QUEEN

Vivica A. Fox on Her ‘Apprentice’ Stint with Trump: ‘Nothing Like the Jerk Who Conned America’

The star of Lifetime’s new show ‘Vivica’s Black Magic,’ about an all-male stripper squad, discusses abs, the president-elect, and being a black woman in Hollywood.

Lifetime

Vivica A. Fox, Empire star and Curb Your Enthusiasm alum, is creating the first all-star, urban, exotic male dancer revue. Welcome to Vivica’s Black Magic—a particularly wine-fueled game of entertainment industry Mad Libs turned very real Lifetime show. As the brains behind this unique business operation, Fox is somewhere between a host and an impeccably dressed boss. While Vivica A. Fox may not be a trained exotic dancer madam, she has the confidence and charisma to keep her boys in line, interrupting auditions and rehearsals with lines like, “Baby, you need to keep it tight and right.” When in doubt, look a male stripper up and down and tell him to keep it tight. On the rare occasion that Fox isn’t free to host brunch meetings or ogle the dancers’ pectorals, her trusty female-led team steps in to get the boys in shape.

In the shiny, highly contoured world of reality television, formula often overpowers innovation. Truly great ideas—like simultaneously hiring Mariah Carey and Nicki Minaj as American Idol judges, or ordering a cameraman to follow around Robert Kardashian’s daughters—are few and far between. So when we heard that Vivica A. Fox was creating a TV show in which she handpicks a super group of male exotic dancers, it seemed too good to be true. While this might be the first time an exotic male revue has gyrated on Lifetime, sex, celebrity, and entrepreneurship are some of the best ingredients in any reality TV recipe.

Still, few TV shows are as potent—and as refreshingly ridiculous—as Vivica’s Black Magic. When you have a concept as enticing as this one, you have to deliver on it. If the pilot hadn’t flashed 10-15 oiled abs in the first half-hour alone, our high hopes would have executed a perfect death drop. Luckily Fox, the horny businesswoman America wants and deserves, doesn’t waste her time with extensive back stories or unnecessary L.A. montages. Save the heavily filtered shots of Runyon Canyon for Instagram—we’re here to watch a man named Heat take his shirt off.

The concept of this show is blissfully straightforward. After starring in Chocolate City (not to be confused with its paler peer, Magic Mike) Fox decided to assemble her own team of IRL entertainers. But Fox isn’t just in this for the gyrating pelvises and petty cash. She’s trying to take her boys all the way to a Las Vegas residency. Black Magic follows the revue from auditions through early training, as a hodgepodge assemblage of male exotic dancers transforms into a cohesive group of performers. There’s a different themed performance per episode and one finale showcase (Vivica’s personal favorite aesthetic is the “officer and a gentleman” ensemble, because “it’s clean, it’s crisp, and you know they’re disciplined”). Along the way, the boys rack up their fair share of drama, sexy tear-away costumes, and dollar bills. Clear eyes, full G-strings, can’t lose.

Black Magic opens on the audition process. As soon as a dancer catapults his entire body into Fox’s co-worker’s crotch, I’m ready to call this love at first sight. “You ain’t never had someone headstand in your vagina?” he asks. Now that’s a New Year’s resolution. Speaking of 2017, this might just be the year to fall in love with a man named Profit the Problem. We get to know Fox’s dancers and business associates courtesy of confessionals that are interspersed with auditions, rehearsals, business meetings, and performances. For example, in a one-on-one with Profit, we learn that the Problem considers himself an artist: “I got a paintbrush,” he explains. “I’m trying to paint a Picasso.” We’ll let you infer exactly where Profit keeps his paintbrush.

Black Magic keeps its plot lines relatively low key. In the first episode, a little bit of drama over choreography quickly gives way to a successful performance. Arguments over whether the boys can see through their military-inspired aviators are all well and good, but at the end of the day, we’re just here to ogle. Of course, male objectification isn’t just fun and games. Fox, who famously played a stripper in 1996’s Independence Day, clearly knew what she was doing by promoting male gyration. It might not be a feminist manifesto, but a show about a group of female entrepreneurs monetizing male exotic dancers is nothing to scoff at. Try watching a genuinely elated audience of mature ladies grabbing ass and not feel a little bit more optimistic about the future of gender equality. We may not have a female president, but damned if we can’t make it rain.

