An Exclusive tête-à-tête With Survivor’s Remorse’s RonReaco Lee and Erica Ash
The Starz breakout show, Survivor’s Remorse is in it’s second season bringing laughs and quality entertainment through a family that makes it out of the hood because one of them (Cam Calloway) has made it to the NBA. Executive produced by Lebron James, the show was a surprise hit in 2014 but it continues to bring it in season 2, thanks in part by an amazing cast which includes Tichina Arnold, Mike Epps, Jessie T. Usher, RonReaco Lee and Erica Ash. We caught up with up RonReaco and Erica, who play Reggie Vaughn and M-Chuck, to talk about the show and their careers. Read all about it, here…
Parlé Magazine: Tell me your whole inception into entertainment — When exactly were you first bitten by the acting bug?
RonReaco Lee: Oh, goodness, gracious, I started when I was a kid. It was kind of something my mother actually… she didn’t force me into it by any means, but she certainly made it available to me. We moved from a very small town in Central Illinois to an East suburb of Atlanta, Georgia, and she just kinda wanted to keep me active in the Summer – didn’t want me just sitting at home doing nothing – her belief was that the idle time was always the devil’s playground. And, in that she decided to get me into some modeling classes, which then led to some commercial work and some local television work and eventually some feature film work. But I wouldn’t say the “bug” bit me per se until I was probably about nineteen, and then I did a small movie and actually thought it’d be a good time to actually pursue it professionally. So I moved to California in ’97.
Erica Ash: I would say subconsciously when I was a little girl, I would be performing out things on TV and I would sort of always try to mimic what I saw. So it was always something I thought was pretty cool, but it was never something that I thought that I could do ’cause my parents were very focused on me becoming a doctor and that was just never pitched to me as something that I could actually do with my life as a career. It was sort of more something I could do on the side – do as a hobby – and so that’s kind of what I did every now and again. I would be a part of a program. I did go to performing arts high school; I went to DeKalb School of (the) performing Arts and my parents pulled me out when I started making B’s because that just wouldn’t do for their medical school ideal. So, I didn’t graduate from a performing arts high school I just went for a couple of years. Let’s see…after I graduated from Emory (University) and did the pre-med program, I just needed a year off and so I ended up going overseas ’cause I was an Army brat; we were a military family and so for me travelling wasn’t a big deal, but that was my first time sort of travelling alone and I was gonna just teach English to make enough money to support myself, so I could just relax for a year, but I ended up falling into a background singing gig while I was out there ’cause I was talking to someone in the orientation about how the company had messed up my contract and in the middle of me talking to him he stopped me and he said, “Wait, you sound like you can sing?” And then, he proceeded to tell me that he was a part of a band and one of their background singers dropped out and he was looking for a replacement and I said, “Well, I’ll do it!” And, that’s kind of how everything started. I did that gig and someone saw me there and said, “You’re pretty, you should model” And I was like, “Uh, okay,” so then I ended up modeling for this international modeling team and it was kind of one of those things where one thing led to another and every time I did something, just said yes and tried something, it would lead to something else. I just kind of kept saying, “Yes,” until it came around to acting and I haven’t looked back. I never once thought I just want to chuck all of this and go back to medicine. I really, really enjoy this so much more. It’s nice to have that to fall back on, but, yeah, don’t think I’d ever go back.
Parlé: Had No clue that music was so important when it comes to your backstory…
Erica Ash: Oh, yeah.
Parlé: So with that being said, is there an album in your future?
Erica Ash: You know, I feel like it’s not out of the question; it’s not something I am focused on, but then again neither was acting. I feel like if it happens organically and I’m lead to that, I would absolutely do it without a doubt. And, I think maybe more so lately it’s been coming up quite a bit, like it’s been a question people have been asking me a lot lately, so I wonder if that’s a sign that’s it’s in the atmosphere right now, and that I should prepare myself for that. But, yeah, it’s a possibility.
Parlé: Seems like your plate is pretty full nowadays to take on too much else…
Erica Ash: Well, you know I’m one of those overzealous workaholics. I’m a little bit addicted to my work, so for me there’s no such thing as “too full a plate” until my body shuts down and makes me take a break, which tends to happen from time to time. If I way over do it, then my body… I just can’t get up. I’ll sort of have to take a 24-48 hour respite and then I let that happen.
Parlé: From early on, who were/are some of your biggest influences?
