Ambitions Scoop: Essence Atkins and Kendrick Cross on Show's Grounding Couple

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Our final look at the faces who are going to set OWN on fire with the new soap, Ambitions, features Essence Atkins who plays Amara Hughes, and Kendrick Cross, who plays her husband, Titus.

Amara and Titus are both attorneys in the thick of it with competing couple Stephanie Carlisle (Robin Givens) and her husband, Evan Lancaster (Brian White). As a rising US Attorney, Amara vows to fight the corruption of the Mayor's office, while Titus is embroiled in scandal as a result of working at the Carlisle's prestigious law firm.

While they were all in college together, Stephanie lost her on-again/off-again love, Titus, to Amara, and the events leave them still reeling decades later. Find out all about Amara and Titus' life together and more directly from Essence and Kendrick.

And prepare to get blown away by the profound way Essence views, well, everything. Enjoy!

Amara and Titus Posters

With the law as the crucible of the show, Amara is seeking truth, justice, and the American way. She'll always be investigating one of the other characters for their illicit or illegal behavior.

But don't expect to to spend too much time in the courtroom. Amara is focused on building one case, the corruption charges, so Ambitions won't turn into Law & Order.

Amara Poster

Amara's central conflict with Titus is Stephanie, especially because Titus has to be in Stephanie's orbit due to a class action lawsuit they're fighting together.

And in case you're too worried about Stephanie bowling over Amara and Titus' marriage, Amara can take care of herself. One of the issues with her husband is that she cheated on him once upon a time.

Creator and Showrunner Jamey Giddens Dishes on OWN's Ambitions

Is Amara afraid of karma coming to her door now that she's moved back to Atlanta? Essence sure thinks so. "Yes. Any mistakes you make and any grievances you caused, I think there is always the lingering possibility.

"Unless you have been given forgiveness, I think there is always that lingering, gnawing possibility that something is going to come back around."

Amara and Titus - Tall

Essence sets straight how Amara and her husband got together in relation to her stepping out on her husband. "She didn't cheat with Titus. Stephanie and Titus were done. Stephanie had broken up with Titus.

"But the fact of the matter is that it's still messy. She still broke the girl code. She didn't cheat on Stephanie, Stephanie was done. But, you know, Stephanie being Stephanie; was she really done? It was a tactic.

"But in terms of why she'd cheat on Titus, this is a relationship. In any relationship that spans the test of two decades plus, there are ups and downs, and there are moments when you are not as close or connected as you once were.

"I'm not trying to justify her actions, but Titus and Amara got married right after college. Now they're in their 40s. There have definitely been some moments when they didn't have the same closeness they once did. As you don't.

"We hope that we evolve and continue to grow and change. Sometimes in that process, there is negligence, there is loneliness. I think there's a lonely that's all the more tragic when you're laying next to someone."

Titus Poster

Kendrick chose to keep tight-lipped on that profound statement, and Essence went to the mat to defend Amara.

"I wouldn't have agreed to play this character if I didn't feel the truth of her and if I didn't approach the truth of her in every episode," Essence says, "So the imaginary circumstances can get as big and crazy as I know they have and will be, but for me, part of the truth of Amara is her and Titus.

"She is resolute in trying to make amends. She is resolute in trying to make this right and this work. That's really the foundation on which I lean and factor everything from. That this Titus/Amara thing is very real and grounded in things I think the audience will connect to and they'll defend and root for.

Kendrick says they're rooted in family first. "They moved because he wanted their family to stay together and for a better job to keep his daughter in school. Anytime he's around them is when he's happiest.

"I approach that from my personal life. My family is distant and all over the place, but when we're together, it makes me feel so much happier. That's what Titus is all about. Family first.

Jaunty Essence Atkins

"I think he still has feelings, maybe, for Stephanie," Kendrick says. "There is still a connection. He loves his wife. Stephanie is more like..."

"Cake when you're on a diet," Essence interrupted with laughter. "You're like I know I shouldn't be lookin' at that cake, but damn, that cake looks good! That cake is bad for me, I'm pre-diabetic, I shouldn't be lookin' at it, but there it is!"

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Essence originally auditioned for the role of Stephanie, but they wanted her to audition for Amara. "When I originally read the script, Amara was the character I immediately connected to. I connected to her earnestness and trying to keep her family together.

"I went through a divorce in 2016, and there are a lot of coulda shoulda wouldas that I still wrestle with years later and questions that I have, so I put all of that into Amara to work that out. That's the great thing about being an actor. It's truly like therapy.

