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Actress Natasha Ward says being pretty can be a problem

Ward on the significance of her character on Tyler Perry’s ‘The Oval’ and how sports shaped her life

Actress Natasha Ward’s background is varied.

She was a former Division I track athlete at the University of California Irvine, where she earned a scholarship and also majored in political science. Ward even had plans of becoming a judge. She’s a model, vocalist and now an actress.

Currently, Ward plays Ellie on Tyler Perry’s drama The Oval on BET, which was renewed for a second season in April. Her character is a young woman finding her way in the world of politics as she navigates the dangers in the show’s fictional White House.

“How does she honor who she really is while also dealing with the moral decisions of which route she’s going to take to get there?” she said. “That’s a conundrum that a lot of young women find themselves in, especially young women who are considered to be beautiful by our society’s standards. Whether that be in politics or the entertainment industry or our culture at large. It’s really a space that women have to navigate and I think that it doesn’t get talked about enough.”

The Undefeated spoke with Ward about her character’s significance, working with Tyler Perry as a new actress and how sports has shaped her life.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

The Oval is a show about a family placed in the White House while also spotlighting the personal side and everyday lives of the staff who run the inner workings. Your character Ellie is important this season. What is it like bringing Ellie to the screen?

There are layers to her that I can identify within myself, as a young woman, not only in this world, but in this industry. She knows who she is as far as her intelligence, her street smarts and what she brings to the table. But she’s also not naive to the fact that the package that she comes in can prove to be a blessing and a curse to her. Ellie’s very relatable in that way. And to see her story unfold, it’s going to be an eye-opening experience that a lot of young women and even men can learn from.

Tyler Perry’s major motion picture studio is one of the largest production facilities in the country. He’s creating a lot more opportunities for Black and brown actors. What does it mean to work with him as a new actress?

His vote of confidence that he would have more faith in me than I had in myself was so validating for me as an actor.

There are a lot of things happening around the country. We are all living during a pandemic. Then there’s the protesters in various cities speaking out against police brutality. And you have a platform that is getting bigger by the day. How do you face this moment in time?

I am passionate about politics, justice and using my voice to speak out. Some friends and I got together and created our own initiative called Legacy Now. We decided to host a rally at Pan Pacific Park, which is where the initial outburst between protesters and police took place here in Los Angeles and Hollywood. We wanted to celebrate the legacy of our culture and we did that on Juneteenth. It became this incredibly beautiful rally. I really wanted to call us back to the fact that our legacy is not oppression. It is a chapter in our story, but it is not the entire narrative. And our legacy is not what we’re going to leave, our legacy is what we live now. That empowers me to do the work from this place of I’m already worthy versus I’m trying to get someone else to acknowledge my worth.

As a full-time track athlete at the University of California Irvine, your main events were in the long and triple jump areas, but you also ran the 100-meter and 4×100-meter relay. Did participating in competitive sports help shape your acting career?

I wouldn’t be where I am today if not for my athletic career and experiences. I feel that every child should play sports, even if they’re not good, because of the intangible things that you learn about mental toughness, about working on a team, about being self-motivated, about pushing past your physical barriers. And about how so much of what we achieve in life has to do with our mentality. ‘As a man thinks, so is he.’ So, without a doubt I am a huge advocate for sports. Because I wouldn’t be here without it.

Andre Snellings, ESPN Senior Writer Fantasy sports, NBA, Chalk, Analytics