When I met Sting for the first time, it was on the set of the music video "We'll Be Together". Well... that was Vesta, who's big ole voice was belting out "TO GE - THER!!!" (if you remember the song. If not, it's worth a YouTubing.) It's a great song (of course... It's Sting!) And Vesta was just the big mama to compliment the refined Englishman. However, that's not what stayed with me most. What stays with me most is a moment that came later.
Flash forward some 7 years later and I was working at 20th Century Fox for Deborah Schindler and Ezra Swerdlow, the producers of the movie Waiting to Exhale. Forest Whitaker was the director who worked down the hall, and he was the sweetest thing. I remember finding out that he told someone (in his soft-spoken way) that he wanted to meet my fiance'. I saw/interacted with Forest maybe twice during the whole pre-production stint. - I found it so interesting that he was interested in anyone who was interested in anyone who was working with him. Amazingly familial. And he created a family-like atmosphere in that little office. And so did Deborah & Ezra for that matter. (I've always heard that company attitudes are created at the top.)
In any case, every Black actress (who was on at the very LEAST the "C" list) in Hollywood auditioned for some role in Waiting to Exhale. And it seemed to me that every "A" or "B" list actress auditioned for one of the top four roles. An adaptation of an extremely popular novel; the chance of a lifetime.
At one point, a very focused, quiet woman came in to read. Her name was Halle Berry. I remember sitting there and (discreetly, I hope) pondering her from my desk while she gazed out the window. She seemed to be centering herself. "She's"up and coming", isn't she?", I thought to myself, "I keep hearing her name being bandied about lately." - At the time, I didn't think she had much "presence" (lol). Shows how much I know!
One "C" list (meaning co-starred in a couple of movies) actress came in, gripped my hand VERY hard, leaned across my desk and hit on me so directly that I felt at once impressed by her... and terrified! When my fiance' walked in and happened to look (literally) the total opposite of her, she gave me a look of such complete disgust that I felt like apologizing. But what stayed with me the most was what happened with Vesta.
She came in to read for the role of the big mama in the film (the part that eventually went to the divine Loretta Devine). Well, to anyone in the industry, that would make absolute sense. - Only, by the time she auditioned for the role, she had dropped several (actually, tens of) pounds.
A casting associate pointed her out to me and said, "That's Vesta Williams." I said, "That is not Vesta." She said emphatically, "Yes... that is." I remember the producers and/or the casting director (an amazingly talented and incredibly kind woman named Jaki Carmen Brown) having to pull Vesta aside to say, "Honey... unfortunately, you're no longer qualified for the role of the big mama. You'll have to go for the role of the sexy vixen instead." Can you imagine being told that?!
Another powerful voice joins the heavenly choirs.