of years with a group called MRZ. It didn’t pan out, but I’ve been acting as well since I was a kid off and on and I’ve been focused on it for the last seven years. 

So you are on The Payne’s which is Tyler Perry’s spin off of House of Paynes. What character do you play and how do you identify with her?

I play Nila. She is a single mother of two who volunteers at a church and an after school program which gave her solace while she deals with an abusive relationship with her boyfriend. Mrs. Ella and Mr. Curtis are like the main characters and that’s when they come in and try to save Nila from her situation. 

I fell in love with this character with the fact that she is so different. The situation of her being [in an] abusive [relationship], she was homeless and she has two kids is so far from me, so the excitement of getting into character and doing my research was pretty much the fun part of it. As well as growing as an actor. 

Is this the first season of The Paynes?

Yes! This is the first season of The Paynes. It aired January 16 I believe. That was the first air. It comes on every Friday night at 9 p.m. on OWN. 

For those who haven’t tuned in yet, what can they except to see, without giving too much away, give us a little teaser?

[Laughs] Just except a lot of laughter and some tears along the way. It has a perfect mix of obviously comedy first. And whoever is familiar with The House of Paynes, they know the formula of the balance of comedy and then some real life moments of tearing up and everything. It’s good for the whole family and anyone of any age. 

You mentioned that you started in a girl pop group, so are you still singing or just mainly focusing on acting right now?

I’m not singing at the moment. Right now I’m just 100 percent all on acting. But now let’s say I have an audition for a character that sings [laughs] that would be great! I would definitely do my warm ups and get that going, but right now acting is my 100 percent focus and my passion as well. 

Back in the day you had a small guest role in Sister, Sister, what other sitcoms were in coming up in your career?

I was in, I don’t know if you remember Smart Guy, that was actually Tia and Tamara Mowry’s little brother. I did ER, Bones and an old Robert Townsend show when I was a kid called The Parenthood.

So you’re used to comedies or family comedies?

I’m used to that, but I love all kinds of stuff. My favorite type of stuff to do and want to do and kind of cross over to is horror and Marvel or any action film with strong women characters and DC Comics. I like all that kind of stuff [laughs].

What other projects are you working on?

Right now I am auditioning and looking for projects to audition for and to work with. Whatever excites me and any opportunities that come my way. I also create my own content on social media with a group of people called FunnyDumbShitSquad. It’s on Instagram. We just create and put little projects and videos out and you know, fun stuff.

How did you guys get started with that?

I was in acting class so I know a lot of people, but me and my friend Dimitri Morantus wanted to be creative and be pro-active and take control of our careers, so we wanted to get a group of people together who write, produce and have the passion for acting and creating content in order to be pro-active, so we all came together and started to be consistent with it.

I also read that Jada is one of your inspirations, is she someone who you would love to work with one day and who else would you love to work with?

Yeahhh [laughs]! I would absolutely love to work with Jada Pinkett. I would love to also work with….who would I like to work with? I haven’t sat down lately, but I love Andy Serkis. I didn’t know that he was in Black Panther and the Avengers until I was looking him up, I was like “Wait a minute! He’s in it!” because I love him. So I would love to work with him. That would be a dream. 

I know you probably get this question asked a lot, but how was it working with Tyler Perry and the rest of the cast?

Cool as hell! They’re cool people man. There’s so much good energy. I love being around people who have such a good heart, work hard and make things comfortable for everyone. Tyler is definitely that guy. He works really, really fast paced but he’s also willing to let you be creative and express yourself which is an amazing situation to be in.

I like working with people and seeing their process of working, so that was pretty cool too seeing how everyone work because I like to learn and grow. 

What do you like to do in your spare time?

In my spare time I love hanging out with my friends, chilling drinking wine and riding my bike.

What’s your advice to actors of color who are trying to land that one big role?

Confidence is a big thing. Don’t let others crush your dream and stay consistent. Consistency is key.

Follow Stephanie Charles 

Website | Instagram | YouTube


First FedEx African American Woman Pilot Earns Her Wings

FedEx Airbus Captain and Line Check Airman Tahirah Lamont Brown

FedEx Airbus Captain and Line Check Airman Tahirah Lamont Brown

By Jason Douglas

FedEx Airbus Captain and Line Check Airman Tahirah Lamont Brown recalls her very first time in the cockpit in 1992—a momentous occasion for any pilot, but especially for an African American woman entering an industry dominated by men. Brown later became the first African American woman pilot for FedEx, and shares how hard work, creativity, determination and mentors helped her build her “office in the sky.”

When did you decide you wanted to be a pilot, and what about flying intrigued you?

I decided to be a pilot in high school. At that time I had only flown twice in my life, but the more I learned about aviation, the more fascinated I became. I enjoy traveling, meeting new people and learning about different cultures. Aviation matched my personality. It was an epiphany for me. I decided this is what I want to do, and God put people in my path along the way that helped me achieve my goal.

