Actress Vanessa Bell Calloway visits Atlanta

Vanessa Bell Calloway
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Actress Vanessa Bell Calloway swung through Atlanta this week and did some media, including The Rickey Smiley Show, Big Tigger at V-103 and me.

She had plenty to talk about, including her two daughters: Ashley, who just graduated at Spelman College and works at Delta Airlines, and Alexandra, who just entered the school. She took part in a wellness symposium at the school Thursday with Mo'Nique, Star Jones, among others. Spelman is raising money to upgrade its gym facilities.

"I'm a very active Spelman mom," she said today at the Ritz Carlton downtown, where we met to talk. "I've hosted a prospective student event the last couple of years. And I do in-kind contributions."

She's currently in a recurring role on Showtime's raunchy drama, appropriately titled "Shameless," currently in its third season. William A. Macy is the focal point, a  drunk who (kind of ) leads a motley crew of children who more or less run the home themselves. Calloway plays the hairdresser mom of one of the main characters, a next-door neighbor named Veronica, played by Shanola Hampton. Calloway was given her first sizable story arc this season as she attempts to play "surrogate" mom for Veronica's baby since Veronica can't conceive.

Since the couple can't afford traditional in vitro or surrogate methods, the mother volunteered to be the womb for the baby. She tried first with an actual turkey baster, then went the more "natural" (or unnatural)  route by sleeping with Vanessa's boyfriend - under Veronica's direction. Yes, it's as outlandish as it sounds. That's how the show rolls.

"It's wickedly delicious," she said.

"We don't know what's going on behind closed doors" in regular people's homes, she added. "The crazy, messed up things that happen. This is a slice of life. This is the dysfunction side of dysfunctional people making it by any means necessary. They really do exist. They like the show and can identify with it."

Her fans, when they see the scene, "are shocked," she said. "I get a lot of OMGs."

The show revels in nudity, both male and female, in ways that are seldom flattering but frequently matter of fact. (That's the freedom of being on pay cable.) "I don't get hung up on that," she said. But she chose not to go nude for her scene. "Let Shanola do that," she said. "She's far cuter." Then she self-deprecatingly added, "People think they want to see me naked. They really don't." Calloway, 55, has done nude scenes when she was younger "when I didn't mind showing it."

The only person who gets to see her naked now is her husband, Dr. Tony Calloway, an anesthesiologist and Morehouse grad. They celebrate their 25th anniversary Sept. 3. "I really love him, more than I did when we married," she said. "I hit the jackpot."

Calloway has had a steady career (films such as "Love Don't Cost a Thing" and "What's Love Got To Do With It" and guest roles on "CSI," "Cold Case" and "The Closer"), though she has never gotten the huge roles that garner awards. She's guested, too, on two Atlanta-based shows "Tyler Perry's House of Payne" and BET's "Let's Stay Together." 

"Nobody is more talented than I am. Nobody is a better actress. I'm happy for others. I don't begrudge their success. I don't buy into that. The only thing that separates me from anybody else is opportunity. They may have the awards. Give me three great movies to do a year and I'd get an Oscar nomination, too. It's a numbers game." 

Check out her highlight reel:

Calloway also began a podcast "That's So Vanessa" that airs weekly at 6 p.m. EST Sundays, where she talks pop culture and interviews folks. So far, she said she's had 21,000 listens over six months. And she has taped webisodes in which she and other African-American actors and actresses such as Salli Richardson-Whitfield and Vivica A. Fox gab around dinner. (She's a gourmet cook.) She hopes to turn it into a series.

She is probably still best known for her role in the 1988 film "Coming to America," as Eddie Murphy's character's would-be wife, who is so compliant to his needs that she's willing to bark and hop on one foot on command.

"You never know at the time what's going to become iconic," she said. "But my kids and their friends know that movie. It's become a cult film. People know all the lines  to it!"

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