By Jessica Dupree
Editor Darlene Aedroju
“We have to be everywhere … We have to be at networks making decisions,” the star tells Heart & Soul. “I feel like the more places we are, the better we’re able to see ourselves and grow as a community.”
With a career in Hollywood that has spanned more than 30 years, Holly Robinson Peete continues to shatter glass ceilings, raise the bar and pave the way for Black stars in the industry. Last year, Peete became one of the first Black leads on the Hallmark Channel after she landed her role in the fan-favorite holiday film, Christmas in Evergreen: Bells Are Ringing.
“The film has a predominately Black cast and that was kind of different for the Hallmark Channel, we were really excited,” the actress, 56, tells Heart & Soul. “They loved it, it was the first Christmas movie [on the network] where all the leads were Black women and it was great, it went perfectly.”
With past onscreen credits that include Fox’s 1987 drama series 21 Jump Street and ABC’s 1992 family sitcom Hanging with Mr. Cooper, her latest project — which premiered Sunday — is the sixth installment of Hallmark Channel’s mini-series, titled Morning Show Mysteries: Murder Ever After.
“I love the genre of mysteries,” says the NAACP Image Award nominated icon. “I love the whole idea of solving crimes. I’m fascinated by mystery writers [and] how [they are able to] write and lead someone one way and then it goes the other.”
In Morning Show Mysteries: Murder Ever After, the star actress plays an overzealous, top morning show host named Billie Blessings, who takes an investigation into her own hands after she discovers a corpse.
We caught up with Peete, who opens up to Heart & Soul about her new role on Morning Show Mysteries: Murder Ever After, breaking barriers in the industry, diversifying the Hallmark network and the importance of representation in Hollywood.
Tell us about your new role, what can the fans expect from you in this thriller? We are so excited.
I love it and last I checked, there weren’t many roles of Black women detectives, I played one on 21 Jump Street. You’ve had Black women cops, but I don’t know if we’ve had many in the genre of Murder She Wrote, you know [originally by] Agatha Christie. I love that I am one of the first to do that.
I also I love working with Al Roker. Al Roker is the writer of the novels that the movies are based on. He wrote these articles called “Morning Show Murders,” loosely based on the murders that happened on daytime talk show. They turned the protagonist into a woman and we started doing these movies.
[My character Billie Blessings] is very nosy, she’s a talk show host, chef and restauranteur who loves to solve crimes. If people watch along and try to figure out what’s going on, it’s very interactive.
How did the conversation to take on a lead role as a Black woman with Hallmark Movies & Mysteries and work as a co-producer on the project get started?
I approached them probably six or seven years ago and I had friends who were also co-workers of mine that were on shows there, but they weren’t Black.
The network knew they needed to diversify. I was thrilled to help do that. As the movies came in, I was No. 1 on the call sheet and I wanted Nos. 2, 3, 4 and 5 to be people of color as well.
[With] getting behind the scenes, a lot of this happened over the past fix or six years and it’s been exciting. [What’s different] about Hallmark [is] a lot of people [have] talked about ‘We’re gonna diversify, we’re gonna include,’ but Hallmark is actually doing it. I’m thrilled to see the progress they’re making.
We hear about changing the narrative of Black people in Hollywood as it relates to the roles we play onscreen and the types of positions we accept behind the scenes. How do you define having “The Right” representation?
I think we have to be everywhere. We have to be on camera, behind the camera. We have to be doing craft service. We have to be in the hair and makeup trailer. We have to be in the C-Suites.
We have to be at networks making decisions. I feel like the more places we are, the better we’re able to see ourselves and grow as a community.
We don’t have as much representation as we should, considering all that we give and the way we watch [and support] television. But that is changing. I think Hollywood and people in the executive suites are noticing that we have our power and we are claiming it.
When you think about your career, what do you envision?
When I close my eyes and picture a real winning moment for me, I don’t see myself accepting an Academy Award, Emmy, Grammy or anything like that. All I see is the opportunity to help other people. I’ve always been like that and when my father was stricken with Parkinson’s disease and my son was diagnosed with autism, I knew I had an opportunity to help others and that’s where my sweet spot is.
That’s where I really get excited, to be able to raise funds for a family or to support the Parkinson’s or autism community. My HollyRod Foundation is like my fifth child. The non-profit world is a tough business, it’s very difficult, but boy, the payoff and rewards are so great when you’re able to help a family or help a community. It just feels so good that I helped and when someone needed [help], I was there.”
Follow Holly Robinson Peete on Instagram, @hollyrpeete.