There are many actors and notable personalities who claim that their life stories would make a great feature film. Perhaps they would. But there's no doubt that Menyone Deveaux's journey from New Jack City to Hollywood would make one compelling and inspiring movie.
This exceptional actress/writer/producer who has appeared in such films as the Biggie Smalls biopic "Notorious," the upcoming "No Warning" and as a producer, writer and star in her own life story "April's Fools," has been through the fire and emerged a stronger, more enlightened and endlessly creative artist who hopes to use her own struggles to inspire, empower and encourage others.
Growing up in Chicago, Deveaux can't remember a time when she didn't want to share her extraordinary talents. "I was always interested in theater and church plays, that's kind of where I started," she says. "But I really didn't get into the acting until later. I was just always into cheerleading, anything that would give me the opportunity to do some type of performance-pom-pom's, basketball. Then my father died of AIDS when I was a teen and that just kind of gave me the motivation to try and stay focused.
As hard as she tried Deveaux was often derailed by her immediate environment, an area of Chicago called New Jack City. Those streets weren't exactly conducive for dreamers. Deveaux, however, didn't let the lack of drama classes at her high school keep her from achieving in other areas. She graduated a year early and enrolled in Northern Illinois University to study political science.
"I wanted to become a lawyer or a translator," she says.
Although she opted not to major in theater arts, Deveaux kept her passion for the arts alive by pledging Zeta Phi Beta and performing in the popular step show competitions against other Greek organizations. In addition to her studies and activities, Deveaux was also a wife, having gotten married at 19. Upon graduation from NIU Deveaux, who is fluent in Thai and spent six months studying in Bangkok, snagged a job as a translator for a top Chicago law firm. But the passion to perform was still burning inside of her. After her marriage fell apart, Deveaux, who was now a young mother, left her son with her mother in Chicago and headed first to L.A. and then New York, where she began pursuing a master's degree in cinematography at New York University.
"That's where it kind of all started," she said. "That's where I started pursuing acting." Living in a West Village hostel and sharing a bathroom with 20 other women, Deveaux was determined to make it. She booked some commercials but knew she needed to get a Screen Actors Guild card to book better gigs. She got it, but not in the conventional way. She and a friend had to log some 800 hours on the picket lines during the 2000 SAG strike to be eligible for the union's relaxed membership qualifications.
"I was really motivated at that time," she said. "I needed to graduate so I could go back and get my son and I needed that card so that I could get the jobs that would support us."
Shortly after NYU Deveaux decided to give L.A. another try. One day she walked in Agency West and convinced the agency's owner, Holly Davis-Carter, to sign her. That next week Davis-Carter had booked Deveaux on an episode of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," playing a martial arts specialist. Deveaux had an immediate edge over the other hopefuls because she had a black belt in tae kwon do.
Since then Deveaux has appeared on HBO's "Project Greenlight," and in a plethora of independent films and TV shows such as "The Parkers." Perhaps her most significant accomplishment, however, is starring in her own film based on some of the more unpleasant realities of her struggles with bad men, bad business and bad situations. The result is "April's Fools," which is now in post-production.
Deveaux credits God, her evangelist mother and her own dogged determination with helping her get back on the right track and explore her gifts to the fullest.
"I just decided to open up my own production company so I could produce my own things-especially if Hollywood wasn't always going to open doors to me," she said. "When I got 'Notorious' I said that I need to execute something every week. I can tell true stories and perhaps save some girl with my story and pursue my craft at the same time. I'm finally where I need to be."
Click here to read "Journey To The Red Carpet" - Book written by Menyone.