As my phone interview with the effervescent Kellee Stewart commences, she mentions there is a rainstorm raging outside. I am taken aback by the image of such an unlikely atmospheric disturbance assaulting Los Angeles until she explains that she is in a town right outside of Philadelphia with the unconventional name King of Prussia.
Named for a colonial era bed and breakfast, King of Prussia boasts the second largest mall in the US. Stewart has departed the sunnier climes of Los Angeles to come home and visit the folks. She says, “You know when you get a free moment you need to come to the East Coast and hug up on the people who made it possible for you to be on the West Coast. We are extremely, extremely close, especially my mother. We really truly are the best of friends.” In short order, it becomes clear that she is not overstating.
The appearance of a mouse during her morning shower in her New York City apartment fifteen years ago as impetus, Stewart finally made the oft-considered moved to Los Angeles. At the time, fitfully making the best of sleeping on a friend’s couch, she often called her mother to share her challenges. One day, not long after finishing one of these conversations, she got a surprise second call from her Mom who she affectionately calls, “Mama Stew”.
She recalls, “She said ‘I need you to find the corner of Beverly and Pico, there’s a Marriott Residence Inn there and I put you up there for thirty days in a room with a kitchenette.’” At this point emotion cracks Stewart’s voice. “She said, ‘You have thirty days to get a job and you’re gonna do it’. I booked my first pilot on the twenty-eighth day. I made enough for a down payment for an apartment in Los Angeles and it was all because of her.”
The SUNY Purchase graduate is perhaps best known for her role in the sitcom “The Soul Man” starring Cedric the Entertainer (“The Kings of Comedy”) and Niecey Nash (“Claws”). Her admiration for both is evident. “I played the sister of Niecey Nash. If you see me on social media or you see her on social media we have become spiritual sisters. We’re super close and our families are close. And Cedric is a comedic genius.”
Stewart has just embarked on her newest adventure as part of the cast of NBC’s new series “Midnight Texas,” based on the books by Charlaine Harris. Harris has already had another book series adapted to television; HBO’s “True Blood.” Showrunner Monica Breen, whose credits include “Lost,” “Charmed” and “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D” in an interview for screenertv.com, described “Midnight Texas” as “riding the tones of horror and action and romance and humor.”
Her voice a fountain of enthusiasm Stewart, walked through the process of landing the role. She says, “I actually auditioned for the role of Fiji. That’s what I tested for. The following day, NBC called and said Monica wants to talk to you about a different role and it was the role of Madonna.” After the meeting Breen was emphatic, telling the actress ‘You are my Madonna. I already know by your energy’.”
The role meant even more to Stewart who had been trying to break out of what she calls the “BBF trope”. That is, being typecast as the “Black Best Friend”. “Where Madonna is going” she says, “is awesome.” Stewart starts to paint a portrait of an increasingly complex character explaining, “ [Breen] is giving me a chance to kick some major butt. Madonna isn’t just a cook. There is much more to tell.”
Albuquerque, New Mexico is the stand-in location for the town of Midnight Texas where the show is set. Stewart thinks the region is fitting for the type of stories and themes that will come to epitomize the series. “Albuquerque lends itself to the spirit of the show. It really serves the world of Midnight because Midnight is a place where outsiders are always welcome. Even if you’re an outsider you fit in.”
Breaking fairly new ground by having a diverse cast with multi-racial lead Parisa Fitz-Henley (Luke Cage), Midnight Texas is similar to most good fantasy-based dramas in that it is rife with metaphors that do the dirty work of engaging with the harder social issues. Stewart reasons, “The world of Midnight is these mysteriously strange beings who don’t conform. They’re protecting their world and their right to be different thru the narrative of vampires and witches and ghosts.”
Her passion for the subject matter evident, she goes on, “What I love about Midnight is that the underlying message is we’re all different but we all inhabit this world and we have to protect our right to be different and not let somebody take that right away from us. That’s their mission of the Midnighters, that’s their goal. And it’s all from a place of love so the vampires shifting shouldn’t scare you it should just show you there’s a different way to relate to each other.”
“Midnight Texas” airs Mondays 10/9c on NBC.