She captivated TV audiences as Olivia, the precocious 3-year-old darling on The Cosby Show some 20 years ago. She acquired an enormous fan base of “tweens” to teens in her effervescent roles on a string of successful TV shows, among them: Hangin’ with Mr. Cooper, Kim Possible and That’s So Raven.
In addition, she was cast in several successful feature films: Dr. Doolittle 1 and 2, alongside Eddie Murphy and College Road Trip with Martin Lawrence.
Presently, she voices the character of Iridessa –the first African American fairy — in Tinker Bell, Disney’s popular animated franchise.
For the past two decades, Raven Symone has become synonymous with family-friendly fun and she has no desire to switch gears at this stage of the game.
Recently, I spoke to the charming, engaging, candid and soon-to-be-24-year-old Atlanta resident about her fairy tale image and her realistic outlook on life —
Sandra Varner (Talk2SV): Watching the Tinker Bell story brings back so many early memories of how one feels as a child seeing fairy tales; the joy and wonder that tends to be a part of this whole scenario. How does it feel when you watch these kinds of movies and how does it feel knowing that you are part of them?
Raven Symone (Raven): It feels that I’m a part of someone’s childhood forever. I remember watching Peter Pan and I’ll never forget that story. These DVDs will cater to that audience as well. To be a part of that and to know [that] as the generation watching this Tinker Bell grows up, they’ll be able to tell their children, ‘Oh, Raven was in this movie and so was this person and Lucy Liu and so on.’ That’s so cool and I’ve always said [that] I wanted to be a part of the Disney vault. Hopefully, this movie will become a classic like many others and I’ll be able to be a part of that legacy.
Talk2SV: I hope the same for you too. Cinderella was my favorite childhood story and to this day, still, Leslie Warren is dear to my heart.
Raven: Yeah, me too, I love that version. People sometimes forget and those classics are the ones that last for years and years and years. They are the ones that you put on when you have nothing else good to watch on TV; you sit down with your kids and watch. I’m only 24 and I don’t have children but and I miss that.
Talk2SV: Funny story, years ago, I remember when Leslie Warren decided to make a departure in terms of her career choices. She was cast in a fairly serious and dramatic movie. At that time, it seemed to be a shock for the audience who held her so dear because she was their Cinderella. Similarly, you are a fully developed actor, able to do whatever you want with a skill set that is unlimited. What do you consider when analyzing projects that may take you away from the audience that holds you ‘so’ dear as a cherished personality?
Raven: I never pick roles that take me away from them. They are the reason that I’m here. They are the reason that I can do this work. What I want to do is grow up with them so I don’t ever lose them. The people that were watching me when I was 15 on “That’s So Raven,” hopefully were 13-14-15 and now they’ll be 21-22-23. I’m 24, so I want to do roles that cater to what we’re going through so they can always be with me. For the kids that are watching me now, that are 14-15-16, by the time they get to my age, they’ll be able to watch the work that I did at this time. I want to make sure [that] in every role I pick, I’m able to capture my age or time bracket, to make sure there’s something to entertain you with.
Considering various roles or things away from comedy, I only do things that I’m comfortable with and, as of right now, me as a person, as a human being, I’m not a very serious person. I really don’t like serious conversations. I’m the first one to be like, ‘OK, next topic, too serious, tears are starting to fall.’ I don’t like it but I will have to tackle that eventually, especially if I want to grow up, I guess. But, I don’t want to grow up all the way just yet.
Yes, definitely, I love to act and will have and have had serious roles. One of my serious roles, as a young person, actually, I was in my teens, was “For One Night.” It was about as serious as I got. I’ll only pick roles that I believe I want to tell and that I’m comfortable doing so people understand and respect my choices.
Talk2SV: Speaking of respecting your choices, I asked my 13-year-old goddaughter, Lyniece, an admirer who has watched your shows for years, what she wanted to know about you. The first question out of her mouth was, ‘why did she stop that’s So Raven?’
