Vivica A. Fox Biography
In 1997 Essence magazine asserted Vivica A. Fox was "the Hollywood homegirl of the moment." Nearly a decade later, Fox had parlayed her screen appeal into a successful acting career with more than a dozen films and nearly as many television appearances to her name. In the early 2000s, Fox had her sights set on a long, powerful career in Hollywood, and had begun to develop a behind-the-scenes career as a producer.
Fox was born in South Bend, Indiana, on July 30, 1964, the youngest of four children. Her parents—Fox's father is an administrator at a private school, and her mother a pharmaceutical technician—divorced when she was just four. Fox's teenage years were active ones as she grew up in Indianapolis; she worked at a fast-food restaurant while also playing school sports and singing in the choir, but confessed to being star struck from an early age. "I always knew I was going to perform. As soon as I finished my homework, I would dig into a magazine and read about show business," she recalled in People. After graduation, she moved to Los Angeles to pursue that performing career, but wisely enrolled in school part-time at Golden West College in Huntington Beach as well. She also worked in a restaurant on Sunset Boulevard, and one day a customer—who turned out to be a film producer—recommended that she give his agent-friend a call.
Fox called the woman, and was soon auditioning for and winning small roles on television shows such as ABC's Matlock, Days of Our Lives, and Generations, another 1989 NBC daytime soap, but aimed at an African American audience. She also won a small part in Born on the Fourth of July, the 1989 Tom Cruise movie about a Vietnam veteran; Fox played a hooker in her big-screen debut. A role in an 1991 episode of NBC's The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air led to a recurring one on Out All Night, also on NBC, in which she played Patti LaBelle's fashion-stylist daughter; however, unlike the popular Fresh Prince, Out All Night failed to reach an audience and was cancelled.
Nevertheless, the occasional parts and the uncertainty of sitcom work left Fox in worrisome financial straits. She considered moving back to the Midwest, but her parents loaned her money at one point to keep her in California, "thank God, because they believed in me," Fox told writer Deborah Gregory in an Essence interview. For guidance, her mother suggested prayer, and Fox began attending church. After being out of work for a year, in 1994 she took a recurring part as Dr. Stephanie Simmons on another daytime soap, The Young and the Restless. Fox was noticed by a fan of the CBS show who was also married to a film producer. That viewer told her husband about the actress, and Fox was called in for an audition for a supporting role in the action thriller Independence Day; she would play lead actor Will Smith's love interest.
"When I heard I got the part, I ran about the house screaming!" Fox told People magazine. Yet as she confessed to Essence's Gregory, she did have reservations about the role—as go-go dancer Jasmine Du-Brow, Fox would wear little but a G-string in some scenes. "I'm not gonna lie. I was scared to death to play a stripper," she told Gregory. "There were many days when I left that set crying. I was like, 'What if people think I'm a slut?' You know we're never allowed to be sexy on-screen." Yet in the end, Fox's character wins Smith's heart and remains a good mom to her son, even while aliens are invading the planet; Smith's character helps save the world. Independence Day was one of the box-office smashes of the year. "That success," Fox told People, "changed my life. I don't have auditions anymore. I have meetings."
With her newfound good fortune, Fox allowed herself a few well-earned luxuries after years of struggling, including a white Mercedes. Her next screen role came in Set It Off, released later in 1996. Fox played a fired bank teller who joins three other women in a series of daring bank robberies; her co-stars were Queen Latifah, Jada Pinkett, and Kimberly Elise. For this action film that showcased its characters' smarts as well as looks, there had been no shortage of African American professionals auditioning for the coveted roles. Fox had been cast against the role of Frankie, and for that she was pleased. "I was so grateful for the chance to shed my 'nice-girl' Hollywood image," Fox told Essence shortly before its premiere. Until that point, she added, she "couldn't get an audition for anything other than cute Buppies!"
Shortly after Independence Day hit the screens, no less than former late-night host Arsenio Hall came calling for Fox after seeing her performance. To entice her to join the cast of his scheduled new sitcom, Hall set up a meeting with Fox that happened to fall on her birthday, brought her a cake, and sang "Happy Birthday." Fox accepted the role of Vivian, the lead character's sharp wife, and the show debuted in March of 1997. It was another coveted role, since Fox played a smart, newlywed attorney. "I'm so proud of our project," Fox told Essence's Gregory around the time of its debut. "We get to act like a real Black couple." Unfortunately, critics found it lacking, and it was cancelled after only a few weeks.
Fortunately, Fox had won meaty parts in several other projects that would debut in 1997. Fox's next role brought a bit of controversy, but her role and performance were not the problem. Booty Call, released in early 1997, was called a "safe-sex" comedy by its makers, but many objected to a marketing campaign seen by some as degrading to women. In the film, Fox played Lysterine, a banker with a healthy appetite for life and love. Later in 1997 Fox appeared as Ms. B. Haven, clad as a twenty-first century snow bunny. She would also tackle a more serious role in Soul Food, which starred both Vanessa Williams and Nia Long as well; the threesome play sisters on-screen.
Although Fox enjoyed her success on screen, she was keenly aware of the prejudice toward youth in Hollywood. She kept her physique in top form, dropping 30 pounds to play an ex-assassin in Kill Bill in 2003. Though she was hailed as a Hollywood beauty in her forties, Fox actively planned for a future off-screen. "In Hollywood when your time is up, they spit you out like chewing gum," she told Essence, adding that someday she hoped to "step behind the camera and write, direct or produce so that I can help make someone else's dreams come true."
By the early 2000s, Fox had begun her work in production, partnering with her manager, lawyer Lita Richardson. In 2004 Fox took on the executive production as well as the lead role in the television series, Missing, a drama about FBI investigations. She also produced the 2005 film The Salon, a comedy about a beauty shop owner, and had another film, called Getting Played, in the works. About her plans for the future, Fox told Jet that "I've made studios a whole bunch of money. I'm just learning that I green-light projects. I get fundings for projects that I should reap the benefits of what my name does…There's a business behind the show. Once you learn more about the business going on behind the show, the longer you'll be able to stay in show business. Get very involved."
Born on the Fourth of July, 1989.
Independence Day, 1996.
Booty Call, 1997.
Set It Off, 1997.
Soul Food, 1997.
Why Do Fools Fall in Love? 1998.
Two Can Play that Game, 2001.
Kill Bill, 2003.
Ella Enchanted, 2004.
The Salon, 2005.
Days of Our Lives, 1988.
The Young and the Restless, 1994-95.
Walking after Midnight, 1999.
The Starlet, 2005.
Ebony, June 1990, pp. 118-123.
Essence, October 1996, p. 56; June 1997, p. 69; January 2005, p. 106.
Jet, December 20, 2004, p. 14.
People, November 11, 1995, pp. 113-114; March 3, 1997, p. 114.
Rolling Stone, November 28, 1996, p. 143.
Variety, February 28, 2005, p. 41.
Vivica Fox, www.vivicafox.com (August 3, 2005).
—Carol Brennan and Sara Pendergast
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