Rhona Fox had told her mother since she was five years old that she would become an actress one day. And looking back she said, she has always been an actor. Every time her family relocated in Guyana she developed a new character – a new role that had to be played.
But it was while working in the music industry after migrating to the US that she realised how true that was. Rhona recalls that she was working for the world’s worst boss which was unbearable. “Being near her I had to put on a poker face and played my role each day, until I resigned,” she says. “She had no idea how I felt until I left and that’s how I was absolutely certain I would be able to make it as an actor, because I was convincing in real life. There was no one more despicable than this woman and I was able to actually be nice to her daily. Acting has always been my survival mechanism – it was how I coped with whatever situation life threw my way. I’ve since attended acting school for almost two years and my training continues, as I work to perfect the craft of being present and truthful in the moment.”
Having had a recurring role in the entire first season of “The Gifted Man” on CBS, a role in an episode of Law & Order SVU on NBC along with other TV work, advertisements and stage, Rhona is set to produce her first independent film. She revealed that she would either be playing a doctor or nurse. “… It’s great to finally put all my skills together to create my own project,” she says. “I have formed a small community of talented folks between my years in TV and now in the acting world, so a lot of friends are participating in this project.”
The film will be a Screen Actors Guild feature and also her first starring role. “With this age of new media comes emerging platforms for independent filmmakers to have theirs works exposed, especially through mediums like Netflix and YouTube, so I’m capitalising on it. I’ve never been one to sit back and wait for someone to give me something one day. So I’m transferring all my personal work principles into acting and making something happen for myself,” she says. “People often ask what do I want in the future but honestly, each day that I’m working as an actor, which is every day right now, I feel successful – I don’t have to wait for anything or any moment in the future. It’s taken a long time to get here, as I’ve tried out many different careers but nothing feels as good as doing exactly what I want each day.”
Rhona recognises that she has probably been typecast as many of her roles are in the medical field (she was a doctor on “The Gifted Man” and a nurse on “Law & Order”, but she welcomes it.
“As an actor, the biggest blessing is just to be working. The fame and glory are just icing on the cake – steady work is what’s important, at least in my opinion. I’d rather have longevity than one big role and then never be seen again, which happens to lots of people,” she says.
In 2007, Rhona started Fox Fuse, a music publicity company where she represented artists such as Pitbull, Shaggy, Lil Jon and Machel Montano, and also worked with people like Diddy, Rick Ross and Flo Rida along the way, crossing paths with many others. Fox Fuse has since evolved into a music distribution company selling music worldwide via digital retail partners such as iTunes, Amazon and Rhapsody. Its specialty is Caribbean music. Fox says she initially started the company to provide a path for Caribbean music in the mainstream music industry.
Fox Fuse is entering its sixth year this month and her partner Zack Cohen has taken over as CEO. She said that he spearheaded the move into music distribution and they are finding success as a key channel for Caribbean music worldwide. “My role has changed as I’m no longer at Fox Fuse, with my acting career leaving little time to sit in an office, but I still own 50% of the company and do help out whenever I’m needed.”
The only option she says she has right now is acting. “I wish I could provide a more elaborate answer but it’s as simple as this. I have no other choice but to act,” she says.
Rhona was born in Essequibo and raised in Anna Regina, where she lived for five years before moving to West Demerara, then Berbice, then back to the West Demerara Region, then to Georgetown briefly to attend Queen’s College, before leaving for the Bahamas.
She is the youngest of three children. Her two older brothers, Sean and Ron now live in Chicago, Illinois and San Francisco, California respectively. Sean is a civil engineer and Ron is a bio-medical engineer. Both are married and Ron has twin boys. Her parents are both teachers and live in Florida.
Both her parents were very strict and her dad, she says, could scare them with just a look. “I would hide if I did anything bad, which unfortunately, was often,” she jokes.
The family moved constantly because her father specialised in “upgrading secondary schools” so once he accomplished this goal with a school, he was immediately transferred elsewhere. As a result, Rhona attended seven primary schools in six years. She made friends easily and learned to leave them just as easy. “Sometimes I’m envious of people who have long-standing relationships because back then, the only way to keep in touch was through actual mail, so I don’t really have any current friendships dating back to Guyana, which is unfortunate. Sure, I’ve enjoyed major character building from the constant change, including learning to adapt to new situations and people, and learning survival skills for all kinds of life situations, but it’s bittersweet because I’ve lost some great friendships along the way.”
Rhona says she performed poorly at QC. “It was a complete culture shock for me, coming from being a country girl up until then. I was exhausted by the time I arrived at school in the morning.” She recalls leaving De Willem, West Coast Demerara at five in the morning by bus, then catching a boat to take another bus, to make it to school for 8 am. After school she returned home too tired to do the extensive homework obligatory each night. She says it was a difficult time for her. She moved to Nassau, Bahamas right after completing Form One at Queens College.
From all the moving, she describes her childhood as “kind of insane” but still a new experience and adventure, for every move was a complete unparalleled experience.