Raven: Oh sweetheart, (as if speaking directly to Lyniece), it will never be fully stopped. You can always watch it. But, I stopped filming because actually, unlike network shows, I knew coming into the project that there was only going to be a certain amount of episodes filmed and we were blessed and lucky enough, however you want to put it, to reach 100 episodes. So, I actually filmed more than I was supposed to; but, at the same time, finishing that show when I was 21, and being able to do roles about college and things of that nature, that show was perfect for that age bracket and there will be more to come, I promise.
Talk2SV: That’s good to know. How has your life changed since That’s So Raven ended, or has it?
Raven: If it has changed, I think perhaps my child like mind, which actually, I don’t want it to go. I try my best to lead as normal a life as possible; I’m not really into the hype of “the celebrity” part of the business even though I know that’s what comes with it. I’m able now, if anything, able to say “no” more and “yes” more. I’m able to be a lot more picky with the choices that I make and respected for that which is just amazing. But, all the other things that come with it is kind of funny to me. I’m like, ‘ya’ll know me, stop trippin.’ It’s funny when people come up to me that have watched me over the years; they feel like I’m their little sister so I can act like that, and that’s good.
Talk2SV: Often, it is said of you, “Raven Symone has a great work ethic.” How would you describe your work ethic?
Raven: I try my best to work as hard as possible. I don’t really remember that much of the intricate details of working on The Cosby Show, but the one thing that I definitely know –subconsciously and consciously– is to always stay professional because of what I learned on that show and the shows I did afterward. And, to know how to treat people with respect whether it’s the person who picks up the trash in dressing rooms to the man who writes the checks, to the writers, the actors, everyone. I didn’t come into this industry to be a celebrity. I came here to work and to entertain people and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I love working. I try my best to be on time and to me, on time is 15 minutes early, unless I’ve got hair and make-up and it’s really not my fault. I try my best to delve deep and understand every part of what I’m doing so that I can respect everyone’s job. I love working.
Talk2SV: When you talk about working on this side of The Cosby Show, how were you chosen for Iridessa in the Tinker Bell franchise?
Raven: It’s funny, I remember getting a package in the mail of a beautiful pop-up book and I had to open it. I remember thinking, ‘when’s the last time I saw a pop-up book?’ There were the most beautifully illustrated scenes of Pixie Hollow and I was like, ‘what’s this?’ On the last page was this adorable African American fairy that had her hands behind her back, her face was like a little puppy, you know, ‘oh, you’re so cute.’ In the package it read, we’d love you to be a part of this franchise and I said, ‘oh my goodness. I would love to play, first of all, an African American character in a Disney movie. That would just make my day and second, I get to be Tinker Bell’s best friend? Sweet! So, you didn’t have to sell me too hard, I loved it.
Talk2SV: When we talk about the multiple talents that you possess, singing certainly is one of them. Will you be releasing other albums?
Raven: Most definitely. I’m working on my fifth solo album as we speak. Hopefully, it will be available by the end of next year. As of right now, I’m not with a record label …
Talk2SV: You are not?
Raven: I am not with a record label so I’m able to go into the studio and try different sounds and just enjoy what music is supposed to be, a soul changing experience to me. I listen to all kinds of music. Right now, I’m watching Aretha Franklin talk about the 60’s soul and funk. I just love music and sounds. Hopefully, I’ll be able to capture just how I feel about music in the next album I do.
Talk2SV: You have an established brand and it is clearly recognizable. Do you see it as being the definition of who Raven Symone is?
Raven: Wow, I’ve never had that question before. It (the brand) is the definition of what I want my career to be, what I want people to remember me as, and what I want my grandchildren’s grandchildren to know their great grandmother as. Everybody has multiple sides and the essence of the brand is who I am, but, as I grow up, we change and hopefully, my brand will continue to morph with me.
