'RHOA' Alum Eva Marcille and Devale Ellis Talk OWN's 'The Christmas Fumble,' Black Excellence, and More (Exclusive)

OWN is joining the ranks of Lifetime's "It's a Wonderful Life" and Hallmark's "Countdown to Christmas" programming and creating their own original programming for viewers of color this holiday season. This year, The Real Housewives of Atlanta alum Eve Marcille stars as the "queen of crisis management" Nicole Barnes, who gets the toughest assignment of her career when she's asked to handle a breaking scandal for former pro-footballer-turned-TV-commentator Jordan Davies – played by Devale Ellis. Davis' network contract isn't going to be renewed because of a violation going back to his college days. But his ex, Barnes, fails to disclose that she and Jordan were once a couple, which represents a conflict of interest that could end her own hopes of being made partner at her firm. To make matters worse, Nicole's efforts to rehabilitate Jordan's image are constantly undermined by Jordan's shallow entertainment reporter fiancée. 

Ahead of its Dec. 10 premiere, Marcille and Ellis dished on the film. They also talked about their excitement for the diversity in casting in holiday television films, as well as how that translates across cultural experiences in TV and movies. Check out the full video interview above, or read the transcript of our conversation below.

I absolutely loved the movie. Obviously, I'm very happy that it's on OWN. One of the things that I wanted to talk about with you guys first is that every year, different networks put on these big holiday campaigns with big programming. And finally, I feel like we now have stories of color with leads of color, in these amazing holiday movies. So how has it been for you to watch the transition over the years and then really to be a part of the change with having leads of color in these types of films?

EM: Well, for me, I have had the beautiful luxury throughout my career of working for people that look like me and representing people that look like me, and telling stories for people that look like me. However, they have not always been Christmas [themed]. I've done a lot of television shows. I dtarted with Tyler Perry on House of Payne, and I've done Everybody Hates Chris and the list goes on. But, I have been very proud of the Blackness in the spaces that I'm in. However, when it came to this particular project, it was just extraordinary all the way around. Not only is it our stories, but it is our stories in a truthful, non-stereotypical way.

I think a lot of times you see the stories about going back to Big Mama's house, and those are true stories for some people, but that is not all of us. And culturally, I think there's a large section that gets forgotten in the Black community. And this movie does a great job of showing successful, educated, well-manicured black men and women in their respective spaces that don't simulate, that are not trying to be anything other than who they are, but show the blackness that our parents taught us to be.

DE: I have to agree with that.

Devale, you started as a former football player turned sports broadcaster, and your fans know your history within sports. Was it one of the reasons why you were attracted to the character because of the sports connection?

DE: Absolutely. I feel like my story is unique. Being an NFL athlete and then retiring from the NFL and going into broadcast journalism for about 4-5 years and then transitioning into TV and film, taking this role kind of brought me back home. It's great for people to see me in that light again and say, "Wait a minute, didn't he play football?" Because it reminds them that, yeah, he's done things before.

But to piggyback off of what Eva said, it felt good to see two black characters, a man and a woman, who didn't come from stereotypical black stories. [They are] both successful, well-read families. Both well-educated, who fell in love, and were able to be together and both in healthy relationships while falling in...It was just so much positivity, but it wasn't super pushed on us where it's not realistic.

It was like, this is the norm. There are Black [like this] people who exist. It wasn't a monolithic view of what blackness is supposed to be. It wasn't the typical "struggle film." So, I felt like playing this character allowed me to show people, in a way, where I've come from as well. Not just Jordan, but also Devale, as well.

There's also a big inclusion of social media throughout the film. It's really used as a second medium to tell the story. Even though you guys use social media very differently…Devale, you use it a lot with you and your family, and you've really become a social media influencer I feel like you've somewhat built, or it has helped you build, this last phase of your career where Eva, you came up earlier on the modeling scene. But, what have you guys learned about how the platform can either make or break your career? And especially with you, too, Eva, at one point, you were on reality television.

EM: Well, Ms. Brenda, I would like to say I helped start reality television. We didn't have a name for the genre. It started in the early 2000s.

America's Next Top Model, we know, Season 3.

EM: ANTM. There was no reality... All we had was American Idol, which started the same year, and there was a show called Survivor. Besides that, there was nothing. It was not called...

And The Real World, too.

EM: And The Real World, right. So, there was really no reality television when I first started out in this business. It has now done its thing and become a pretty big influence on a lot of our lives, I think, for a lot of reasons. For one, for what Devale just said for the last question, a lot of the stories are just not true. When you see stories written about us and you see actors acting in a family, you're like "I would never do that. My mama would never say that. A kid would never do that."

So, reality TV brought a sense of truth to the home where people were tired of the same, redundant, scripted work being done and played by the same people – reality was able to bring them in touch. But social media has had such an influence on our everyday lives, from the way you twist your hair – to the way I wear what I wear – to the music that we listen to. It's such an influence from motivation to being able to bully and tear you down. And this movie, I think, did a great job of showing how much social media is interwoven into our relationships, into the way we work, our ability to either keep our job or lose our job, the way people look at us, optics. And so, it was just a real take on the life that we live today. You meet a guy, and the first thing you do, you check his Instagram. I mean, that's the world we live in today.

