Gillian White is no stranger to Hollywood. She is a 20 year veteran of the entertainment industry, who has appeared on several hit television shows such as, The Wayan’s Bros, My Wife and Kids and Days of Our lives. Gillian is the wife of Michael Jai White, and both will be starring in the upcoming film Never Back Down: No Surrender. In a recent interview with HBCU Buzz, she talks about her career, upcoming projects and the love she has for her beloved HBCU, Howard University.
Tell us about the moment you decided to pursue an acting career? I’ve always wanted to act my whole life. In grade school, I was in the school plays and in high school I was in the drama club. I’ve always had the “bug” in me. When I got to Howard, I minored in dramatic art, and I got to see the other side of acting, such as directing. It was always in me, but it wasn’t until I came back to LA, that I realized acting was I wanted to do.
Did your passion for acting play into your decision to attend Howard University?Well, this is the point where my mom wanted to kill me. I was a basketball star in high school. I received lots of basketball scholarships, from all over. But I was so dead set on attending an historically black college, that there was no way I was picking any of the scholarships. My mom thought I was crazy, but I really wanted to go to Howard. I actually got accepted into Hampton first, and so I thought I didn’t get into Howard. Then all of a sudden, I got a letter to Howard and I said yep, I’m there!
How did you cast the lead female role in LL Cool J’s Hey Lover music video and how did it affect your life on Howard University’s campus? My friend Hype Williams, a video director at the time, called me one day. He said “I have this video that is going to be big for LL Cool J, and they need a female lead. I think you would be perfect for it.” I was 19 and I thought it was so cool. So he said “I need you to take some pictures, send them to me, let me show them to LL and let me see if he approves of you.” I had my roommate take pictures of me in the backyard, and I sent them over night to Hype, and he called me a couple of days later and said that LL likes you. I was super excited. This was my first lead role and I was excited to put my face out there. Once the video came out, there was a music video show out at the time called, The Box. They basically showed videos in constant rotation all day. You could call in and choose what video you wanted. So apparently, the Hey Lover video was huge because it played non stop. Everybody watched it. So all of a sudden I was this huge over night face on Howard. The school newspaper wrote a big article on me. It made me feel good. Everybody was really proud of me, my teachers were proud of me. The video actually led me into my career in TV and film.
Tell us about your upcoming movie, Never Back Down: No Surrender? My husband, Michael Jai White is the director, but I didn’t get the part because of him. I actually had to audition for the producers. At the time, the Sony Film producers did not know I was associated with Michael. When I went out for the part, I went in as a regular actress. I wanted to get the part on my own accord. When they presented the top actresses, which included me, for Michael to select, he explained to them that I was his wife and he made the final selection. We filmed in Thailand. This film is an action film. It is the third installment, which is also starring my husband Michael. I play the lead interest as a head publicist of a UFC organization and I’m also a single mother. My character is trying to make her way and find love. The movie comes out June 7 and will be in select theaters, but mainly digital release.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years in the acting industry? I definitely would love to get into producing. My husband and I started a company called Gigantic and, we are looking forward to putting out really good films. I would love to eventually star in a film where I am the lead and I’m kicking some butt. I want a total action film. That’s my goal. I’m very athletic and I want to put that into use as well as my acting skills.
What advice would you give an upcoming actress/actor that is attending an HBCU? Use being in school to your advantage. Take classes in the theatre arts department. Also, take some outside classes, but definitely develop your craft. Make sure you are at your best, so that once you graduate and start visiting agents, you are at the top of your game. The main advice I would like to give is that you must have thick skin, because this industry is not easy. Make sure you have a great personality, a great attitude, you work well with other people as well as have definite acting skills. You want to be the complete package. Make yourself the best you can be. You will have a lot of doors shut in your face, but always be ready and prepared for whatever doors that do open for you.
Is there anything else you would like to share to the HBCU Buzz community? I would love to talk about being at Howard. That was one of the best experiences of my life. I made some really long lasting friendships. I would never give that experience up for anything. I am so happy that I went to an HBCU. It gave me the foundation to be confident and strong as a black woman and to do this business.
Gillian White’s new action packed film, Never Back Down: No Surrender, will be released to DVD on June 7, 2016. A select theatre list has not yet been released.