I caught Fox after a long day of promoting Black Magic. Still, she insisted, she was grateful to be talking about a show that people seem to be really enjoying. With her perfect makeup, shiny smattering of bling, and what appeared to be a khaki-colored jumpsuit, it was easy to see how Fox got cast in the Cookie Lyon family.

So where did Vivica’s Black Magic come from?

I was in a film called Chocolate City, which was directed by Jean-Claude La Marre, and I was noticing that strippers are winning right now, honey. You’ve got Magic Mike, Chippendales, Thunder From Down Under. I saw all three of those and…there was some chocolate that was not there. So I said listen…when Jean-Claude cast me to be the mom in Chocolate City, he showed me clips of some of the guys and I was like, “Wow, you got a goldmine here! You can do reality, a tour, all of this.” And he said, “Ok, let’s go pitch it. Pitch it with me. It’ll be your brainchild.”

When I heard the description of this show, I was so excited. And then I started wondering why it didn’t exist already.

I know! And it’s also a breath of fresh air, right?

Definitely. I feel like people are going to love it.

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My goal is to create the ultimate girls’ night out. With all the craziness that’s going on in the world I’m like, alright, on Wednesdays come with your girls, get some drinks, and watch Vivica’s Black Magic and watch these beautiful men and watch a head chick in charge! It’s all about girl power and having fun! We need some fun! That’s my resolution for 2017: to have fun.

So why do you think that strippers are having such a moment?

I think in general strippers are winning right now. But now it’s time for the girls to have a good time! Because for the longest time you’re going to the club and you’re like, “Where are all the guys at?” The guys are over at the strip joint! So girls started going to the strip club and having fun there. ‘Cause it used to be taboo to say “we’re going to a strip joint.” And now it’s like, girl…bachelorette party! Divorce party! Wednesday party! Let’s just go have some fun.

The women are ready to make it rain. And people are taking such good care of their bodies now. Especially if you see my guys and their bodies…wow…but I stay focused! I keep it professional.

Are you single?

Very. Very happily single, you know what I mean?

Did filming Black Magic make it difficult to stay single?

No…because I’m older than them. I’m kind of like mama bear. So this is kind of like my way of paying it forward with the guys, giving them exposure that they never would have gotten before, passing down the experiences that I’ve had. Because don’t forget I played a stripper in Independence Day. So I get to pass that down to them, because I went through training. I’ll never forget the first week, they hired an actual stripper to train me. And she’s like, “Ok, you’re gonna show up in four-inch heels—cause at that time, four-inch heels were high—a G-string, you can start with some track shorts on, we’re gonna go to a strip joint, and in time you’re gonna lose your inhibitions and those trunks are coming off. Cause in the movie, you’re dancing in a G-string.”

So I got to pass that knowledge on to them…Because not all of them were exotic dancers. So the guys that were exotic dancers had to work with the other guys. As a group, we had to make them get out of the way of just thinking about themselves…so it was a challenge. I almost had a damn nervous breakdown doing this show, I won’t lie. Cause there were a couple times where I was like, “If you don’t sit your ass down and stop asking me why you aren’t in front.” Because believe it or not, they were fragile, and sometimes couldn’t take constructive criticism.

Men.

Go figure, you know what I mean. But I thought that they would have a little bit thicker skin. It’s challenging though, because it’s three women in charge of eight men. I have a showrunner and a show producer, Eurika and Kiana, who I work with. So it’s a challenge. A couple of times they got tempted with the boys and I was like, “Uh-uh, we don’t do that here.”

Did that romance make it on to the show?

Yes.

That’s some good drama!

Yeah. It’s there! And I was like, “Didn’t I tell you don’t shit where you eat!” or you don’t eat where you shit…you know what I mean. You don’t do that!

But it makes sense that there would be some temptation.

And I get it! But it was like “girl, don’t do it.” I’ve been on so many sets and seen it go so bad.

I really loved watching you and two other women keeping the guys in line. Especially the moments where you had to be really hard on them and even critique their bodies—something that men are always doing to women, but we hardly ever see in reverse.

Well, sometimes we needed more definition! I loved my girls, I really did. Especially Eurika. And to watch us be the boss—and the guys respect us being the boss—was definitely empowering. Because they knew that Vivica had the knowledge, could help them fill the seats, and had the star quality to get the attention that they needed. So to watch them have to digest and take that all in was definitely empowering and a crazy experience to go through. And then to have to be brutally honest with them: “That routine really sucked, who didn’t come to rehearsal, and why is your body this week looking…” And it was funny because Profit…you should see his body now. All of their bodies now, cause we’ve been doing the press stuff. I even went, “Damn! Y’all got in even better shape!” But I love that they took it seriously.