“I remember when we moved to Berbice, the neighbours really embraced me and for the entire two years we resided there, they referred to my parents as ‘Rhona Mommy’ and ‘Rhona Daddy’. I don’t believe they ever learned their names.” Rhona recalls that these same neighbours had contacted her after seeing an article of her in a Queens, New York newspaper.
Another family story is of her father buying his family a parrot for $5 in a rum shop. They called him Flint and he eventually started ‘talking’. Unfortunately Flint was stolen when the family moved to De Willem and his absence left the family in a state of shock. “We were so bummed, we drove around the neighbourhood looking for him and took someone else’s parrot, but that one didn’t talk so we took him back. Sad, I know. We all still miss Flint.”
Rhona hints that there are endless crazy stories from her childhood; being bitten by a neighbour’s dog; saving their dog from another dog’s attack; almost drowning in the canal behind their home; almost being run over multiple times as she tried to cross the road. “Sometimes I think it’s a miracle I made it out alive. There are many times my life could have ended there, so my childhood was quite colourful.”
Her father was a lover of music and would play his vinyl records: old Indian movie soundtracks, religious music like Hari Om Sharan, Mighty Sparrow, Bob Marley, Skeeter Davis and Jim Reeves; his eclectic tastes adding even more colour to their lives.
She notes that moving to the Caribbean island was a major change for her family and an exciting one for her. “Everything was different,” she says. “…And although we were strangers in a foreign land, it was a better environment for me, both academically and emotionally.”
She flourished and went on to become the valedictorian of her graduating class at 16, when the average graduate’s age was 18. She was also president of the student body, Editor-in-Chief of the school’s paper, a student writer for the Bahaman national paper, on the math team, debate team and soccer team.
“So I was unique there. I jumped at the opportunity to excel in that limelight. I was able to develop a strong self-esteem and confidence in myself.” she also noted that those are the most important qualities for any young woman.
“I’m not sure if I would have been able to do that in Guyana. Expectations there were you went to school, got a job, got married, had kids and that is it. Relocating to the Bahamas showed me the rest of the world exists and there were no limitations to what I could do, and if there were traditional expectations of me, I didn’t adhere to them anymore because I was no longer part of that mould.”
The tourism slogan for the Bahamas back then was ‘It’s Better In The Bahamas’ and even though her parents were struggling, it was definitely better for them all. She and her two brothers were all able to attend university in the United States. “So that move shaped everything for us all.”
She attended the State University of New York at Albany for her Bachelor’s Degree, where she majored in Communication and minored in Economics. She had wanted to be a lawyer initially, but after serving as the editor-in-chief of the university’s newspaper for two years, she changed her major from Economics to Communication. This allowed her to intern at the local ABC Television news affiliate, where she was hired before she even graduated. She worked her way up from news assistant to producer and as news promotion producer for six years before moving to Manhattan to become editor of a nationally-published magazine called Jamrock Magazine. She then transitioned into being a music publicist for five years, and now she is a full-time thespian. Rhona is a member of the Screen Actors Guild (the union for actors) and has been for four years now.
She would love to be a season regular on a TV show, as either a doctor or nurse. “Besides looking the part,” she said, “It’s really funny for me personally because I harbour zero interest in the medical field and detest hospitals…
I prefer drama but I have an innate tendency to make people laugh so I’m not fussy about the genre. Be it drama or comedy, I’m down for whatever they want me to do.”
Some memorable moments for her include her first stage production, when she played the lead in Spike Heels, a play that took place in an Off-Broadway theatre in Manhattan.
Another standout moment is getting her print ad playing a dentist on the top of Yahoo’s homepage, which ran worldwide on a Monday morning. “Of course people don’t know its ‘Rhona Fox’ but it was a big deal to make it to that global level. Most ads run regionally but a Yahoo.com top-of-homepage run is coveted for the international exposure it brings.”
She is humbled by the welcome she has received from the acting community and the Caribbean community, which has bestowed on her honours she thought she would have to wait a lifetime, or at least many years, to achieve.
She hasn’t visited Guyana since 1991 but would love to return to work in the drama/acting field. “I can’t say specifically how I would promote anything there as I’m sure the Guyana I remember is quite different than the one today. That said, I do have connections to some famous folks who would love to journey there and bring additional eyes and ears to the Guyanese culture and people. I understand that if any of us succeed, it translates to great things for our country, culture and talent, overall.”
Behind the scenes
Her social life has taken a downward spiral since she started acting but she prefers it that way. She says she had fun in her twenties and spent time with her girlfriends and travelled a lot for music work and otherwise. Now, the most important thing is preparation for her acting job. Whenever she has a day off she is sure to sleep or run errands.
She became a strict vegan this year so she does not eat out at that many places, and thus, she cooks her meals ahead of time so she can have food whenever she goes home at “weird hours.” She also reads a lot, for work and for fun, and her most enjoyable activity right now besides watching TV because she can do it anywhere and at any time. “I always have my Kindle with me so I can indulge and get lost in another world, at any given moment. On the weekends, I usually hang out with my boyfriend in the city and we walk around Manhattan – there’s always something new to see or interesting event to experience.”