“I was afraid the audience wouldn’t accept this side of me”

Actress-producer Vivica A. Fox on her long, winding road to self-acceptance. 

“I was afraid the audience wouldn’t accept this side of me”

When Larry David, Curb Your Enthusiasm’s star and creator, hired me in 2006 to play Loretta Black for the show’s sixth season, he told me, “I don’t want to see any Vivica Fox on the screen.” Loretta was a mom given a place to stay in Larry’s L.A. home after Hurricane Katrina, and Larry envisioned her with no makeup and her hair pulled back in a ponytail. On my first day on the set, I just stared at the rack of clothes for my scenes. A shapeless green T-shirt. A hoodie. Jeans that were too long for me. And every day before filming Larry would check my face to make sure I hadn’t snuck in any foundation. He said no glamour, but really?

It was scary. I had just entered my 40s in a business where you’re always trying to make things look perfect. (In Independence Day, I did a hair toss as I saved the world.) But when I dressed as Loretta Black and looked in the mirror, I saw Angie Fox, the tomboy I’d been when growing up two blocks from the projects in Indianapolis. My given name is Vivica Anjanetta Fox, but nobody in Indy could say Vivica. I got “Viveeka” a lot, so as a kid I told people to just call me “Angie.” It was an apology for being different. I only started using Vivica in my 20s after a casting agent told me what made me different made me memorable. Before, I had only let the people who love me see Angie, and I was  now afraid the audience wouldn’t accept this side of me.

Curb Your Enthusiasm was also a challenge because Larry didn’t work with scripts and instead had the cast improvise scenes. As an actress, I was typically told where to stand and what to say. This was different. We’d walk into our trailers and find a little piece of paper with Larry’s idea for the day: “Larry tells everyone in the house they are switching to an eco-friendly toilet paper.” You had to put on your big-girl boots because things you thought were funny would be met with Larry’s “Ennh.” I realized I was better when I didn’t come in with gags and simply listened and reacted. Getting Larry to “break” and laugh was a reward. It was the beginning of me becoming a writer.

Loretta Black is the closest character to my true self that I’ve ever played, and the experience taught me that I didn’t always have to be glamorous. I could be comfortable in my own skin and still entertain. Curb was the start of a journey for me, and a decade later, as I’ve entered my 50s, I am realizing what many people my age finally learn: I am enough.

I still work hard, of course. I am a single black woman in Hollywood who is about to be 54, so you know I have to work hard to maintain success. It’s just that I have redefined what success means for me. I used to be the one to worry: What group am I in? What shoes am I wearing? What car am I driving? Now, I worry about what I think of myself. This is what I found on my journey: I went so far to come back to myself.

Vivica A. Fox’s first book, Every Day I’m Hustling, is out this month.