Talk2SV: In this business, especially as a person of color, there is sometimes a tremendous expectation on what others think you should be doing. Using films as an example, if African American themed films don’t do as well at the box office it seems to have a multiple effect throughout the community. Do you feel that you carry any undue pressure because you’ve been a successful African American actor, and conversely, do you feel that there is any undue pressure because of it, your success?
Raven: Um, let me just answer this correctly because people might think that what I’m going to say might be a little insensitive. I look at myself as a female actor and I’m taking roles that any nationality could do. With that, hopefully, people will see African Americans in every light and the pressure of it for me is making sure that that is the trade. Am I making sense?
Talk2SV: Yes, you are.
Raven: OK, I’m trying to say this correctly…
Talk2SV: I can tell you’re carefully choosing what to say…
Raven: So, the pressure for me is when people say, ‘you gotta represent for your black girls.’ I need to represent for females in general, no matter what color. The ones that don’t get called beautiful, the ones that do get called beautiful, the ones that are a size in the double digits, the ones that wear single size digits. I think we just have to realize we’re in this world together. We need to stop separating ourselves and move forward as people, and to do that, just live. So, I pick roles that reflect what happened, what happens in my life and then I’ll say, as an African American woman. OK, that took a minute.
Talk2SV: It’s all good. When I look at you and the opportunities that you have, they warm my heart because I remember the time when those opportunities did not exist. I believe in change because I’ve lived through change and when I look at the time and space in life that you occupy, it makes me happy. It doesn’t make me sad about the past: what was and the limitations of the past, it just makes me happy to know that we have a measure of change and you represent that measure of change. Does it feel that way to you?
Raven: Can I just say what you just said? Can that be my answer? (Laughter) I want to represent change. I will answer your question, but I just wanted to elaborate. I know what happened in the past; I am respectful og every African American woman that had to sit through being the slave in the movie, or being treated differently, or getting paid less. And, please don’t think that I do not think about it every day. But, knowing the space that I’m in, I’m going to show you that I can blend in where hopefully, people won’t see color. Now to your question, do I feel like I’m really a part of it?
Raven: I think that everyone in my age bracket is. Yes, I’m a part of it. It’s not my everyday thought but hopefully, people consider me a part of that. I try my best to represent for my community, for my sex as a female, and for people who want good entertainment. I just want to be there for you and give you something cool and new to look at; I don’t want you to think anything more or anything less of me and I think, well, I hope, that the females that have paved the way for me are proud [of what I am doing].
Talk2SV: I tell you, some years ago, when I really paid close attention to you and your talents, I was blown away. Not that I shouldn’t have been, but what I saw in you was clearly distinguishable and it [your skill set] didn’t have the burden of anything. It just seemed that you were having a good time and being very good at it. I guess I’m saying this with all the respect that I can muster, is what we see from you a skill that you’ve acquired, is it innate or is that just a part of Raven’s identity?
Raven: I’m going to be fully honest, I’m such a copycat when it comes to what you see. Growing up, I watched Sonny and Cher, I watched Flip Wilson, I watched Eddie Murphy, I watched Chris Rock, I watched Tracy Ullman, Mary Tyler Moore, Adam Sandler…I am a fan. Well, I won’t even say a fan because that ultimately means fanatic. I am a supporter and an admirer. Its funny because sometimes my mom will watch the show and she’s like, ‘Raven you’re acting so crazy I can’t even take you seriously.’ And I say, ‘Mom that episode was inspired by a character named Stuart, which was played by Michael MacDonald, not the singer, but the actor on Mad TV. I’m not trying to do it on purpose, I just admire their work and hopefully, I blend it into what I think is funny, what I like, what I can do and people enjoy it. But, I have such a mixture of things that I’ve watched when I was younger such as Bill Cosby, Martin Lawrence and Julie Andrews, that you know, I was raised multi-cultural so, hopefully, I can reach all types of cultures over the years.