issue 24Out Front
From Ross to Robyn
A revealing interview with Yolanda Ross who portrays Robyn Crawford, Whitney Houston’s alleged lesbian lover in the made for TV drama, Whitney.
Long before marrying Bobby Brown, Whitney Houston was rumored to be in a more-than-platonic relationship with lifelong gal pal, assistant Robyn Crawford. While the biopic focuses on the pop singer’s relationship with Brown, it’s the intensity and intrigue that builds between her and Crawford that has reignited the Hollywood gossip machine. Yolanda Ross (Treme and Stranger Inside), while not a lesbian herself, plays Crawford in Whitney, breaks down the alleged rumors here in Living Out.
Yolanda, did you have any reservations about playing a character who was rumored to be a lesbian?
No, I mean in my first film, Stranger Inside, I was a lesbian so no I have no reservations. Characters are characters. People are people, and it’s my job to make everyone feel and understand characters. I feel that just understanding people – period – and dealing with emotion was really all I was going on – and all I ever go on – because I don’t think it matters if you’re gay or not, it’s the emotion of who you’re dealing with in front of you.
Are you a Whitney fan? Describe the insight you gained in playing this role helped you deepen your understanding of Whitney Houston, the person?
Huge fan! It gave me the opportunity to play Robyn in Whitney’s life in such an intimate way. These two were extremely tight – she was everywhere Whitney was – Robyn was a huge part of her life. I feel that it helped me see a lot of things that Whitney had to deal with that I don’t think the average person really knows, you know with all the pressures on her – the work pressures, and life pressures behind the scenes, like having a child while having one of the biggest records out there.
You’ve been acting for over 15 years. Do you have an acting coach?
No, no, I just had a great director, Angela Basset – and you know it’s like I do with any character, I take what’s on the page, I take what’s in front of me as far as the other actors\actresses and just deal with emotion – that’s how I get to where I am as a character, you know, in portraying a character and keeping it real.
So then how exactly did you prepare for this role?
Well, I knew of Robyn, I knew who she was, but I had never seen her before. I scoured the internet looking for anything on her, just to see what she looked like, and I found a few photos and production had a few photos as well, but there was very little on her so it really did end up being direction, script, and emotion in the moment that we created in the film.
A lot of people can’t separate emotional and physical feelings. In Whitney’s case, it appears she’s straight but develops deeply emotional feelings for Robyn, which suggest something a bit beyond platonic. In your mind at the end of filming, was Whitney bisexual or a lesbian?
I mean when going by the film, I don’t know if you could say either or – I mean, I always felt there was always a strong feeling between the two of them. And that’s you know like I said, knowing the background of the characters; them being friends since they were teenagers, so they already had a close relationship before she became the icon of Whitney Houston. So from the movie I wouldn’t say something developed, I would say something was already there.
While the film chronicles Whitney Houston’s rise to fame and turbulent relationship with husband Bobby Brown, why exactly was Robyn included in this biopic?
I mean she was a huge part of her life, since her teenage years. She really was the person you had to go through to get to Whitney; she was her assistant and best friend and who knows if it was more than that, I mean I can’t speculate, but it was definitely rumored. I don’t think you would have a true portrayal of her life if you didn’t include her because she was a HUGE part of her life.
So have you ever had a crush on a girl in real life?
There are a lot of cute girls out there! I don’t really “crush” though, I really have to meet somebody – and either like or don’t like them – I’m really an “in the moment” person. But so far, not yet.
What excites you the most about your “Robyn Crawford,” the character? What do you dislike the most about her?
I wouldn’t say I had any dislikes. I did like her strength in that she was the rock, like, she was the anchor for Whitney because there was so much going on with her in her life that I feel like Robyn was the person that Whitney could come to and just feel like that’s her solid, that’s her rock, that’s her anchor – you know when all the business craziness is happening, this is the person that is her strength and I do like playing that part, being the strength of someone else.
Describe the challenges of being a black woman trying to make a career in Hollywood today.
Well I mean it’s like swimming upstream because you have so many things thrown at you, and you’re just trying to book the jobs like everybody else with additional things thrown at you. Limited parts is huge, we don’t get offered the Jennifer Anniston parts or whoever the white actresses are of the day, you just don’t get those same offers that they do. When I go up for roles, it’s like really having to read something that’s just a few lines, that doesn’t make sense to me when I’ve led movies and I’ve started movies. We are not playing on an equal field, which is unfortunate. The challenge is there, it just doesn’t get to shine in the same way with the same opportunities.
An Interview By Adam Lombardi
Photos Courtesy of Lora Warnick & Lifetime Television