RonReaco Lee: It’s kind of weird. Initially, I remember watching Weird Science when I was a kid and loving that movie. I was probably too young to watch it, but I remember there was a three day weekend and some kids in my neighborhood they had a VCR and they were gonna watch this movie. I end up watching it with a bunch of older kids and nonetheless Anthony Michael Hall’s performance in that movie, it always stood out, and I later went to find other movies that he’s done before that and then, of course, I found movies that he did after that. Anthony Michael Hall was one of those actors, as a kid, that I really liked and then as I got older I think more of my generation actors that I looked at. I worked with Denzel Washington. I was a kid, but I can remember even as a kid working with him thinking, “God, this dude is really good,” but you got to think I’m like 9 so it didn’t really resonate with me. My dad was telling me at the time, “Man, you’re really working with some great actors.” I was doing a movie called Glory, working with Morgan Freeman, Denzel Washington. Only person I really knew was Matthew Broderick and that was because Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, but my dad was like, “Son, you’re really working with some amazing actors,” and I’m like, “Yeah, whatever, man, just let me get my allowance so I can go get some Nintendo tapes and some Bugle Boy jeans, man.” There was a scene that Denzel did, I think it was the one that probably won him an Oscar, but he’s actually being beaten for trying to run away and they bring him back. They march him in front of the entire 54th regiment, and they proceed to discipline him in front of everybody. I was watching that scene. I was literally right there and there were no cuts, very few edit points in that scene, and I remember watching it thinking, “God, this guy is amazing, he should win something for this,” not knowing an Oscar from a Tony or an Emmy, but I knew that somewhere somebody should (be) recognized for a performance like this. I just didn’t know what governing body that would be. But, yeah, I wasn’t surprised by any means when he won, and I always reference that performance – seeing it live – it’s always been a reference point for me, especially for scenes that require a lot of emotion. He lived in that moment of what it was, so he’ll always go down as just somebody. So he’s somebody that always stood out for me.
Parlé: When it comes to television versus the big screen, which do you prefer?
RonReaco Lee: Yeah, I definitely think there’s a love for the game – if I will – I always use that basketball reference, so as long as I’m acting, kind of like, I think Michael Jordan’s somebody that had a love for the game clause – he could play the game whenever wherever he wanted to – and so I kind of feel like that with acting. There’s certainly a difference in terms of scheduling and time and page count. Television is very fast paced. Survivor’s Remorse, we do a lot of pages in a short amount of time and with movies you have a little more time to finesse and get into the pages. The page count is a little lower and kind of take your time in scenes, but is there a preference? There really isn’t. I enjoy working. I enjoy getting up, going to work, getting in my trailer, getting the lines down and going to set, and having a great day. So I really just have a love for acting itself, and I could care less where I’m doing it.
Parlé: At what particular point in time did you actually realize that you “made it?”
Erica Ash: I would definitely say it was a bunch of different moments because each time I got something I felt was big, I thought I made it until I got something bigger. So, I think the very first one was when I got The Lion King. You know, everybody knows about The Lion King, everybody knows about Nala, so when I was Nala in The Lion King I thought I really made it, “This is it!” I don’t think each sort of making it point negates any one that came prior to it, but for me it was like discovering a new world with each one. The Lion King was one and then when I got MadTV that was one. And then when I got Scary Movie 5, that was one. Like all the things that sort of people knew about I felt like, “Wow, that’s pretty big!” It was always awesome to me to be working period. It can be realistically a little annoying when you’re just so excited about working and someone says, “Yeah, I don’t know that,” it’s like, “Oh, smack!”
RonReaco Lee: Oddly enough, I was at a party in L.A. I was actually chasing another project at another network and happened to be in town for a party, and I went to this Hollywood party and I ran into this cast-mate of mine from a movie I had done in Bogotá and… actually, I was at the series finale of Burn Notice. I was attending as a guest of Matt Nix and I was there and ran into a cast-mate that I had done a movie for Matt Nix in Bogotá and, believe it or not, the writer of Survivor’s Remorse is Mike O’Malley – his cousin’s name is Brendan O’Malley – and Brendan says, “Hey, man, you know what my cousin just signed on to write a show that LeBron James is producing,” and I literally was like, “Oh, okay, good, great, yeah, yeah, yeah.” Everybody in L.A. knows somebody that just signed on to write something for somebody, and you literally just take it with a grain of salt and just go, “Sure.” And it’s not that I didn’t believe him, I just thought what are the odds that this is a thing. As an actor you just kind of go, “Okay, great.” So anyway, he tells me about it and I kind of put it in the back of my mind, but I’m reading in the paper and it gets announced in the trades that Mike O’Malley is writing this project for LeBron James. So then cut to like maybe a month or two later, I get some material from the script and they want me to audition and I end up reading it and go, “Whoa, like this is really good!” And then, I just went on tape. They came back to me about a week later and they wanted to fly me out. Long story short, I have a home in Georgia and my wife and I just had a baby so I was spending a lot of time here in Georgia, and we had a huge snowstorm and I couldn’t get a flight – they shut the city down – and I couldn’t get there and I really, really, really I didn’t know what to do. Long story short, they had me Skype my audition in and I sat in the living room and did the audition. That’s literally how it worked. Brendan O’Malley pitched my name to Mike, Mike asked the casting director to bring me in and that’s how it worked out.