So out of all the men, you’ve got one white dancer.

We’ve got White Chocolate. And we’ve also got a Dominican, he’s from Brooklyn—but if you see him he kind of looks like a light-skinned brother. I wanted to just show different shades of chocolate from butterscotch to caramel to dark chocolate to white chocolate to la vida loca! You know what I mean! I wanted to give you just a sampler.

Which is important to see on TV.

And the good thing also is that we didn’t go get like skinny little dancers, we got some men with some muscles—that are also good dancers!

Obviously that casting is a celebration of black men, but did you also feel like you were doing it for the black women out there?

Absolutely! The sisters need…we have bachelorette parties, like I said. We have divorce parties, just because its Wednesday parties. And I feel like we wanted to provide the ultimate girls’ night out and have it classy. So when the sisters are like, “Girl, I’m ready to make it rain tonight,” they can say, “Ok well honey, let’s call Vivica.” Call Vivica! Who else is gonna do it for you?

Was there any footage that was just too scandalous to make the cut?

Hmmm. We let them go for it! We just had one guy that went a little bit too far in the auditions, he went diving under the table and I was clutching my legs like, “Hold up now, where you going homie?” And then he was doing this lick thing and then he kissed our hands. But it’s funny! So they left that. But believe it or not our show is a little scandalous, you’re gonna see. There’s lots of skin. Which is so pleasing.

That’s what we want.

Exactly! We don’t hold back, but we keep it classy.

At this point in your career, you’re getting a chance to play these different types of roles—for instance, getting to be the girl boss.

And playing the President! I just got back from South Africa where I played the cheer goddess in Bring It On: International. That was so awesome. And then in the sci-fi movie Crossbreed coming up I play the President of the United States. And it’s about damn time. Vivica’s been doing this for a long, long time. I think, also, I just used to look too young. So now I’m in my 50’s, and I’m finally getting the boss chick roles. And what’s great for me now is that I’m able to brand and create my own opportunities. I’ve got my own clothing line, my own hair line, I just signed a book deal that’s going to be coming out in 2018.

Making them boss moves! Get it, girl! So it’s a good time for me. And I’m making sure that I enjoy it. My earlier part of my career when I was doing five movies back to back to back, I never really took the time, was always working, chasing that next job. And now I’m like, “I got a week off, I’m putting on my onesie, hanging out with my god babies, no makeup, my Santa Claus hat, I’m gonna eat junk food, I’m gonna eat pizza, I’m gonna have dessert.” I’m enjoying my success now, I really am. And if a man comes along and can fit in here somewhere, that’ll be ok, too. But if he don’t…Imma keep it moving dot com.

So while you’re having this great moment, we’re also seeing a lot of other black women getting these big roles.

Yes. Finally.

But still not as many as we’d like.

We have a ways to go. What would be a beautiful thing would be more directing roles. But they’re coming. There’s Ava DuVernay, my girlfriend Regina King who’s starting to direct now. Shonda Rhimes is doing so many wonderful things, Debbie Allen is also directing now. I’ve directed my first music video called “We On” for the rapper Thomas Hobbs. So it’s coming. Breaking that glass ceiling, but it seems like we’re always still chipping away. It’s like you think you get it, and then it’s, “Ah shoot, it’s another level that we’ve got to get to.” But the reason why you’re seeing so much is because we’re in more power positions with directing, producing, starring. And especially for African American women right now, it’s a wonderful time. I never thought I would witness the success of three top-rated shows starring African American females—Scandal, How to Get Away with Murder, Empire. and then to be on Empire—it’s a good time. And it’s about damn time.

So you’d say there’s a lot of solidarity within that community? I know that you and Taraji P. Henson hang out together.

Yea! Don’t go drinking with that one! She’ll drink you under the table. She’ll be like, “Don’t be no punk, V, we drinking tonight!” I love her. She’s so fun.

