Karimah Westbrook’s welcoming demeanor made our conversation feel like home. The soft-spoken, kind-hearted star of the CW’s All American fearlessly conquers her dreams and breaks ground for new possibilities. We recently caught up with the Chicago native who candidly opened up about crashing an audition, booking All American and her future goals.
In her early 20s, Westbrook took a chance on herself. Without any formal representation besides a commercial agent, she crashed an audition for a major feature film that she caught wind of. “I didn’t have a theatrical agent. I only had a commercial agent. A lot of actors in Chicago were talking about this audition for this movie Save the Last Dance, and I found out the location [where] they were casting.”
She headed down to the casting office determined to get a shot at a part. “They knew I did not have an audition, because I looked completely different than everybody that was there, because they were looking for a certain type. They said, “Uh, does everybody have an appointment?” I’m like, “Oh, God, that’s definitely for me. Let me get up and talk to them.” I [said], ‘I don’t have an appointment, but I really want to audition for this role. [They] let me audition, and that audition turned into about two or three more auditions, and I eventually met with the director, and I booked a part.”
Westbrook earned enough money from that role to move to Los Angeles. While working as a new actress, she turned to writing. She pushed herself to create thought-provoking material that addressed current events from her point of view. “It’s like a calling card. It’s almost like a marketing tool, right? Another approach for actors to take.”
Westbrook’s ambitions drove her to a job in NBC’s Production and Development Program and a chance to pitch her original shows for NBC and E!. “Those are huge highlights for me and they also boosted my confidence, ‘Oh, okay. I can do this.’ I’d never pitched before, but I learned, and I wasn’t afraid. That was the thing. I didn’t really have any fear about it, which was exciting,” the actress explained.
Her ability to write, produce and act opened doors for new opportunities. Westbrook gushed about landing the role on All American. “It’s been my dream to be a series regular and so I feel very blessed, and I’m just thankful for this opportunity and this role. One of the things that’s been on my list of goals was to be a series regular on a TV show, and it finally came to pass 18 years later. I’ve been in LA for 18 years. I’ve never given up. I’ve always believed that it was possible.”
The football drama series premiered last October and provides a bold look at social issues concerning socioeconomic status, family, race and coming of age. It is based on the story of former Carolina Panthers football star Spencer Paysinger, whose life took a dramatic turn when he transferred from South Crenshaw to Beverly Hills to play football.
Westbrook stars as Spencer’s mother, Grace, “who loves hard and [is] a hardworking woman that wants to see her family do well.” Westbrook continues, “I don’t have kids personally, so this is also my opportunity to be a mom, since I’m not one in real life. This actually gives me a chance to play that role, which is nice.”
“The most uplifting experience being part of the show for me is I think seeing the response from the audience,” she adds. “People are seeing themselves in a lot of the characters, the storylines are very thought-provoking, and there’s a lot of social commentary behind the subject matters. I love that it’s sparking conversations.”
Next up for Westbrook is Bolden, a new feature scheduled to hit theaters on May 3. The film is a semi-biographical look at Charles ‘Buddy” Bolden, who is known as a pioneer in the sound of jazz. “This great director, Dan Pritzker, came up with this story of what he feels may have happened to Buddy… It’s something that [hasn’t been seen before], and I think people are going to get a real kick out of this movie. Just the way that this story is told is very, very unique,” says Westbrook.
As for where her career is headed, Westbrook will continue to act, write and produce, but she’s also interested in becoming an author or motivational speaker. “I know that everybody’s going through things, and on the path of trying to fulfill your dreams there’s a lot of uncertainty and fear, but if I could provide a perspective or testimonies that will potentially inspire someone to hold on, and to keep pursuing, then I think that I’ll feel good about that.”