Fast forward to 1991, the year that I resigned from Duke, and ventured into the publishing business full time. At that time there was no magazine that featured Black culture, so I started one called The Guide to Black Charlottetm which later became Trend Magazine Onlinetm. I was simply ecstatic when Maria accepted my invitation to be interviewed for our Spring 1991 edition (Page 26) and even more surprised when she stopped by my office and ingratiated us with her down-to-earth Southern Belle personality and effectual smile punctuated by natural dimples that rival those of actress Debbi Morgan. The interview took place just five years after the release of the blockbuster movie The Color Purple (1986) directed by the iconic Steven Spielberg and starring Danny Glover, Whoopi Goldberg, Margaret Avery, and Oprah Winfrey; in which Howell played the role of the Church Choir Soloist who sings the memorable "God is trying to tell you something" hymn towards the end of the movie. She has since gone on to appear in other block buster movies and TV shows to include the Vampire Diaries series (CW Network) and the Army Wives series (Lifetime), as well as The Blind Side (2009), a recurring role of Grace on the NBC (National Broadcasting Company) drama Revolution (2012 - 2014), The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013); Hidden Figures (2016), Saints and Sinners (2016-2018), A Christmas Carol (2019), Maneater (2020); to name a few. She still performs mostly on the east coast, does speaking engagements, voiceover work, merchandising, and is consistently and constantly working in the acting arena.
I caught up with Maria again in late 2020 while back in her home state of North Carolina sheltered in place from the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic. This is what transpired three decades since our last interview.
Jay (Juan) -- Maria do you know that you and I both have Spanish names and translated their both biblical?
Maria -- That's right; John and Mary
Jay -- Do people still recognize you from The Color Purple movie?
Maria -- Ummmmm; That's a tricky question (pause); They don't.
Jay -- Really?
Maria -- The reason why I say it that way is because I constantly get, "You look familiar!" They know my face, but they don't know where from, and when I say The Color Purple they say "Yeahhhhh, you look the same, you haven't aged a bit" once I give them the confirmation or affirmation. It is usually someone else telling them that "She is the one from the Color Purple," or if I just walk up to people in public I always get "You look familiar!" It also depends on where I am for example here [Charlotte, NC, area] the majority of people know pretty much; but when I am in California, say LA [Los Angeles] there are so many other actors there everybody looks everybody up so they will know from research. People are always looking to see [who's who] because when you audition for something you look at who the other cast members are and then you look at their background and then they know that way. But if people there just see me walking down the street -- no.
Jay -- Out of all the hats that you wear; you are singer, actor, composer, producer, entrepreneur, and board member -- which do you prefer wearing the most and why?
Maria -- Singing; singing is my number one simply because it's the first thing that I ever did and it's more of a natural Segway. It affords me to be able to branch out and do all these other things. So, singing is the core and that's the one I prefer to do first.
Jay -- So, if God said you can only do one for the rest of your life that's what you would do?
Maria -- Yeah; probably, in this list yeah. Yeah, singing, yeah because it's the thing that feels more organic and more of a part of me and my spirit and my soul. Yeah.
Jay -- To date what has been your favorite character to play and why?
Maria -- Ummmmm, I have to go back to The Color Purple because if it's a good experience, you never lose that first time. And that was my first time in a professional acting capacity, and I will never forget what it felt like and I will never forget the experience and I won't forget what it has afforded me since then. God allowed that to be my door opener.
Jay -- Walk me through the first day you showed up on set?
Maria -- Ummmmm, the color green because I was green as I don't know what, I had no clue as to what I was doing; I was just so happy to be at the party!
Jay -- So, you drove yourself or did somebody else drive you to the set?
Maria -- Well, you have to report to base camp and then they bussed us all over because that's typically how that happens.
Jay - So, it's just like going to a regular job?
Maria -- Pretty much yeah, I mean yeah, as regular as it can be in that capacity. You drive to the base camp and then if the set is somewhere else, they get you on a bus or a van and then take you to the set. If the set is right there then you walk across the yard or whatever to get to it.
Jay -- Where was the base camp; wasn't it in the Burlington area?
Maria -- No, no, no, it was in Monroe [just east of Charlotte, NC], Union and Anson County.
Jay -- Oh yeah, there's a sign there; have you seen the road sign?
Maria -- Yeah, in Wadesboro; that's where I shot my scenes -- now of course there are different locations for different parts of the movie, but my parts of the movie was there.
Jay -- So that's where the church scene was?
Maria -- Yeah.