The African American community of actors is very close. Regina King, we celebrated my birthday together…I owe her a ring for her birthday, actually. But yeah we hang out, celebrate each other. Unfortunately last week we had to bury one of ours, Ricky Harris. We did the movie Royal Family together, and they were planning a sequel and out of the clear blue he had a heart attack. And that’s another reason why in 2017 I want to have fun. To watch in that one week George Michael, Carrie Fisher, Ricky Harris, and Debbie Reynolds pass, that taught me something. It’s like, man, don’t take life for granted ‘cause it goes by so quick. And you’re blessed. If you can have success, if you can have good people in your life, enjoy it.

You were an ardent Hillary Clinton supporter.

Absolutely.

But you also starred on The Celebrity Apprentice.

And I finished in the top three and won $70,000 for my charity Best Buddies.

So do you think that that experience gave you any insight into the president-elect?

Well, the gentleman that I met when we did Celebrity Apprentice was in my opinion nothing like the jerk who conned America into winning the presidency. He was wonderful. I think he has great kids, he was charming, he was one of the main reasons why I did the show—because he’s a good businessman and he’s a straight shooter. But that deception that then went on, I was just so disappointed. The racial division that came about through his campaign—to see people speaking so ugly, I just didn’t like it. Because I really felt like this wonderful man Barack Obama, the eight years that he worked so hard to fight for others, for people to then be so selfish and go, “They forgot about us! Let’s elect a person who has no skills and who’s a jerk and who’s preaching misogyny and racism and sexism!” I couldn’t believe it.

The only thing that made me happy was to know that she won close to 3 million more with the popular vote. That made me happy. In my honest opinion, and I told her that, you will always be my Madam President. You won. The Electoral College decided that they wanted to give that to him, but you won. And he’s going to have to earn my trust in him as President of the United States. Because Barack and Michelle are some of the classiest people I’ve ever met. And they did wonderful things. And when they said “Make America Great Again,” I honestly felt like they wanted to make America white again. And that’s not fair because our world is evolving, as it should. And we should want to evolve with it. So I was really just wanting to make history again. We elected the first African American President and I really thought we were gonna elect the first female president. But in defeat, she’s actually more loved.

I didn’t even sleep that night—it broke my heart. I had to go and do Empire. I left New York from the Javits Center, and I didn’t sleep that entire night and got on a plane. I was like, “What just happened?” And when I got to Empire, everyone there was like, “What just happened?” There was really an election hangover.

I read an old interview where you said you would consider running for public office.

Yes I would! Vote for Vivica! But after this run, and seeing how dirty politics is…but I care about generation X and I care about our country, I really do. So if that was to knock on my door, I would consider it, absolutely. It’s a lot of hard work though. If Ronald Reagan became President and Donald Trump did…and hey, Kanye might run, too!

Do you think he’s actually going to?

I don’t know. He’s got to survive the Kardashians first!

And then he met with Trump…

Yeah, he kind of lost me on that one.

I think he lost a lot of us.

To each his own!

In the past you’ve had some beef with your ex, 50 Cent, but I heard that you recently buried the hatchet?

Well, let’s hope. I don’t know. But I did try to go over and make peace with him [at a recent Knicks game]. One of us has to be the bigger person, and I still have love for the guy. There’s just no need for us to carry on like that as adults. I walked over to him, I said, “Happy New Year,” and he just looked at me and smiled—gave me that charming little smile of his that used to melt my heart back in the day—and then I said, “Can I get a hug?” and he said “Yea.” So he gave me a hug and we just sat there and talked. And I said in front of everybody, you know, no matter how we fight like cats and dogs, I always love him. And we need to stop this.

So would you say you’re retiring from beef?

With him?

With anyone!

No! Well that one was huge, cause we go at it. But you might see a little bit of drama jump off of Vivica’s Black Magic. Stay tuned. But with him, no I won’t fight with him anymore. I won’t choose to do that unless he comes out with something really crazy and I’m like, “Damn! He pulled me back in!” But I hope he grows from our experience and I know I did. And when I walked away from him I felt better.

Do you regret going after him on social media?

Sure! Well…no, it was fair. Because he was messing with my Empire family, so… you’re messing with the wrong one!

I remember Taraji calling him out on social media after he dissed Empire.

Right, yeah! We ain’t no punks. I’ve known Taraji and Lee and Jesse and Terrence for 15 years. And all of us had never had a chance to work together, and we’re like family now and get to work on this hit show. You feel guarded, it’s like, “You’re messing with my family, dog.” And also I don’t like that crab in a bucket mentality of, “Only one of us can be here at a time.” It’s a great time to have sexy African American shows and we all can win. Let’s win! We’ve worked hard to be here.