Originally from Texas, Kimberly Hébert Gregory now calls the sunny hills of California home. It’s where she lives with her son, and it’s also home to her budding career as a theater maven turned HBO star.
In the new comedic hit Vice Principals, VP Lee Russell, played by Walton Goggins, and VP Neal Gamby, played by Danny McBride, fight (dirty) for the coveted position of Principal, only to be left in hilarious disarray as it’s given to a much more qualified outsider, Dr. Belinda Brown, masterfully played by Gregory. In this new series set in whimsical Charleston, South Carolina, Principal Brown is there to take care of business, all while serving troublemakers a taste of their own medicine.
What was the audition process like for getting this role?
I had been craving a complicated character that lives in a body like mine, and I was so overjoyed that this writing team created a whole woman and that the role of Belinda had come back up. I had just gotten off a plane from shooting another pilot in Puerto Rico, and I read the first scene with Danny. I just kept thinking, You’re reading with Kenny Powers you need to be prepared and not scared! Of course I was scared, but Danny and Jody laughed a few times when we were there, and to be in a room with two funny dudes who I really respect and who thought I was funny in that moment, it was kind of like checking something off of my bucket list.
Your experience in the theater speaks for itself—what drew you to explore something different?
To be quite frank, I love the theater. It’s my first love. In theater, you’re in a role for two hours and in that time your character is going to have an arc, which isn’t so necessary in television roles. In television I’m new—I’ve worked but I know that I’m a neophyte to the on-camera world, so finding roles that have a great arc is something I am so excited about. This role is truly the pearl in a clam. It’s the blessing of all blessings, and the weirdest and craziest experience.
There’s a hilarious scene where your character and her two sons move into their new home—a motel room with two queen beds—and after being fresh with their mother, both boys are grounded and sent to their shared bed. Do you see parallels between her and your own life as a mom?
I remember when we shot in that hot motel room! Initially they were splitting off, but we changed it during the shoot for both boys to get into one bed. It made the situation so much more dire and super funny. In Belinda’s case, she is a lot more ferocious than I am. I wish that I could correct people in the moment the way that she does. And I have to be honest: Kimberly wants to be liked, and I don’t know if I have much of that. But I can summon it! That idea of working, holding a family together, chasing your dreams, I totally relate to Belinda in that way. Trying to raise a family with integrity is sometimes hard, and sometimes hurtful when your kids aren’t appreciating you. Moms, working or not, can definitely relate. She’s the ultimate overachieving, multi-tasking American woman. Sheryl Sandberg would be really proud of her—she definitely leans in.
What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned from Belinda?
To fight fully, wisely and consciously. I think having the ability to fight for what you believe in is something that you need as a woman in a man’s world. But then also being conscious outside of fighting is the bigger lesson I learned from her.
…because she’s constantly fighting with Danny McBride and Walton Goggins’ characters! Were the actors actually pranksters in real life?
They’re professionals; they’ve done this enough where they know who they are. Did I break? Absolutely! How could you not! Did Danny break? Walton broke the most! It’s that kind of set, though. It’s not stern. We know we have real people in ridiculous circumstances, so sometimes what comes out of your mouth you’re like, “I can’t believe that!” But then offset we had a lot of fun together. You’re coming into a family because Danny, Jody, David and a bunch of people working on this went to college together, so they’re a community, and they created many opportunities for us to become a part of that, like barbeques at Danny’s. And then there were times we would just relax; I’d go to the store with Georgia King or hang out with Ashley [Spillers]. I think we found each other and needed each other!
And there are worse places to do that all than in Charleston!
I had not been there before and I have to say, I am a fan of Charleston. I was there during the shooting [at Emanuel AME church] and I appreciated how the city rallied together, and I loved how the city embraces, to a certain degree, its history. Black history is present, you can see it in the streets. I lived in the historic district, south of Broad, in a home of a very well known blacksmith. And the food! You could fall down anywhere and have amazing food.
What was your favorite restaurant?
Cru Café. Without a doubt. They have an “organgesicile” cake—they gave me life and an extra ten pounds and I am not mad at all.
Any exciting projects coming up?
I have a play coming up in the fall at the Geffen in L.A. by Robert O’Hara and directed by Colman Domingo, called Barbeque.
Main photo: Riker Brothers