“I love my job, she says. “It’s definitely my favorite one of my career and I’m so grateful for this opportunity.”
Growing up the youngest of seven children, the St. Louis native says her childhood was a modest one as she sung in church and spent her childhood summers on her grandparents’ farm in West Point, MS. Along with singing, Cleo earned the prestige honor of first seat in her high school marching band’s trumpet section. After she refused to accept the punishment for a wrong note played by an unknown source, Cleo respectfully stepped down from her position in the band.
“That moment was the kiss of life for me,” she says.
Cleo was unsure about what she wanted to pursue as a career when she stepped foot on the University of Missouri at Columbia’s campus, but she recalled the magical experience of seeing The Wiz and another play her senior year of high school. After listening to her advisor read majors in alphabetical order, one stuck out that she claimed and earned her degree: Speech and Dramatic Art. As a freshman in college, the actress admits she was too timid to audition for roles, but scored the lead her sophomore year in her school’s production of To Be Young, Gifted and Black.
After college, Cleo traveled to New York to pursue an acting career. She admits gigs were few and far between in that industry, so she started singing in theaters. With acting as her passion, Cleo says she moved to L.A. and made a conscious decision to stop singing and dancing to hunt the acting gigs.
“I always believed in myself, even when others didn’t believe in me,” she adds. “One of my high school teachers said I talked too much, and my father told me there were people out there who were cuter and smaller than me in this industry, which fueled me.”
Cleo says the roles that challenged her most were her role as Effie in Broadway’s adaptation of Dreamgirls and Bill Duke’s one-woman show Turning Points.
“I dreamed I forgot my lines and Bill told me I was right where I ought to be,” Cleo recalls. “After that [Turning Points], I knew there was nothing I couldn’t do because I faced my fear.”
With a guest role on The Cosby Show and Six Degrees of Separation on her resume, Cleo started to prove herself to those who discouraged her from her aspirations.
“It was a tough process, but looking where I am now, it was all worth it,” Cleo explains. “I didn’t quit before the miracle happened.”
When she’s not working, Cleo devotes her time to prepare for another role in her life: motherhood. She admits she looks forward to adoption one day and works with the non-profit organization, Peas in Their Pods (www.peasintheirpods.com), which works with missing loved ones.
“I know it’s work I was put here to do for a reason,” she says.
*Photos Courtesy of Underwood Multimedia Associates Worldwide