“Community” fans know Yvette Nicole Brown as Shirley Bennett, a mother of three who depended on her Christian faith to get her through divorce, alcoholism and the eccentricities of her fellow study-group members at Greendale Community College.
On CBS’ remake of “The Odd Couple,” which returns for a new season in the spring, Brown plays Dani, assistant to slovenly sportswriter and sports-radio host Oscar Madison (Matthew Perry). In one episode, Dani said she’d worked as “a missionary … and a cowgirl.”
In real life, Ohio native Brown is a devoted Christian and a devoted daughter, who asked to be released from her “Community” contract in 2014 to look after her ailing father. She’s still doing that, but the hours on “The Odd Couple” are more manageable.
To manage the rest of her showbiz life, Brown leans on her faith, as she explained in a conversation with PJ Media last summer at a CBS press event in West Hollywood.
“The best thing about being a person of faith,” she said, “for me, in Hollywood, is that I know where my line is. I know where my boundaries are. I’ve been blessed to work with agents and publishers and other people in the industry that understand what my line is, and here my boundaries are so I never have to have those awkward conversations, like, ‘Well, Yvette, we want you to be …,’ and I’m like, ‘Y’all know I can’t.’
“They understand. They’ll call me and say, ‘Hey, this offer came in, but you’re probably not going to want to do it, because it’s …,’ and I’ll go, ‘Thank you. I am going to pass. thank you for thinking of me.’
“Basically, it gives me a nice little area to reside in. I know what my lane is, and that’s good. In this industry, you need to know where your lane is, because otherwise you’ll find yourself way off track.”
One of the hardest things about being an actor is rejection, and faith also helps Brown there.
“You are never enough,” she said, “you are never just right — and Jesus shows me that I am. There’s pieces of the world saying ‘No,’ but God’s saying, ‘Yes,’ and knowing that my purpose on this earth is not to be famous or to be beautiful or to be thin. My purpose in this world is to help others and to shine a light on Christ, and to be a source of refuge on set.
“That’s why I’m here, wherever I am. Source of refuge at this party; source of refuge in line at Starbucks. When you’re clear on what your purpose is, you’re not tossed to and fro by the ups and downs of a business like this.”
Unfortunately, a lot of people in show business don’t have that sort of firm foundation, so working in such a volatile industry can take a terrible toll on souls and psyches. As Brown sees it, they’re chasing the wrong things, but she knows what her focus is.
“It’s Jesus,” she said. “People of faith are not in this industry for the same reasons as other people are. We are not as torn apart when we don’t get the big and shiny things. We know what our purpose is, and our purpose is not to be on the covers of magazines or win an Oscar or an Emmy. Those things are nice, but that’s not the goal.
“The goal is to be part of a project that you respect, to work with people that you respect, and to get your ‘Well done,’ at the end of your life. My only purpose in life is to get a ‘Well done.'”
Brown was referring to a Gospel verse, Matthew 25:23, where a parable concludes with:
His master said to him, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!”
“Nothing else matters but that,” said Brown. “That means, if I have to do something shady for somebody else to get ahead, I’m not going to do that. That means I have to be a person of integrity when it comes to contracts and giving my word. It’s about the ‘Well done’ and not rising in the industry.
“The important thing about God is, when you put him first, you always rise, because He can trust you. It’s almost like, ‘Seek ye first the kingdom of heaven, and all things will be added unto you.’
“I’m living proof of that. I’m not supposed to be working in this industry. I’m very aware of that. I’m of a certain age; I was of a certain size; I’m definitely of a certain color … I’m not supposed to be working.”
But just believing isn’t enough. Brown also emphasized that the way your live out your faith in Hollywood is as important as having it.
“You have to go into it with love,” she said. “It breaks my heart when I see a lot of people raise the flag for Christ, but there is no love. The only thing Christ told me to do is to love Him, to love myself, and to love my neighbor like I love myself.
“I’m supposed to love; I’m not supposed to judge. I’m not supposed to be the police or the executioner or the condemner. I am supposed to simply love people, and the Bible says, ‘You will know them by their love.’ If I meet someone, and they say they are a Christian, and they’re hateful and nasty and mean, I’m like, ‘I don’t know if you’ve met Him.’
“You know them by their love. It’s that simple. I try to model love. I like people; I hope you know this about me. Every time I see you, I greet you with love, because I love you, and it’s not calculating. It’s not phony; it’s genuine. I feel like I’m in this industry to show that you can be in this industry and not be hateful and nasty. It’s a choice.”
It’s also a choice she presents to people she meets coming into the industry.
Said Brown, “I tell young Christians, ‘Figure out your boundaries, and make sure they’re the boundaries that God gave you, and not the boundaries you’ve given yourself. If you live by the ones you give yourself, then you’re going to cut yourself a little slack.'”
“Stay where He has put you. Stay in the lane He put you in.”