So it isn't exactly a long way from Beverly Hills High School to Hollywood, but "The Carmichael Show" star Amber Stevens West is determined to make the most of the journey.
Daughter of the famed radio personality, TV announcer and actor Shadoe Stevens, the 30-year-old actress came of age in the heart of fabled 90210 community among the offspring of many other entertainment industry figures both in front of and behind the camera, making a move into modeling and acting a seemingly natural career path given her natural beauty and charismatic energy.
But now, following a lengthy stint on the collegiate dramedy "Greek" and her current leading role on the issues-driven NBC sitcom headlined by Jerrod Carmichael, Stevens West admits that her course wasn't always as clear as some of her fellow alumni, but now that she's found her comedic voice she hopes to mine it for all that it's worth.
Moviefone: Give me some teases for what you in particular as Maxine will be dealing with in the new season.
Amber Stevens West: Oh goodness -- there's a lot that happens! This season's been amazing. I don't think there's a bad show in the bunch. Not that there ever has been! There's a lot of really strong topics, some dramatic stuff, some hilarious awkward stuff.
Maxine, now, is out of school, so she's a working woman. Her opinions have just become stronger -- they've just become stronger and louder -- so her point of view is always going to be heard on the show. She's not easy to budge. So there's more of that. Yeah, it's a lot of really kind of fun and interesting conversations that we get to have.
You guys are unafraid to take on some hot button topics.
Oh yeah, certainly. There's a lot of stuff that we're doing that I have never seen on television before, approaching subjects in a completely different way, with new angles and perspectives that haven't been shown before, and I think that's when our show is at its best, that's what we're doing.
We're not having conversations that you've already had at home with your family. We're trying to find at least one new perspective, whether it's my character that has it or someone else in the cast, that you haven't really heard said out loud. Maybe you've thought it before. We have a new angle on the subject, so I think that's what sets our show apart from everyone else. And we certainly do that with every single episode this year.
Three seasons in, what do you love about working in comedy in this tried-and-true TV format?
I think this is the way that a lot of people really like to consume their entertainment. It's 22 minutes of thought-provoking, but, like, silly fun. I really enjoy having a live audience. I love that we get to rehearse all week with each other, and really find the conversation that needs to be had.
At the beginning of the week, the scripts may not have all the perspectives that we're looking for, so by putting it on its feet and giving ourselves the few days, we have the time to find it and really nail down exactly what we're trying to accomplish. So I think that this multi-camera medium works so well for the show that we do.
Working in comedy is the best job in the world. I get to laugh all day long, and I get to have the live audience every week, and get that instant feedback. It's super gratifying. I would be fine doing only this the rest of my life.
Give me your take on the dynamic between you and Jerrod, because you have to have a certain kind of chemistry to sell both your relationship and the comedy at the same time. Tell me about how you guys have developed that over the course of three seasons.
Yeah. The more you work with somebody, the more comfortable you become with them. But quite honestly, when Jerrod and I first met, it was instant chemistry. And I just mean that in the sense of, like, we immediately felt like old friends. There was just something that was naturally there between us.
So of course over these last few years together, we've gotten more and more comfortable with one another. And I think that you can tell that on the show. People who have been in a long term relationship, you can guess that almost right off the bat, if they've been dating for a long time, or if they're brand new, but based on like how comfortable they are with one another.
I think in the show we're able to show that we truly love each other, and that we're on the same team, but we can have real arguments. We differ on opinions on a lot of things on a regular basis, but at the end of the day, we have respect for one another to say, "Okay fine, that's your opinion and this is my opinion." We like to hear each other's side of the conversation because we respect one another's side of the conversation. I think that we get along really well in real life, and I think that you can tell that on the show as well. I hope you can!
Tell me about the shows that you grew up watching that were the ones that made you both laugh and think, like this show does.
I did certainly grow up watching a lot of sitcom. I was a huge fan of "Everybody Loves Raymond." That was a show that kind of would get me to think. Even like older shows like "Mary Tyler Moore" and "Rhoda," I thought they were progressive and thought-provoking. But to be quite honest, my favorite show of all time is "Friends," and it's not always making you think, but God, that was a good show!
