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Run the World (TV series)

Warning: This interview contains light spoilers for season 1 of Run the World.

When it comes to the kind of TV that she herself enjoys, Amber Stevens West says her "favorite genre to watch is female friendships." And that's a big reason why the former Greek star joined the cast of the Starz comedy Run the World.

Created by Leigh Davenport, with help from Living Single's Yvette Lee Bowser, the show centers on four young, successful Black women in Harlem. While Run the World manages to go deep on the backstories of all four of its leads, including Ella (Andrea Bordeaux), Sondi (Corbin Reid), and Renee (Bresha Webb), it's West's character, Whitney who, drives the season 1 finale with her dramatic revelation to fiancé Ola (Tosin Morohunfola).

West chatted EW about some highlights from the series so far, how the cast forged an instant bond, and what she'd like to see for Ola and Whitney in the future.

Run the World Season 1
Amber Stevens West, Corbin Reid, Bresha Webb, and Andrea Bordeaux are the stars of 'Run the World' on Starz.
| Credit: Cara Howe/2020 Starz Entertainment

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: I feel like whenever actors on a show about a friend group get asked how they developed chemistry, they say there was an instant bond. Did you all do anything extra to build chemistry?

AMBER STEVENS WEST: This is one of those instant-bonds situations. And I know it sounds fake and corny, but I think the shows that really last a long time are because the chemistry is real in real life most of the time. I was the first person approached for this project, and when I met with Leigh and Yvette, they were like, "We're talking to Bresha Webb. We're thinking she would probably play Renee." And I was like, "Yes, that's my friend in real life. I already love her." And I texted her right away and I was like, "Girl, if you do the show, I'm doing the show, because this is great for us. And it'd be so much fun." So we already had chemistry with each other for 10-plus years. But then we did chemistry reads, and those work! You can act your ass off, but if you don't actually really feel at ease, and real chemistry with that person, it can be really hard to fake.

Corbin came in for the first round of chemistry reads and was reading to play Ella and Sondi. But to me and Bresha it was very clear she needs to be in this group. I'm not here to say which character she should play, although she's clearly perfect for Sondi, but it was instant chemistry. She walked in the room, we were like, "There's our friend," [though] we didn't actually know her. And then it was the same thing, Corbin then got her role, and so the three of us came back and did another chemistry read, and that's when Andrea came in. As soon as she was there, it was like, "Here we are," and it was very clear to the room. And it's how it feels in real life. All of them came over the other night to my house and we sat in my backyard talking for six hours. The chemistry between us is very real. We have a lot of fun together, and so nothing's being faked. So I think chemistry reads are so essential, and it makes such a big difference. It's so much more fun to watch people who really are enjoying each other's company on screen.

The most surprising moment of the pilot, as we're getting introduced to the women, is Whitney cheating on her fiancé. Did you get immediate flak for that, or did viewers leave room for nuance?

People were definitely split. Some people would be like, "What is this girl doing? I would never cheat on him. He's a doctor," but then there were a lot of people who were really relieved to see a person who has always done the right thing, and on paper looked as if she had everything, yet was still feeling insecure about her choices. And I think that's even more relatable because we're all really quick to judge. 

People love to judge each other and say, "How could you do that? How could so-and-so cheat on so-and-so? They're the most sought-after celebrity in Hollywood! How could they do that?" And you don't know what's going on in someone's heart, in their home, the way that they're feeling in their relationship, and we're all just flawed people. So I think that you slowly judge Whitney less as you get to know her through the season. You start to see how she's just a person doing her best, and people make mistakes, and they just have to suffer the consequences. And it's not anyone else's business to judge the choices that they make. You can just be a friend and support them through this difficult time in their life. That's what her girlfriends are there for.

Run the World Season 1
Tosin Morohunfola and Amber Stevens West in their Nelly and Kelly Rowland costumes on 'Run the World'
| Credit: Cara Howe/2020 Starz Entertainment

Whitney definitely won people over with her "Dilemma" performance at karaoke. Do you normally go as hard for karaoke as Whitney does?

One hundred percent. I've had that party before. I didn't dress as Kelly Rowland; I did dress as Beyoncé for my own karaoke birthday party several years ago when "Single Ladies" came out, and I was in the whole "Single Ladies" look. Yes, I do. I love karaoke. It's been a long time since I've done it, but there was a phase in my life where I was going off.

Another thing that resonated this season was the therapy episode. Did that feel like a highlight through this process?

