by Janice Rhoshalle Littlejohn
It’s Friday, about 7 p.m., on a warm March evening in Los Angeles just before spring, and Mara Brock Akil, creator and executive producer of BET’s Being Mary Jane and The Game is on the phone for her interview. She’s sitting in her car in front of her house with bags of Chinese food in the passenger seat.
“The reason I didn’t walk into the house is because I’m learning to multitask in the present,” explains the 44-year-old wife (to director and producing partner, Salim Akil, 50) and mother of two elementary school-aged sons, Yasin and Nasir. “So when I walk through the threshold, I’m not the showrunner doing a press call. I’m mommy.”
If you thought the multi-layered characters she creates for TV had a lot going on, the time-flexing showrunner says she’s also had to learn to compartmentalize every part of her life in order to be effective on and off set, and at home.
“When I am in the writer’s room, I am a writer. If I’m at the office, I am a producer, and if that’s just for an hour, then there’s an hour of that,” she says. “That’s how I’ve been able to do it, and not all at once.
“And my poor assistants, they have to help me manage all aspects of my life,” she continues, with a laugh. “I have a personal assistant and nanny who helps me with my kids, and an assistant that really manages my calendar so I’m always where I need to be. Then I have one who works with Claire Brown, who runs our company (Akil Productions), and he makes sure that no balls are dropped between here and Atlanta (where both Mary Jane and The Game are shot). He’s the bridge for everybody to get to me in Atlanta. So I also have to compartmentalize my assistants.”
Along the way, she admits, some balls do get dropped in the juggle, including spending time with her mother and her girlfriends. So she’s gotten creative. “Like, I’m a big supporter of Girls Inc.,” she says, “and so what I’ve started to do, I’ll say, ‘Okay, I want to buy a table,’ which I would want to do anyway to support the charity. Then I’ll invite all my friends, so we can support a charity and see each other at the same time.”
Between school functions, Hollywood events, speaking engagements, and serving on various boards, being Mara Brock Akil means doing it all nearly ‘round-the-clock. Here she gives us a peek into a day in her life, as told to For Harriet contributor Janice Rhoshalle Littlejohn.
Morning6:00 a.m.: I wake up in the morning, and I’m going to be really honest, if Salim’s home then I’m wife,” she giggles, “and I don’t mean to be like, TMI, but I make sure I connect with my husband. And then I get out of bed and become mom. I make a hot breakfast. I make lunch. It makes me feel like I am a present mom.
7:25 a.m.: I take the kids to school, and sometimes Salim and I both do it.
8:30 a.m.: We’ll get a tea and go for a hike. Anything I need to talk with Salim about business-wise or creatively will come out that way. If I work out by myself, my workouts (with trainer Jeanette Jenkins or at SoulCycle) really do help me get into a creative zone for what I need to do that day.
9:30 a.m.: I’m always showering at the gym. It’s a luxury to shower in my own shower, because I’m always showering someplace else.
Afternoon/Evening10:30/11:00 a.m.: Tea and a light breakfast at work, either in Century City at BET, or if I’m being an artist, I’ll work up at The Loft or at SoHo House where I can eat a nice yummy meal off real plates. But if I have to edit, or if I have to be in the office, I’ll be in Century City and just burn out the day doing all of that sort of stuff and have lunch while I’m working.
Nighttime7:00 p.m.: I’ll try to get home before my kids go to bed, but I don’t always make it. But if they’re awake, then I try to be present with them and spend time with my kids, put them to bed.
9:00 p.m.: Once I’ve wrapped from that, I might have to go back to work from about 9 p.m. to 1 a.m., and then I’m back up at 6 a.m.
WeekendsI have catch-up sleep on Saturdays ‘til about 9, and I might find the time to enjoy a nap on Sundays. Now that my kids are older I can get away with that a little bit more. And I’ve learned how to use my time really wisely on airplanes and either I can burn through emails that I’m behind on, or do some work or some reading.
I’m starting to accept, like for my whole life I’ve always felt like I have a paper due. I never really feel like I don’t have to do anything. The first time I did that was this summer in August, I just didn’t work. I read books and things of that nature, and it was really wonderful.”
BET’s Being Mary Jane wraps its third season with a two-hour finale on April 14 at 9pm ET/8pm CT.
Photo provided by Ms. Brock Akil.
Janice Rhoshalle Littlejohn is a journalist, author, and film artist. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @janicerhoshalle.