She won us over playing Drucilla ‘Dru’ Winters in The Young and the Restless. Now Victoria Rowell has created her own table and continues to soar as a writer, director, and businesswoman with a strong gravitational pull on Jamaica.
In Negril for the screening of her latest movie, Blackjack Christmas (which was partially filmed in Jamaica) at the Skylark Film Festival, the charismatic Rowell, who is now sporting a gorgeous head of silver locs, has a welcoming spirit without any celebrity air.
“Feisty, a fighter, stands up for her rights,” says a fresh-faced Rowell of Drucilla while seated at Skylark Negril Beach Resort as reggae tunes and the sound of waves lapping to the shore provide the background resonance for our interview. “I loved portraying that character for artistic purposes, but also she stood up for herself and was beloved by the diaspora and beyond.”
Where is Dru now? “Dru slipped off a cliff, but she is still alive,” says Rowell as her creative mind takes us on a ride. “She has swum her way to Jamaica. She has landed in an unspecified area, but she has amnesia because she hit her head and she has been living in the bush and is part of a community, and someone is going to see her and say, ‘That’s Dru, what is she doing here?’”
With the captivating impromptu storyline, one has to question if she has always had such great powers of invention. Her answer is, “Yes, a vivid imagination beyond the imagination because I believed that it was possible.”
Born in Portland, Maine, Rowell grew up in foster care but always believed in herself and simply would not allow her circumstances to hold her back. “You make a decision as a child. Am I going to let the circumstances of poverty, of no safety net, and not the fullest education experiences determine my destiny?”
She credits her foster mother, Agatha Armstead, a farmer and pianist who thought outside of the box and who was responsible for helping her to hone her dreams of becoming a classical dancer, for making her believe anything was possible. Rowell would later become a student at the American Ballet Theatre (the only black student at the time) before pivoting to acting.
While she’s faced many tribulations, her mindset, she says, has always been, “Is it going to be woe is me or wow is me? I chose wow!”
Rowell has been visiting Jamaica since the ‘70s and says, “It’s grounding for me to be here.” As the biological child of a white mother and black father who she never met, in search of her roots with the help of DNA analysis and hiring a genealogist, Rowell posthumously found her father, who it turns out was of Jamaican descent. Having ancestry in Jamaica dating back to the 1800s, an elated Rowell says, “I found my family two years ago during COVID.” With cousins from Kingston to Christiana, it makes total sense why she has an organic love for Jamaica.
While the adoration for acting still flows through her veins, at a certain point in her career, she decided to create her lane. “I didn’t see the economic inclusion and same opportunity for people of colour. Specifically black people, and beyond that, black women,” she says.
She admits to rewriting lines so that it was authentic to her audience. Television can’t survive without advertising, and Rowell was very cognisant that she was bringing in an audience from a corporate perspective where people were buying products that appealed to them while watching a show that her character attracted them to. Studying the statistics, she knew she was bringing a lot to the table.
WHY NOT HER?
Seeing her contemporaries and other colleagues getting opportunities in writing and directing, she wondered why not her and decided to go for it.
“Where my bosses were very complimentary of my work and expressed love for me, when I asked to grow with the company and direct The Young and the Restless after 14 years in, they said no.”
Producers told her they had never done that before, but she knew “they had never done that for someone black” before.
She sits up on her stool and explains she knew she had to change the trajectory for herself because if she didn’t, she “would be used up and not experience economic and business growth”.
She then started making her movies, which while calling for tax incentives for the local film industry at the Blackjack Christmas screening, she explained she can fund her movies by raising private and investor equity.
“So you have to take a leap of faith,” she pauses to take a breath and reiterate what she is saying, so it rings home. “Take a leap of faith knowing that you have the assets you need to manifest in a different direction which is corporate, but with partnerships, and through partnerships, with The Lab and JAMPRO, I have been able to manifest here in Jamaica and license back to the United States, to the same company I worked with (ViacomCBS).”
One quickly gets the sense that she is as candid as she is to help others strive to be their best selves because if she can do it…why can’t they? “You call until you get a response. You strike the rock until it cracks open,” she advises of attaining goals.
As her open-hearted energy permeates, our conversation turns to how she wants to see the world and its inhabitants be kinder to each other. “The letters behind the name mean nothing if you’re cruel to people,” says Rowell as the sun shines brightly behind her. “At the end of the day, what really matters is the legacy people will remember.” Rowell, while not a pastor and in no way trying to indoctrinate, is preaching, and we’re soaking it up. “You could have all the money in the bank, but at the end of the day…did you do the right thing?”
Of her legacy, the doting mother of two believes in taking the time to reflect on how you can help the person next to you, no matter how busy you are. “Whether it’s through a job. Whether it’s to be anonymous in helping someone, do it.”