When you’re a kid, there’s one question you’re commonly asked. What do you want to be when you grow up? For some, it’s the traditional response of doctors and lawyers, a reflection of what little they’ve seen. However, as you get older, you’ll look back and realize just how absurd of a question that is for a 5-year old. Society tells us that it’s completely normal for you to change your mind. Multiple times. But what if the answer your 5-year old self gave is still in line with present, 30-year old you? It’s a rare thing, but it’s the story of Andrea Lewis. Acting is literally all she’s every known. In kindergarten, her 5-year old self knew exactly what she wanted to be, and today she still manages to find new ways to fall in love with it all over again.
The Toronto native has made a name for herself doing exactly what she loves everyday. For her, there’s simply no other option. “I’ve been doing this my whole life. I’ve never one, had the time to do a normal job. And I can’t even imagine doing a normal job.” It’s been a little over six months since she moved back to LA. Before that, she’s traveled back and forth between there, Toronto and New York. “I spent a year and a half moving back and forth from Toronto, New York and LA. In September I made LA my base. My producing partner lives here. I always said that I thought that LA had a similar pace as Toronto, just with more opportunities. LA is such a chill place. And there’s a lot of Canadians here.”
But while she’s made LA home, there are certainly some differences. I ask her about the concept of why people from the US might consider moving to Canada if Trump becoming president ever became a reality. “In Toronto you’re very culturally aware. You know the difference between someone who’s from Thailand and Korea. It makes you more accepting because you’re taking more time to understand each other’s cultures.” This awareness of different cultures has also made her more in tune with her own. “I always call myself a West Indian Canadian. Where I’m from, you don’t really have a lot of people who aren’t initially from somewhere else. Your parents aren’t from the country that you’re being raised in, so they try to do your best. That’s the different between being a Black person in Canada, versus being a Black person in the states.”
This year’s a busy year for her as well as her production company, Jungle Wild Productions. It’s a Friday afternoon in LA. Only a few hours shy of a gig she has with Black & Sexy TV. She’s been working nonstop on new material. Despite her impressive resume, people still remember Andrea Lewis mostly for her role as Hazel in Degrassi. We talk about how she’s balanced maintaining the notoriety this role has got her, while also encouraging people to stay current on her new work. “I haven’t figured out exactly. Every person will eventually do a role that people will associate you with. Aubrey is very successful, but some people still remember him as wheelchair Jimmy. I think that’s a part of the business you have to accept. I’m fortunate in the sense that the people who do follow me, they don’t see me as Hazel, they see me as Andrea Lewis. I think it would be worse to be ungrateful. When I was younger I used to be a little frustrated, but as I’ve gotten older, I’m just grateful to have something that people remember me for.”
Late 2013, she introduced the web series Black Actress. Most of her work as of late has been a reflection of her reality. “I think what I realized with me, everything that I put out and produce, it’s about what I’m currently learning through life. That’s the common theme. Black Actress was written in a time when I was insecure. Beyond Complicated was based on relationships and things I’ve learned.” The concept of Black Actress was inspired from a moment while she was on set in Vancouver. It was a moment where she was introduced to another cast member as the urban/Black actress on the set. “The funny thing is, I’m still good friends with one of the cast members of the situation. That’s how strange that moment was, cause it affected him. He still brings it up. I think why I wanted to make Black Actress because I think everybody has had this experience, whether famous or not. I think he described me as this, because he saw me the way the script saw me.”
This is her reality. She’s a culmination of her life experiences, and her work is a direct response to it. Over the years she’s developed thick skin, truly embraced self-love and developed into the person that she wants to become. She’s learned how to say no to opportunities that aren’t an accurate reflection of how she wants to be portrayed. Self-aware enough to realize that what she does is bigger than her. That means making the right choices over compromising for opportunity. She elaborates on this responsibility. “I’ve had a few auditions this year where the roles were, in my opinion kind of stereotypical. I can’t tell if it’s just my eye and my critical lens.” But ultimately it’s about where you see yourself in the long run. “These roles are sometimes great, but in the back of your mind, if I was to get this, how would I justify this. I think it depends on the type of artist you want to be as a person of color. Some of us don’t care. At some point it’s a conversation you have to have with yourself.” I absolutely loved that she got this, and it was probably my favorite moment of our conversation. Cultural accountability.
Earlier this year she released a new web series titled ‘Beyond Complicated.’ It’s a show that I, an African American male relate to the most. It juxtaposes the male and female perspective of a complicated relationship. Only four episodes in, and I’m already hooked. “The show was inspired by my friends. I could understand the guy and the girl’s perspectives and understand why they couldn’t see eye to eye. When I thought about a series on dating, I wanted to see it all.”
Imperfections and all, Andrea Lewis has come a long way. Just like you, or I, she sometimes doubts herself, but never enough to give up her dreams. She’s young, talented, and extremely self-aware. Life has taught her how to budget money in between gigs, and she’s remained her true self over all these years. Perhaps it was attending regular school despite being on set, or maintaining the same best friends since elementary school. She attributes her beginning in entertainment to her mother. “My mom put me in the business as a little kid, but I stayed because I loved it.” It’s been nearly 15 years since she first stepped into the character Hazel, and she shows no signs of slowing down. From Degrassi to Black Actress, this is the story of Andrea Lewis.