With a passion for the arts since childhood, dancer-turned-actress Rochelle Aytes has been heating up the screen on one of summer’s hottest shows. Now in its fourth season, ABC’s “Mistresses” has captured audiences with its steamy drama and romance.
New York State of Mind
Before she set her sights on Hollywood, the native New Yorker was committed to a career in dance. After graduating from Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School, the performing arts school depicted in the hit ‘80s TV show “Fame,” Aytes went on to the State University of New York at Purchase, where she graduated with a bachelor of fine arts degree in dance. From there she performed and toured with Ballet Hispanico and the Broadway show “Aida.”
It was during “Aida” that Aytes caught the acting bug. From there the desire to pursue this creative outlet blossomed, and, as she says, “I haven’t looked back.”
While taking acting classes and immersing herself in the craft, the triple threat got her first break – an episode in season 6 of “Sex and the City.”
“At that time I was auditioning for commercials, doing print modeling, and anything else related to the business to get comfortable in front of the camera,” says Aytes. While the part on “Sex and the City” was small, it was her first speaking role and it gave her a foot in the door.
Two years later Aytes was cast in the 2004 Wayans brothers’ comedy, “White Chicks,” which she says was her breakout role. “It was my first movie and I was elated, scared, and shocked at the same time,” she says. While she found it difficult to wrap her mind around all that was happening – she questioned whether she was ready for it – she says her faith in God and her belief that people are never given more than they can handle convinced her it was her time to shine.
A Rising Star
Ready or not, Aytes’ star continued to rise and her career took off, both in film and on TV. She starred in Tyler Perry’s “Madea’s Family Reunion” and has appeared in such hit shows as “NCIS,” “Bones,” “Desperate Housewives,” and “The Forgotten,” to name just a few.
After working on a number of TV series, Aytes was cast as one of the four leads in a new drama series, “Mistresses,” which began airing in 2013 on ABC. The show is centered on the lives of four women and their complex relationships, and Aytes’ character has seen her fair share of drama these past three seasons – from a dead husband who turned out to be alive, to that husband’s mistress and their love child.
“My previous role was a detective on a show called ‘The Forgotten,’ which was very serious; this gave me an opportunity to play and have much more of a personal life,” says Aytes. “When I first read this script I thought it was fun; I loved the character and how quirky and awkward she was.”
She describes her character, April, as a loving, devoted single mom who can be a bit neurotic but always tries to do what’s right, even though she fails at times. “April is often the victim of lies and deceit, but over the course of the show she’s proven to be strong and resilient,” says Aytes.
In the fourth season, fans can expect to see Aytes’ character start to find real happiness and explore new creative outlets.
“April has had to deal with a lot, but continues to learn and grow. There’s no time to wallow in a dead husband or his mistress, but finding comfort in the arms of a certain man usually helps with that,” teases Aytes.
While the actress doesn’t confront the same types of drama her alter ego encounters, she does see similarities between herself and April.
“I am definitely a strong and determined person who bounces back when I’ve been hurt,” says Aytes. “No matter what the struggle, we both come out better on the other side.”
Transitions & Challenges
In addition to appearing on “Mistresses,” the hardworking actress also pulled double duty on “Criminal Minds” as the love interest to Shemar Moore’s character. Fortunately, the shows filmed at different parts of the year so she didn’t have to shoot two shows simultaneously.
Aytes admits it was challenging at times to transition from one role to the next, especially after having played the same character for the past few years.
“That’s why I think it’s important to keep working on different characters so you don’t get stuck,” she says. “When you find yourself at the end of a character’s journey and have to audition all over again…you are in for a rude awakening.”
Though her time on “Criminal Minds” ended earlier this year when Moore left the show, Aytes says she wasn’t surprised by the news. “I was sad to see him go, but after 11 years on the show I totally understand someone having the desire to express themselves in another way,” she says. “We’re all artists and have the need for change.”
She recalls her time there as wonderful, and credits the cast and crew for making the experience a memorable one. “They’re a well-oiled machine over there,” says Aytes. The show was completely different than what the actress had been doing, which is one of the things she appreciated about it. “I love to change things up; it’s what challenges me to be better.”
Aytes also challenged herself creatively by portraying real-life pop and contemporary singer/songwriter Perri “Pebbles” Reid in the VH1 film “CrazySexyCool: The TLC Story” in 2013. A fan of TLC growing up, Aytes admits she felt pressure when portraying Pebbles.
“I knew how much of an honor it was to be part of the film, and I absolutely wanted to do this character and person justice and give depth and humanity to the role.”
Though Aytes’ work on “Criminal Minds” has wrapped, there still isn’t much downtime in her schedule. Along with working on “Mistresses,” she’s also taken on another big project: wedding planning. After becoming engaged last summer to her long-time partner, she says she can now add the title of producer to her resume. “One of my married friends said to me when I got engaged, “Congratulations on your first production!”
When she’s not working or planning her wedding, Aytes enjoys decorating and designing her new home. “They’ve become new hobbies of mine,” she says.
Looking to the future, Aytes has her sights set on more films. “Dancing in a movie is still my dream, but an action hero would be fun, too,” she says. “I would also love to go back to Broadway at some point.”
A return to the stage would bring Aytes back to New York, a place she says will always be home. Because she’s been in Los Angeles for more than a decade, frequent trips home are what keep the actress and her family connected. “I’m truly bicoastal and would surely miss New York if I didn’t go back as much as I do,” she says.
Happiest when she is fully living out her purpose, Aytes stays grounded by keeping good, honest, and loyal people in her life and putting God first. That, she says, “will never change.”
Connect: IG icon: @rochelleaytes4real