I loved that episode. When I read it, I was so excited by it. I think it's just so well written. It's so balanced between all four characters and learning the backstory of their friendships. And also the advice that's given is so clear and obvious, but you don't see it coming. Rosie O'Donnell does such a brilliant job at playing that role. And it's also nice to see women go to therapy. There's the stigma that only "crazy" people who have real problems need therapy, and it's like these are girls with light problems, but they still need someone to talk to and to vent to. It just destigmatizes it. And I found such a relief because God knows all my friends, therapy is important to all of us. Mental health and wellness is huge, and we don't need to judge each other for going. I love the different approaches that all four characters take to their therapy. I think all of that's really funny and fun to watch too, because it's so real.

Getting into the finale a bit, when everything with Whitney and Ola comes to its climax, were you surprised by how everything goes down? From her spitting out that she cheated to them having sex to him still needing space after.

It's all surprising because you just don't know. There's so many ways that that story can go, but you've been waiting the whole season for this moment. Like, is she or is she not going to just tell this poor man, and then deal with the consequences of that? And she clearly struggles the entire season, and is spiraling and lashing out at her mom and her friends. This is the only choice that makes sense for this character, so you've earned this moment. 

And then the conversation that she has, you just don't know where it's going to go. Because she could be sobbing the whole time and crying and guilty and pleading and begging and who knows how he's going to react. So you're on the edge of your seat that entire episode, and it feels very real. And I loved the way it ends, honestly. I think that that's exactly how it should end. You don't really know where they're headed, but they clearly have so much love for one another. So you want to fight for these characters, and you want it to work out, but you totally can see it not working out. And so it just sets you up for a whole other season of something that could be such a great story.

Did you film the scenes with Tosin before you filmed the conclusion where she comes back to her friends?

No, I filmed showing up to my friends first. Yeah, we filmed that out of order. All of the scenes that we did, Tosin and I together, I think we got those all done in one day. We tried to do it as consecutively as we could so that we kept the momentum of the argument and everything. But he and I did a lot of rehearsing before that because we wanted it to feel as authentic and real as possible. We didn't want it to be choreographed necessarily, like best for the camera. We were like, "Let's go into the space, just the two of us, and figure out what these two characters would be doing." Because they're not in their own home, they're in their friend's apartment.

It's so awkward and uncomfortable for both of them that we were like, "Let's just go and figure out what makes sense for us. And then ask the director, 'Okay, how do you feel about this? How can we move around? Get the DP in here. Where do you actually need us to stand for it to look the best? But this is what makes sense for this moment.'" And so we got it to be as authentic as we could, but I did have to shoot the aftermath, after all of that, walking into the girls, before we shot that. So it was kind of hard to get there emotionally because I hadn't actually shot the stuff with him yet. But we did it.

Run the World Season 1
Amber Stevens West and Tosin Morohunfola on 'Run the World'
| Credit: Cara Howe/2020 Starz Entertainment

Do you think that was a goodbye from Ola? Do you think he and Whitney need some more time apart, or do you want them to still make their original wedding date?

I mean, me as a viewer, I want to see this Nigerian wedding. I am here for that. I want that whole experience on TV. I do love that his character needs more time. That's just so real. And I do love that they end up sleeping together because it's like, how could they not? There's so much love, and he just watches his fiancé fall to the ground sobbing, and then consoles her. It says so much about his character and what kind of a relationship they really have. It truly is a very supportive one, and that's what makes it so heartbreaking. He clearly does need to go and take his time to figure out what he wants because he obviously wants to be with her, and loves her so much. But this really changes the game. I just don't know where season 2 is going to go because you can really see it going both ways.

Are you excited for people to now be able to watch the full season in one sitting?

I do. This show is super-easy to binge. The thing I see people talking about most on Twitter and stuff about our show is that they feel like it's not long enough. And our show was the very normal length of a comedy, but it moves really fast because the story is so good. We've got four main characters with main story lines, so a half-hour flies right by, and so I think it's a super-bingeable show. So if people prefer to watch their shows that way, I think they're going to love it. So yeah, I look forward to getting just even more people, more eyes on the show. I think it'll just grow our audience, and then people will be more excited for season 2. 

I still love appointment TV, though. Honestly, it's fun to binge something, but then the fun is over in just a few hours. Whereas [appointment TV], you can stretch it out over the week, and you have your water cooler moments, and you can talk to your friends about how excited you are to see what's going to happen next. Delayed gratification is a good thing.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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