LIVES IN: Los Angeles. GREW UP IN: Maywood, Broadview & Forest Park. AGE: 40. CLAIM TO FAME: Westbrook leapt into her big-screen debut in Paramount’s “Save the Last Dance.” She can currently be seen in the CW’s new series “All American,” playing the mother of a South Central L.A. football player recruited to play for Beverly Hills High. FROM CHI TO HOLLYWOOD: As early as elementary school, Westbrook starred in plays. “But I didn’t realize I could pursue it as a career. I never associated watching Whoopi Goldberg with being a real thing that was possible,” she says. Later, as a student at Proviso East High School, Westbrook focused on sports before her attendance at summer acting programs in L.A. led to finding her real calling. BREAKING OUT, BIG TIME: In the year she heard “Save the Last Dance” was going to be filmed in Chicago and they were hosting auditions, she fished around. “And then I just showed up. I didn’t have a film agent or an appointment,” she says. “I knew I was different than what they were looking for. I didn’t have fair skin and had this natural short hair. But the casting director let me audition. I got a call back, a meeting with the director and a role.” DRAWING FROM HER PAST: While Westbrook has pushed herself to play a spell-casting oracle alongside Johnny Depp in “The Rum Diaries” and an ill-willed nemesis alongside Alfre Woodard in “American Violet,” she drew directly from her very own past in “All American.” The show illustrates the lengths a single, hardworking mom will go to help her son in a less than desirable neighborhood. “I understood the circumstances based on where I was born and raised; I saw the striking difference in neighborhoods around me. I understood that if I was a mom I would want to prepare him for the best opportunities.” A NARRATIVE WE CAN ALL RELATE TO: No matter where you’re from or what you do, Westbrook feels “All American” will touch you: “It captures how alike we are than how different. While the characters are coming from different walks of life, the drama shows we all have the same basic human needs.” HER BEST KEPT SECRET: Before landing the CW role, Westbrook filled slow times by creating her own opportunities. She wrote, produced, and starred in a short film called “Best Kept Secret” about a man living a double life, keeping his attraction to men secret from his wife (played by Westbrook). “It was a real slice of life,” she says of the film that garnered her a Best Actress nomination by the Chicago Arts Alliance. CHICAGO IN HER HEART: With her family still in Chicago, Westbrook visits when she can. “I love what’s happening in the city — the museums, Millennium Park, the whole downtown. I could spend days just walking around.”
Look out for Karimah Westbrook in “All American” Wednesday nights on the CW.
Photo by David Higgs