Chicago's Erica Hubbard Is A Rising Star

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em1Photo: Courtesy of Erica Hubbard.
As a kid, you may have seen her sporting back-to-school styles in a Sears commercial. When you were a teenager, perhaps you longed for her glowing complexion in a Noxzema ad. Now, as an adult, you've probably seen actress Erica Hubbard in everything from The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants to BET's ever-so-popular Let's Stay Together.

The 35-year-old Chicago native hasn't rested on her laurels since she got her start at nine, so we caught up with the bubbly go-getter to get the scoop on her upcoming film, favorite Chicago memories, and how she landed her gig as a talk-show host while she was still in college.

What are some of your favorite memories from growing up in Chicago?
"Most definitely places to eat! Chicago literally has the best food in the world. I remember eating tons of pizza. I love the deep-dish pizza at places like Uno's and Giordano's. I love Portillo's — Italian beef, Chicago-style hot dogs, Polish sausage... Recently, when I came back to visit when I was filming the movie 72 Hours, I went to some of my favorite restaurants like Chicago Cut steakhouse — they have the best steak ever."

How did you wind up starting out doing voice-overs for commercials? Was there ever a second you thought it wouldn't work?
"There was never a thought in my mind that it wouldn't work out because my family always pushed me to do my best. So, even if I felt down and out, they would be like, 'No, you're going to make it!' But, I owe my dad a lot of credit. One of my dad's friends worked at Ford, so I started out modeling — a lot of people don't know that. Next, Ford told me that I needed to get an agency to assist me with television and film. So, that was around the time I was doing ER, Early Edition, and other shows in Chicago.

Your first big break was being on the Disney series The Replacements. How did that come about?
"I got that break while I was at Ford. I was really young — nine years old. I was already in the union because I was working professionally on television, in film, and in theater. That was one of the most amazing times of my life. I got to work with Nancy Cartwright who played Marge on The Simpsons. That was like a dream come true."

When you attended Columbia College in Chicago, what were your career goals? Did you have a back-up plan?
"My goal was to be an anchorwoman. I wanted to do on-air broadcasting. But, I was torn because I had been acting for so long that I decided to minor in theater. I'm glad I did that because I met the (former) chair of the theater department, Sheldon Patinkin, who worked with Steppenwolf and Second City — that's really where I learned a lot about acting. He taught me a lot."

At what point in your career were you involved in the Chicago-based television show Up and Running? How did you get that cool gig?
I was in college! It was hard because I was basically balancing a full-time job while trying to do 15, 16, 17 credit hours per semester. But, I did the show for three years throughout college — it was an amazing experience. I found out about the show on a bulletin board at Columbia! I ended up winning an Emmy and a National Association of Television Arts and Science award.

Up and Running helped to mentor the youth of the city. How do you still give back today?
"I founded my own nonprofit called the Erica Hubbard Foundation. I created it because I grew up on the South Side of Chicago, I was exposed to a lot of violence — which is still going on now. So, I go into community centers and talk to the kids. I encourage them to stay in school and stay off of the streets. They are shocked when I come because they can't believe I would take the time to inspire and motivate them. I also go to high schools, elementary schools, churches — all around. Recently, I was with congresswoman Robin Kelly speaking at Gwendolyn Brooks College Preparatory Academy for a "Put The Guns Down" rally. Tons of kids showed up who wanted to know what they could do to make the streets safer. It was an amazing experience."

Since you grew up on the South Side, how did you keep yourself inspired to become the successful young woman you are today?
"A lot of people I grew up with passed away from gun violence. So, it taught me a lesson that life is really short, but it can become a lot shorter if you don't center yourself around the right people. I just always wanted something better for my life."
22Photo: Courtesy of Erica Hubbard.
Tell us about your role in the upcoming film 72 Hours?
"I am happy to say that I filmed that in Chicago alongside some really great people like Harry Lennix and Cynda Williams. It was amazing because it was the first time I've ever had the opportunity to play a doctor! My character's name is Lanae. Basically, she's looking for love with this man who is not quite ready to receive love. So, it's a situation where she's trying to convince him that she's the right woman for him, but he's trying to get his life together. There are a lot of ups and downs. But, the way they work it out is something that everyone needs to see — especially if you're having any difficulties in your relationship."

We love a good rom-com, but it seems like there aren't as many as there used to be. What are your thoughts on this? How do you feel the genre can be reinvented?
"I think there are more romantic comedies happening now because people are yearning to see stories about relationships. In fact, I got involved in 72 Hours through another romantic comedy I was in called Black Coffee. The director — Christopher Nolen (The Good Life) — liked my role in that movie, so he called me up and asked me to be in the film. So, I feel that these movies are a trend right now."

How was it working with director Christopher Nolen? What did you learn from him?
"Christopher Nolen gave the actors room to breathe. He wasn't like 'Here's the script, execute my vision." He's hands on. He comes to you and says 'Okay, let's try this a couple of different ways.' So, I think that just gives you more room to create. You don't want something to have too much tension. You want to have a free environment where the director allows you the opportunity to create the scene. So, it was more of a collaborative effort, and I love that about him." "

What's next on the horizon for you?
"My Favorite Five is coming out, which is another amazing film that I did with Brian White, DeRay Davis, and Quinton Aaron. Also, I have a couple of children's books coming out. That's my heart, because I love storytelling. The first one is called You, She, Her, Him, and I. It's about five kids and how they have fun together during the school years, and also during the summer. I love telling stories, reading stories, and...being in stories."