Parlé: Were you at all surprised at how fast Survivor’s Remorse grew in popularity?
Erica Ash: No, because when I read the script I knew it was gold. When I read the script, I knew it was going to be something really, really wonderful and I was actually surprised when it didn’t take off bigger the first season ’cause I saw it, I really saw it. Our writers are absolutely brilliant guys and girls. You know, they get in that writer’s room and they come up with things that…it’s edgy, it’s exciting, it’s funny, it’s so wrong you can’t stop yourself from watching it and tuning in. It’s one of those things. I knew it was a matter of time; I really did. And then the cast that’s associated, shouts out to Kim Coleman, she really selected an amazing cast and I feel like Mike O’Malley really got to know us.
Parlé: It’s such a great ensemble cast – Is the chemistry on screen the same as when you all are off?
Erica Ash: Well, I felt like from the start the cast had an amazing chemistry and so does the crew. That’s the thing that sets our team apart from other shows that I’ve worked on. I don’t think I’ve been a part of a show where the entire cast gets along; the entire core cast gets along so well with the producing team and the crew. It’s like going to a family reunion. You got people sitting over in the corner playing cards, sometimes people who are off will come up on set and just kind of hang out. We like being around each other. I’ve got three shows going on right now and this show is different than the other two.
RonReaco Lee: It’s what you see on screen and then some, ’cause we can really cut the fool off screen. If you think we act up on screen, you should look at some of our text threads; it’s pretty intense. I can honestly say I have never been a part of a cast like this, and I’m willing to bet I will never be part of another cast like this. I mean, they hit the mother-lode in terms of chemistry, in terms how well we all get along. I know it sounds cliche, I’ve said it time and time again, but we really are friends. We really are a family. Having been in the business as long as I have now, there’s always this feeling I treasure everyday I’m on set, I treasure every day that I get to work with great people, because I know there will be a day when this will just simply be a memory of a great project that I worked on, and so as a result I definitely don’t take it for granted.
Parlé: With LeBron as an executive producer — How much hands on involvement does King James have when it comes to Survivor’s Remorse?
Erica Ash: You know, he’s got quite a bit; he just does it remotely. And, that’s because both seasons that we shot he’s been in the playoffs. LeBron is very hands on in the sense that every time we have dailies he watches the dailies, he gives his notes on the dailies just like all the other executive producers. He has taken part in the table reads for the show, and he will bring his wife, Savannah, on and she’ll be a part of the table read. He’s very hands on and he’s always available should we need to call him and ask him questions about it, and even if we don’t he’ll call in and give his ideas on things as well.
Parlé: For those not in the know, what’s the premise behind Survivor’s Remorse?
Erica Ash: Survivor’s Remorse is the story of a basketball phenom named Cam Calloway who gets an amazing contract as a free agent and moves his entire family to Atlanta. The story is he and his family together, navigating all the ups and downs and ins and outs of getting so much fame and money and notoriety all at once, and that’s a lot to deal with. And, we have a pretty raucous time doing it! Let’s just say everybody ain’t prepared for it.
Parlé: Tell me about your character, Mary Charles “M-Chuck” Calloway…
Erica Ash: Case in point, when I say everybody is not prepared for it. “M-Chuck” is “M-Chuck,” she is loud…you know what, loud is not necessarily the right term, she is very rough around the edges, she is very mouthy. She’s outspoken. Loud is not the term, outspoken that’s what she is. Mary Charles says what she wants, when she wants, to whom she wants and thinks about what it means later. Mary Charles is single-handedly probably responsible for a good third of the family’s trouble, and she splits that with her mom, Cassie, and her uncle, Julius, and the rest of the time poor cousin Reggie’s trying to get us all out of it.