How did your parents react when you told them about your plans?

My mother was nervous. My father was supportive, but wasn’t sure I was serious.

As an African American woman in a field dominated by men, did you feel there were barriers to your dream?

There were barriers, for sure. I didn’t know any pilots and didn’t know how to pay for flight school.

I worked two jobs to pay for college and for flight training. I also wrote my family a letter asking them for support. I promised that if they would help me now, I would pay them back when I had the money, and they helped me.

I met Bill Norwood, the first black pilot at United Airlines, while in Tuskegee, Alabama, at Operation Skyhook and he introduced me to OBAP, the Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals. That introduction provided me with the guidance I needed, and also helped me with scholarships for flight training.

Describe your first flight and how it made you feel.

I still remember it vividly as it was exhilarating. I was twenty years old. My first flight was in a Cessna 172, a four-seat single engine prop plane. My instructor in college was with me, along with my supportive, yet reluctant father in the backseat. We took off out of Long Island and flew to Greenwich, Connecticut. I was on top of the world. I could not believe that my view was the sky.

We flew around as I tried to maintain wing level. I looked back at my dad and he was giving me the thumbs up, but I could tell he was getting a little queasy. I said: “you’re doubting me, right?” When we landed I felt like a child that was taking her first step–like the world had no limits. My father told me this was what I was meant to do. All his doubts were alleviated at that moment and going forward he only asked how he could help me.

How and when did you get to FedEx, and what was your career path?

While studying for my degree in aviation business management, one of my professors Ray Marshall, a retired Eastern Airlines pilot, made me a deal.

If I would babysit his son and pay for airplane fuel, he would provide the flight instruction I needed. That was the start of my career in aviation.

Ray helped me get my private pilot’s license. From there, OBAP helped me get an opportunity through their Professional Pilot Development program.

A flight school was just opening, so I approached the owner of the school. I explained I was a hard worker, and looking to complete my instruments license while seeking a scholarship from OBAP. If he would give me an opportunity, he would not be disappointed. I answered phones, I would clean, whatever was needed. And they gave me a chance.

I taught as a flight instructor for two years, later joining Great Lakes Airlines (United Express) as a pilot. While attending Women in Aviation and OBAP conferences I would often speak with FedEx representatives, including pilot recruiter Beverly Hyter. Beverly played a pivotal role in my decision to join FedEx. I joined the company in 2002 as the first African American female pilot.

Are you involved with OBAP today and what is their mission?

I have been an active member of OBAP since 1992. OBAP provides a means of mentorship and encouragement, to help minorities achieve their dreams. The encouragement comes from seeing people like you who have achieved.

Was there a moment when you felt like you had really made it in the industry?

While I feel like I’ve accomplished a lot, I will not feel like I’ve made it until I see more minorities in the industry. When I speak at conferences, I help provide information about FedEx and encourage minorities to apply. However, I have not seen a significant change.

What is the role of a Line Check Airman?

I became a Line Check Airman in September 2017. A Line Check Airmen is a dual role position, an instructor and an evaluator. We’re selected and trained by FedEx Express and designated by the FAA to train, evaluate and certify the competency of FedEx pilots. With respect to knowledge, skill and proficiency. 

What do you say to young people, especially girls who are interested in flying?

I tell them my life story, and that the end result and sacrifices are going to be worth it. You have to make sacrifices, and the road is going to be hard. I let them know that I am here to support them, to give them advice and to listen to them, because that was important to me. But, they will have to find it within themselves to know that it is achievable.

I also tell young people to not allow negative attitudes to affect you. This has been true for me. We can be our biggest barriers at times. We have to overcome our own personal barriers to achieve our goals.


Where Are They Now: Former WSS Intern Noelle Lilley

By Naomi K. Bonman

As an Editor or any training professional for that matter, you feel like a proud parent when you see one of your former interns out there doing amazing things within their chosen career path. Noelle Lilley, a senior and Journalism major at Arizona State University, interned for the Westside Story Newspaper in the summer of 2014 during her senior year of high school.

So, what is Miss Noelle up to now? She is an investigative reporter for Cronkite News in Arizona. She also completed an internship in the summer of 2017 with 12 News. In addition to paving the path for her journalism career, Lilley is also a part of the National Association Black Journalist (NABJ) ASU Chapter. She was afforded the opportunity in attending the NABJ Convention and Career Fair last year in New Orleans.

Noelle is on the move and is not playing any games when it comes to propelling her career for after college. We are so proud of this one, but I knew she was destined for greatness from the beginning because her work ethic as an intern was exceptional.

To view the video interviews from the beginning of Noelle’s career to now, watch below: