This article was originally published on "Wilson's Where To Guide."
This past holiday season in December, I attended Hill Harper and Nate Parker’s Annual Manifest Your Destiny Toy Drive at Drai’s Hollywood.
On a trip to the ladies’ room, I ran into the lovely Brely Evans, who you may remember from her hilarious Twix candy commercial (shown below), her role in Just Wright as Queen Latifah’s friend and who you’ll now see in the upcoming remake of Sparkle, being released this summer.
Her warm, friendly smile was just as radiant as her energetic, bold personality, so I found myself excited to talk with her, rattling off about her acting projects, my blog and everything else. We parted ways, promising to link up again for an interview. And, later on as I caught glimpses of her working her way around the room with such charm and confidence, I knew she was someone with a great story to share.
And what a great story she had!
During our meeting at one of her favorite LA destinations, The Viceroy, Ms. Evans shed light on everything, from how she transitioned from her girl group Emage into films to what it was like working with the late Whitney Houston.
I’ve split up the interview into two parts: this week’s part touches upon her professional endeavors and acting career, and the second part, debuting next week, sheds light on where she “where to’s” in Los Angeles and around the world.
Ms. Evans: Oh my goodness, the experience was a-maz-ing. My wonderful girlfriend Jeanette Jenkins who is a celebrity fitness trainer was like, “Brely! You’re not famous because no one knows you’re alive. We’re gonna produce some videos on you and put it on YouTube. Everyone else is getting famous off YouTube.” So we got a camera crew, we wrote a show out called The Brely Show, and I begin to do these sketches. At the time, Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” was hot. So I was like, “Beyonce? You mean Brelonce? She got it from me!” And we put those sketches up, and it wasn’t like it got 15 million hits, because that’s usually what happens. Mine maybe you know, soared around 2,000, maybe even sometimes, 100, 300, because things started to cook for me around the 300 range. Maybe not a lot of people saw it, but the right people saw it.
And, the story is, when the cast was taping Just Wright, and I affectionately call Dana my – well, Queen Latifah – I call her my big sister. She was laughing at some of my videos on set – this is the story I hear – it’s been passed down so many times. And her and Paula Patton were watching them, and Paula goes, “Dana has this little sister that’s the world’s best kept secret. She dances, she sings. She’s an actress. She’s amazing. Why doesn’t she put her in anything?” Then Dana’s laughing, “Are you talking about Brely? That’s not my real sister.” The director [Sanaa Hamri] happens to walk in and she was like “I have a little one-liner for her.” So they gave me one line.
And in the beginning of the movie while the credits are still coming up, you’ll see me come in with Queen Latifah into the hospital. I play a physical therapist. I come in and I go, “Whatcha gonna wear for your date tonight?” And we both go, “black.” That was my one line.
I got in my trailer and I was like, “Thank you, Jesus! I’m in a film! Oh my god, a huge film!” Got a knock on my trailer door and they were like, “you’ll be here all week. We just love your energy. Can you learn these lines and be ready?” I was supposed to be there for one day, for one line. I ended up staying to the wrap of the movie. My name was CO-WORKER 1 and I went to SABRINA GILLAR, being Queen Latifah’s best friend at the hospital. It was an avalanche. It was great.
Miss Wilson: Did Queen Latifah or the director give you any words of advice on "making it" in the industry?
Ms. Evans: Not really advice, but more so inspiration and telling me, “Girl, you got this. We’re waiting on you. You can do this.” They gave me inspiration and the go get 'em attitude that I needed to succeed.
Miss Wilson: And I read that you were in a gospel stage play with Shirley Murdock and you also worked with Whitney Houston in Sparkle. Was it inspirational as well to work with these women?
Ms. Evans: Can I just say, this is when you’re glad you used to be in a singing group! The Shirley Murdock thing happened first. I had come off the movie Just Wright, gotten home, was like “Oh my Lord, this is great.” My phone rang. It's the director. I had auditioned for this play nine months prior but didn’t get it. He said we’re reviewing our tapes and we would like to have you come in for the lead role and you’re gonna be playing opposite – not come in, excuse me, we’re gonna give it to you – opposite Shirley Murdock. I was thinking, I get to sing onstage with Shirley Murdock. You know her vocals are crazy, right? So I went to Boston and we did this stage play. She’s like another mother. She’s a very spiritual woman. She’s like “God has created in you something that the world needs to see and let them see it. Don’t be ashamed. Be bold and be you, because there’s none like you.”
Now fast-forward to just getting off the movie Sparkle. Whitney Houston. First of all, walking on set and seeing her, you’re kind of like quiet, and you’re like, "Oh my god. That is Whitney Houston." And you’re just kind of watching her every move, seeing how she eats, how she picks up her purse, how she’s talking to people. And then she looks over at you like, “Come here, baby. What’s your name?” And I’m like, “Umm, Brely?” – I turned into a baby. So we’re all loosening up around her and she’ll start singing, playing her gospel music, so we all start singing, too. And she’s like, "do this, baby" [Brely sings a couple of runs]. And we’re singing and she’s telling us how to do different runs. Crazy. And again, she was like, “I’ma call you niece. You my niece.” I was like, thank you!
And Derek Luke? An amazing actor. Just to watch his process and how on set he’s very solemn and quiet. He doesn’t do a lot of talking because he’s in character the whole time. Omari Hardwick, who is super fine. Can I get that on tape? He's about to get married soon, but girl, you know what you got. He’s amazing and loving, and they just embraced me like, oh there’s the baby on the set, because I’m kind of new. But although Jordin Sparks is also new to the film, she did an amazing job.
Working with Salim Akil – you know the Akils obviously from The Game and Girlfriends – T.D. Jakes was on set. I’m just overwhelmed by being a part of such people who have done great things in their career, and that my talent allowed me to be a part of that.
Miss Wilson: It sounds like you had a lot of mentors who took you under their wing. Would you say that’s the norm in Hollywood, or is that something that’s rare?
Ms. Evans: I think it’s very rare, and I think that it is a great necessary for anybody in any industry to have a mentor. I didn’t per se have an up-close and personal one that I distinctly called mentor, but I took those various moments that I was able to interact with someone who was great, and I got any questions out. I asked them their thoughts on what I should do. I did have mentorship moments, but it’s not like I had someone I could just pick up the phone and call and say, hey, you know what should I do here? I didn’t really have that and a lot of us other actors and entertainers won’t have that.
So I just want to encourage everybody, too. That even though you don’t have that, should you pass someone’s way, take that moment to not be scared of them because they’re so amazing. Take that moment. They’re willing to give. It’s just that those are not the typical questions that people ask. I would say definitely seek out mentorship, but if you don’t have one, like I said, take the moment and just use it to your benefit.
Miss Wilson: And do you have any other advice for aspiring singers and actors as well?
Ms. Evans: I would say hone your craft. If you’re a singer, sing all the time. I don’t care if it’s in the car, in the shower. Make yourself available – I don’t care if it’s for Craig’s List to sing for a funeral. Make yourself available to use your gift because really, I think our gifts were given to us by God for others. It wasn’t for our own edification. You should share your gift as often. Share it for free. You don’t want to know how many times I’ve sang for free or how many times I’ve been in a production, acting, for free. Because the money will come. And I know people say that when they got some. No, trust and believe. Struggling as I am, even sometimes today, I still realize that my gift is not my own and work begets work. So if you find yourself working, then somebody else in that audience might say, hey I’d like to hire you for something else. Work, work, work. Just work your craft.
And I would like to assassinate the word “aspiring.” I can’t stand it. You’re not aspiring to be something. You are. You already are. You sing? I’m a singer. I’m not an aspiring singer. You’re an actor. I’m aspiring – no, I’m an actor. Already claim who you are.
Miss Wilson: What motivates you to keep on going, to keep on pursuing acting and singing?
Ms. Evans: The one thing that motivates me are the people who constantly congratulate me. The people who say “I’m watching this” and the people who say “I need you to succeed and you inspire me.” Those are the people that push me to greatness, because I feel like if I don’t do it, I’m doing them a disservice. If I get nervous or scared, then I can’t fully live out loud for them to see that they can do it, too. So it’s really the push from the audience and those who are following my career.