Parlé: Are there any direct “real life” parallels between your characters on Survivor’s Remorse and you all in general?
Erica Ash: Oh, yeah, I’ve always gotten in trouble for being super mouthy. I’ve always said what’s been on my mind and if I don’t say it you can read it all over my face, and in certain situations it’s just not appropriate. The difference though is that I’ve always been – to an extent – respectful about it or tried to be in my mind, whereas “M-Chuck” doesn’t think twice. She doesn’t think about manners and morals. I was raised with quite a few. Both of my parents are preachers, so they taught me what was right and what was wrong and sort of within those confines I continued to be myself and found myself tripping up over that a little bit. But beyond that, I don’t know…I think we both are very sarcastic (with a) dry sense of humor. Unfortunately for my lesbian fans, I am not a lesbian, so that’s a question I get very often. Sorry to disappoint, girls. Yeah, those are mainly the things we have that (are) in common.
RonReaco Lee: I certainly wouldn’t say they’re two completely different guys. I think the first time I read some of the material, I remember thinking, “Wow, this is kind of me.” If you kind of took a poll from my inner circle, they would tell you – most of my friends call me Reaco – they’ll tell you, “Yeah, Reaco is usually the guy that’s gonna tell us what we shouldn’t do and why we shouldn’t do it.” That’s just kind of me, that’s just who I am, that’s who I’ve always been. So, I think I immediately recognized that there was a parallel between Reggie Vaughn and RonReaco Lee. I think the difference is Reggie can be really intense, which is great for me as an actor, because I rarely get to play that type of role. If you look at my resume’, I’m usually always the nice guy, the fun dude. I’ve always had those roles, but I enjoy playing this role because Reggie can be really intense – at times be a dick – and it’s really enjoyable for me as an actor to play, so there are some similarities.
Parlé: How has the story arc transitioned from season one into season two?
Erica Ash: Well, I think Cam is certainly more settled into his role as head of the house and provider. I think that “M-Chuck,” she’s not overwhelmed by, you know, that sort of kid in the candy store / look at all that I got, where do I start. She’s certainly settled into her role as the pr person and doesn’t feel that she’s taking as much anymore. She’s contributing more and that kind of gives her a little bit more of a piece of mind, a little bit more confidence in her position in the family, that she has this season as opposed to last season. I feel like because of that she kind of can get back to being just big sister, because she knows where she stands. Uncle Julius is the same, and God bless him he shouldn’t change, he’s old, he’s set in his ways, you know. I think Cassie is finding her youth again, and Reggie he’s getting better in terms of figuring out this game and figuring out how to play it and how to deal with Cam’s money and how to make it multiply.
RonReaco Lee: I think Reggie’s arc from season one to season two is probably similar to everybody else’s. Reggie shows a little difference. We saw in the end of season one, he made that huge mistake with Bao and not checking the quality of the shoe and allowing for an “out” clause for Cam in the event that the shoes were not up to par. He learned a lot from that and I think you will see from first season to second season, he’s still in the business of transitioning Cam into that long money – into that money that will last from generation to generations – so we see a different Cam, (too). He’s got the endorsements, he got the max contract, what’s next?
Parlé: Erica, earlier you mentioned two other projects you’re currently working on — Tell me about those…
Erica Ash: Yeah, sure. Well Real Husbands of Hollywood is in its fourth season now, and there’s a new project I’m working on called Shades of Blue and it’s a new cop drama and it stars Jennifer Lopez and Ray Liotta, and we’re still in the process of taping that. Stay tuned and you can check out my social media page, I’m at @TheEricaAsh on everything.
Parlé: Well, you’ve certainly managed to consistently work with great groups of talented individuals — What’s the secret to your success?
Erica Ash: Well, it’s definitely a blessing and it’s definitely a sign that I’m on the right track. I feel like whenever things happen organically – life is not supposed to be this hard uphill climb that a lot people think that it’s supposed to be – I think they make it hard and they make it hard on themselves, because they try to force themselves into something that they’re not supposed to be doing. I think that by saying Yes and by being open lead to what I’m supposed to be doing, I was able to come upon this and be led to the teachers that are helping me along the way because, as I said, I didn’t go to school for this. So for me, I think being around all these great people is confirmation that I’m on the right track because every show that I’m on, there’s someone I can learn something from.
