Recently BET.com spoke to actress and producer Essence Atkins, who not only stars in the latest BET original “OPEN,” but also helped produce it as well. The film, which Atkins reveals was shot in 15 days, explores the yeses, woes and no’s of a polyamorous relationship, as it pertains to a married couple of color.
In the film, Essence plays protagonist “Wren” who is married to husband “Cameron” (Keith Robinson). After finding out their close friends are in an open relationship, Wren and Cam also explore the idea themselves, but find out soon enough, that opening their love live, also opens doors for more drama.
Check out what Essence had to say about tapping into one of her multifaceted roles yet, as well as how she came about putting on her producer’s hat for her latest, steamy role.
BET: Tell us a little more about OPEN and what people may not expect, to expect, from a movie that centers on the conversation of polyamory?
With OPEN, you go into the journey and perils of this married couple, and the challenges of something that I guess from certain glance, might seem to be an ideal situation for some, in terms of the freedom that it would give you.
However, I think that, usually people operate from a place of either running to pleasure or running from pain. So given the decision to be “open,” you would imagine that you’re probably doing both. You’re running to the pleasure of being able to have relationships and be on a journey with whomever you, and your partner, agree is a possibility. And at the same time, you’re avoiding the betrayal – so you think – of what you might deal with in a monogamous situation. But it’s not as simple as that, because anytime there are human emotions involved, nothing is ever that simple.
BET: Do you feel this movie is somewhat of an erotica or a romance?
Because we’re talking about an open marriage, there are some kind of sensual themes, you know? But really the movie is about the “What if’s” you know? And oftentimes we start down a road. Like when we were kids, people would say, “Don’t write checks you can’t cash.” So it’s really about opening up Pandora’s pox, but not necessarily being prepared for what happens next when you do.
BET: Can you speak some more on not only being in front of the camera, but behind it as well, and being one of the producers of OPEN?
So yes, I’m one of the producers of the film. I was first introduced to the script by Cas Sigers, who wrote the movie and also directed the movie. Some time ago – a number of years ago – I was in Puerto Rico doing a movie with her called Girlfriends Getaway, with Melinda Williams and Terry Vaughn. They sent me the script and said [to me], ‘I think that this would fit you.’ And I read it, and I was moved to tears.
At the end of the day, OPEN is a love story. So I just found it to be a different take on love and what unconditional love looks like.
BET: How has this been different for you from the roles that you have done before? As far as other love stories that you’ve done or just any type of movie you’ve played in where you have been a love interest, how was this different from your previous roles?
I mean, you’re right. In the past, I would often identify specifically as to what you just said. I’m not the love interest in OPEN; I am the protagonist. You know what I mean? This story is told through Wren and it’s her journey; it’s her decision. She’s the one who plays it to her husband, and it ends up being her story in terms of how she ends up navigating this whole thing.
So, again, I guess, it’s the juxtaposition from when I was in my twenties and now being in my forties, it’s really about like, as a woman, as an evolved woman, as a career woman, as a multifaceted woman, what the ownership of my sexuality looks like. It’s not dictated by social norms or even social constructs, but by my own thinking and my own questions.
BET: What do you feel defines “success” in a relationship, and what are some non-negotiable factors to make a relationship work?
I definitely think that any successful relationship requires trust, as far as what I trust in, or in the nucleus that is our relationship. And what I find is, what gives me comfort and ease may not be the same thing that gives you comfort and ease.
So you might have two people who are on the same page when it comes to what that is – how to define trust, how to define respect. Love is kind of the easy part- love is almost the given. It’s really all these other things: communication, trust, respect. And what I find is, how do I define, what is the kind of behavior, for me, that me makes me feel safe. That’s success. Success is when you feel safe and when you feel loved, and that you can’t really create a construct that is complacent to everyone.
OPEN will premiere on Saturday, March 14th at 8PM on BET & BET HER.