DE: I would have to agree. I feel like social media in this day and age reminds me of when hip-hop first started [and became big] in the '90s. Remember when hip hop first started, and they were like, "Oh, hip-hop's not going to last, it's not going to last." And then when we got into the mid-90s, Will Smith had his own TV show, Queen Latifah had her own TV show, Heavy D was doing TV, Eve had her own TV show, and then people started to run to hip hop to say, "These people have influence. These could be our next best creators."

When I look at social media now, you have all these influencers who are getting a ton of other opportunities and are now becoming our creators. Look at the Issa Rae's of the world. You know, they started on social media to show people their gifts. Now, you have a chance to get direct access to the audience. So now, the producers have to say, "Wait a minute, let me pay attention to this little person in the corner who has everyone else's attention."

And I'll give you a perfect example. I was pitching, six years ago, a TV show loosely based on my life about a father who retired from football and came home and became a stay-at-home dad. I was in the same meetings [with] Netflix, ABC, NBC. [They'd say] "No one wants to see that. There's not enough at stake, there's not enough at stake." I start posting on social media, I built 2 million followers. The same producers are coming back to me saying, "Hey, can we get these stories for network?"

I've been offered an opportunity to write. I look at Jamie Foxx now, and he has a show about being a single dad. Kevin Hart has a show about being a single dad. Netflix has a hit TV show called Family Reunion about a retired football player who is now a dad. So, it just shows you how the influence of social media has completely changed the TV and movie landscape. Because producers can look at their phones and say, "I think I'm'a just make that into a movie." So, social media is huge, and it's not going anywhere.

Since the movie is based around Christmas, and one of the blessings that I feel like the holiday season brings us is the ability to be able to slow down, spend time with family, and take some time off. But the big thing in the movie that Eva's character deals with in the beginning is that she's having a hard time saying no to work. And I feel like as we get more established in our careers, that becomes more and more of a reality. So, how are you both going about relishing in the holidays this time, and putting work to the side?

EM: You know, it's so funny you said that because Devale and I, we were just talking about this.

DE: Yeah, yeah.

EM: We were talking about... I have done, by the grace of God, these are no complaints, champagne problems, I have worked every single month for the last 26 months on a production.

DE: Talk about it, talk about it.

EM: Mama tired. So, this year, I decided, I just wrapped my last production a week and a half ago. And I was just telling D, I said, "You know what? I'm taking off until January." Until January, because I gotta start production in January. But until January, I am not taking any more jobs. I was just offered a film. I said no. And my agent was like, "What do you mean?" I said, "No, I'm not doing any more work at all unless it's with my family." I'm planning Thanksgiving, I am preparing for Christmas. I want to see my family. I want to see D and his family and all the rest of my friends and their kids and just try to find that balance, and that balance means saying no sometimes.

DE: Absolutely, I agree with Eva. We literally were talking about this while we were waiting for interviews. We were talking about spending time together because I wrapped my last production for the year on Friday. And a lot like Eva, when all the productions started coming back in 2020, they were looking for talent. I, like, Eva, were one of the people that they were calling, "We need you for this, we need you for that, we need you for this." And I just said, "Yes, yes, yes."

After Friday, no. No, I have four sons, and I have a wife. I need to focus on producing a family environment that's conducive for all of us to be successful, and that's all I want to do.

And Eva, before I let you go, we chatted a little bit [before filming this interview] about hair. And one of the things that I loved is that you decided to style your natural locs for the film. So, I'm not sure if that was intentional or not. But you did that as opposed to throwing on a wig for the role. And I think that it was a subtle, yet impactful decision, especially in a film with characters of color. How important do you feel as if that representation is?

EM: I think that representation is beyond important. I have an 8-year-old daughter. The Crown Act has just been passed in most states here in the United States, which allows men and women to wear your hair as it grows out of your head. No longer telling me that my hair, because it's loc'd and has this curly bush on top, is not professional. Or that your beautiful Senegalese locs are not professional enough or glamorous enough. So, I've been very intentional, especially with this film and projects before, but especially with this one, because this is a woman who works in corporate America who helps people of every color, who has to sit in boardrooms and sit across people that are very high-powered in her boldness and confidence in her truth, in the way her hair grows out of her head, in the complexion of her skin, not trying to tone it up or down in any way, and loving everything that is about her and her unique origin.

I think so many Black women are going to look at this and go, "You know what? I could wear my locs to work, too. I could go to a fancy gala and still be considered beautiful with my hair like this too." So, it is a message that I want to send to every sister out there, no matter what age you are. A lot of our elders grew up in a world that told them that they cannot have their hair looking shot off their head. And that's not the truth. The truth is, that this is how my hair grows out of my head and it's beautiful, it is my crown. And so Nicole Barnes wore her natural crown on purpose, for sure.