Parlé: Do either of you have any other outside/additional aspirations, maybe even completely away from the acting world?
Erica Ash: Well, you know, I have considered doing stand up a few times and I’ve got some people who are really, really active in trying to get me going on that route. I’ve been very interested as of late in doing some real estate ventures and producing ventures, so that’s something I’ve been looking into lately. Only time will tell.
RonReaco Lee: Anybody will tell you that knows me, they know I come to set, I typically have a camera with me. I’m an avid photographer – certainly not a professional photographer – but photography’s something I got interested in probably about three or four years ago, and it just, I truly love it, I truly enjoy it. I try to take as many pictures as I can, but definitely photography is a love, a huge love of mine. And also, (I) have aspirations to direct something. I have wanted to do (that) for quite some time actually – since I was really a kid actor – I’ve always been intrigued by the job of the director. But, yeah, I truly, truly have aspirations to direct. I put it out there, I would love to direct an episode of Survivor’s Remorse. Also, writing as well.
Parlé: Reaco, as a former “kid” actor, somehow you have avoided the many pitfalls that somehow plague a lot child stars…
RonReaco: Yeah, I think the pitfalls of this business – entertainment world fame if you want to go that far and call it – they’re obvious. We’ve seen it. It’s an unfortunate side of this business, but I can attribute all of that to upbringing, how I was raised. I’m certainly not passing judgement on the people that haven’t been as fortunate as me and countless other people in this industry that are able to just stay focused, keep their head down and stay out of trouble, but for me, specifically, it just boils down to, at the end of the day, I’m still kind of afraid of my dad. Like I still really be nervous about that phone call from my dad if anything crazy got out that I had done, if I got in trouble about something, I still would hate that. And I’m certainly an adult, but, again, it’s a testament to how my mother and father raised me. Not even them. Beyond them, my grandmother and all them – so many people – that I feel I would never want to screw up and have to go back to my hometown of Decatur, Illinois, and have to explain why this happened or that happened. I’ve been doing it for so long, sadly I don’t know if I know how to do anything else. I think that’s a good thing. At the end of the day, it certainly keeps me focused on what I do do. I seem to appear to be doing it somewhat well, because I’m able to get work and keep it going. So in terms of the longevity, just determination and you constantly have to reinvent yourself.
Parlé: Longevity, what defines yours?
Erica Ash: I think not standing in my own way. There’s something to be said for being able to step out of the box and try it – just try it – if it’s not right when you’ve tried it, then fair enough it’s not right. But, if you don’t try it then, you know, you’ll never know. I’m not afraid to go out and do things and try things, so it’s my lack of fear and my courage and faith in myself and my ability to do absolutely anything is the key to my longevity, I think.
Parlé: Looking ahead, say five or maybe ten years from now, where do you see yourself?
Erica Ash: 5, 10 years down the line, I will probably be married, I’ll have some babies, I’ll have an Oscar and an Emmy, and be the president of some fabulous production company that gives other artists a chance to work and create.
Parlé: As for the immediate future, what’s next for you all?
RonReaco Lee: I don’t think any actor can ever be focused on one role, one job. Our job is to be focused on as many jobs as we can. Certainly don’t want to spread yourself too thin, but, listen, we shoot Survivor’s three months out of the year and that leaves a lot more months to work on other projects and do other things. So, I think I mentioned earlier that my wife and I are expecting our second child, so my focus right now has just been – pretty much as soon as we wrap – to just start getting everything together and taking a load off of her. So, I’ve just (been) trying to spend as much time with my son, being that these are his final days – kind of like his last days – of being the only child.
Erica Ash: I think I will be foraying into films in the near future as well, so look out for some wonderful feature films.
Parlé: Do you all have any closing thoughts?
RonReaco Lee: Just please support the show. Please enjoy the show and continue to support us and as our audience grows, hopefully so will our seasons.
Erica Ash: Well definitely make sure that you stay tuned and stay in touch with me on social media. I’ll keep everyone posted about the things that I’m doing, about the things that are going on with the shows. I encourage everybody to just say Yes. Start saying yes even if you don’t see the connection between what comes to you and what you want to do. You never know how you’re gonna be led to your destiny and what you’re supposed to do, because you’re here to live your purpose and you’re charged to live your purpose. So, just say yes and allow the universe to lead you to whatever that is. You don’t have to have the answer, it’ll just kind of come to you organically.
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