I like to watch shows that make you think, but also characters that you love, that you feel like you know. And I think "The Carmichael Show" also is that. It's a family that you feel comfortable with. I think a lot of people that I meet who watch the show feel like we are their family, and I'm really grateful that they feel that way, because we certainly feel that way with one another.
How early in your acting aspirations did you want to do comedy? I know some actors love to do the really emotional gut-wrenching thing, but then they find out that they're good at comedy. So where were you on your desire to do it early on?
I always wanted to do it. It was really the only thing I ever wanted to do. Now, I'm not like the funniest person, but I sure enjoy being around funny, and a lot of jokes, and silly, and making light of things, and just having fun. I'm that way in life, too.
I was really introduced to acting firsthand by watching my dad on a sitcom. He was on a show back in the '90s called "Dave's World." I would go every single week with my mom and my baby sister, and we would watch the live tapings. I didn't know at the time that that was something that I wanted to do, and how much it was influencing my decisions later in life. But I knew that it looked fun, and I knew my dad was having the best time.
So as I got older and I kind of found my way into acting, I always liked the live audience aspect and doing comedy, and not having to go into some dark place and think about scary, sad things in order to get to some emotional place in order to do some heavy scene on some drama. Those moments are fun, and you can certainly feel like you're doing some serious acting. But comedy's also hard and it's challenging, but it's so gratifying at the end.
What were some of the other lessons, either directly, or just by osmosis, that you picked up about a career in Hollywood from watching your dad at work and hearing about his experiences?
It all kind of happened really naturally for me. Growing up here in Los Angeles, I was around the entertainment business from my peers, and their parents, and what they did, and then my family being a part of it. It just seemed like kind of like the family business. It's like an easy thing for me to find my way into, and the only real job I knew anything about.
I was actually modeling through high school. I started modeling in middle school, and just doing things here and there. I just thought it was fun because I got to cut class and go take some pictures for Macy's or whatever. But then I was earning some money and thought that was cool, and it turned into doing commercials, which turned into like meeting a manager who said, "Hey, if you want to be an actor, I'd be interested in representing you. I recommend maybe taking this acting class and seeing how you feel about it."
Then I kind of just slowly found my way into this world without truly seeking it out. I know that sounds really annoying, but that's just the truth. I'm just still riding the wave, and I can't believe this is my career. I'm very, very grateful and pinch myself every day. It's weird to me still when someone asks me what I do for a living, and my answer is that "I'm an actress." It's so weird. It's so weird.
You went to Beverly Hills High School, and in my very first job when I moved to Los Angeles, I covered the high school and the school system for the local newspaper in Beverly Hills.
Oh my gosh, that's great. Yes, that's where I went to school. I was student body president. Very involved. Loved going to high school. I loved that school. I had a great time.
One thing that is unique about it is that a lot of people that go there have family in showbiz, and, like you, find their way into the family business. Do you still see a lot of people that you went to high school with working in your industry?
Yeah, there are a few. This Is Us," and she's done a ton of stuff. She's super successful. We were good friends growing up, so it's really cool to see her doing so well.
But there are people who work also behind the scenes, like who work for Fox and work at CBS and work for different movie producers. I do catch people around town doing a lot of stuff. It is very cool to see people as adults working in the industry. Leighton Meester also went to my high school for a little while. She didn't graduate with us -- maybe she went to home school or something after a while; I don't know what she did. But she was there for a while. She was in the same class as me.
People have an endless fascination -- maybe because of things like "Beverly Hills 90210" and "Clueless" -- with Beverly Hills High. I was always taken with how "high school" it really was. It's just like any other high school, in many ways.
It's a public school. It was a very diverse school. We certainly had more kids driving Range Rovers to school than your average high school. But there was still a lot of middle class families. Kids were, like, too cool to go to spring dance or whatever, and the football team wasn't very good.
We were just like your average little high school, which is part of the reason I joined student counsel, because I wanted to create really fun memories and try to make it more like TV, I think -- like more of what I thought it should be. Because everyone was so blasé about it, and was like, "Whatever, it's just high school." I was like, "Come on, these are supposed to be the best days of our lives. I'm going to be in charge of lunch time activities, so everyone can have great memories from high school." Very glass half full.