Essence Atkins Looking Striking

"I love this story," Essence says. "The story of Ambitions and what it drives us to do. It's like this strange marriage of ethics and desire and power and tenacity and all of the things that it requires to execute your ambitions, that's what we're wrestling with. Those are the stories we are telling.

"The loyalties can shift a dime depending on what it is you're really after and what is at the core of what's driving you."

Kendrick has equally compelling insight on his character. "Titus is the people's champion. He's doing something because he was in a financial bind. He knows something is fishy with the Purefoys, but even if his sixth sense is telling him something isn't right, he needs it to work. It's all family for Titus."

"That thing with the Purefoys, I don't think he likes it very much." Kendrick thinks the way Titus gets involved with the Purefoys could happen to anybody hoping to fix a financial crisis in their lives."

Kendrick Cross Smiles

"He just does what he had to do, what he thinks is right to secure his family," Kendrick says. "Working for someone like that when he was in such a bind, they were on the verge of financial destruction and breakdown, and this one opportunity came.

"What do you do? Do you say, no, I don't think so. I'm going to pass up $500k because I don't think you got it. Or are you going to say I'll just work there for a year or two, get back on my feet, take care of my family, and once you're better off start your own practice again.

Robin Givens and Brian White Delve Deep Into Their Ambitions Characters

"I don't think he realized how bad they were. Now he wants to get to the bottom of it."

Does Amara miss her friendship with Stephanie? Although they haven't shot any such scenes yet, Essence had a relationship with someone that was very similar and believes that to be the case.

Essence Atkins Simplicity

Essence begins, "The dynamic of Stephanie and Amara from college was that she was always with the Carlisles, and she had been taken under the wings of Stephanie and was very much treated like the little sister.

"I understand what that loss is and the connection. At one point, they were very, very close and I do think that she misses that connection. I would venture to say she's in some way hoping they can get past it.

"I mean, golly, it's been 20 years lady! Can we move on, can we forgive each other? You're happily married to the mayor of Atlanta. You got everything you wanted, and I got everything I wanted, but you know. Stephanie.

"The Hughes are good people. They're the moral compass of the show. They want good things out of others. I don't see why she wouldn't want that relationship to work."

From Kendrick's standpoint, he agrees that the sins of the past should be forgotten in the present. "Initially, they wanted me to be a little standoffish to Stephanie. I was like, I don't know. I haven't seen her in 20 something years. I still have a little feeling for her. Why wouldn't I be the one angry."

Kendrick Cross at a Movie Premiere

As Amara and Titus got married as a result of an unplanned pregnancy, that plagues Amara and haunts her. Did Titus choose her out of love or out of a sense of responsibility? If he could go back and do it again, would he still pick Amara or would he pick Stephanie?

"There are certain areas where Amara feels very confident," Essence says."At work, she feels like 'I'm a boss,' you know?"

But when it comes to the dynamic of her marriage, there is a question mark. Amara will wrestle with whether battling the corruption will be worth possibly risking her marriage to get results.

OWN Turns Up the Heat With Drama Ambitions

Atkins knows that the more confidence you feel in one area of your life, the more you lean into it. Whereas in Amara's marriage, Amara is insecure. "Sometimes we'll avoid those areas just because we don't want to look into that mirror. It's going to be hard for her to stand in front of Titus.

"It's a different kind of naked because he knows more than anybody that she's not perfect that she's not all worth celebrated, that she's flawed and makes mistakes because sometimes you want to avoid those areas to remain your own hero."

Ambitions Poster

"In order to do a story justice," Essence says, "you have to believe in what your character is doing or else you come at it from a place of judgement. Ultimately, if you're good at it, it resonates, even if your character is bad.

"That's part of the reasons we love and relate to villains is because there is an authenticity to them. We have those dark moments. We may not have acted on them, but we've had them. As long as you're approaching the story that way, the audience sees it, they gravitate towards it, and they love it.

"Any real judgement of it, any disconnection, you don't honor what you're saying and it's harder for anyone to buy what you're selling. If you can embrace it wholeheartedly and run with it, then you got a great storyteller and you will ultimately have a great story that's consumed."

Amara seeing the man with whom she had an affair brings up a whole lot of things. "She needs to figure out what she's prioritizing as you often do when you've been thrown a curveball. She needs to think what is the priority and what is she going to give her attention to."

Essence and Kendrick join rest of the Ambitions team when it comes to why you should watch their new series.

"In this day in age when viewers have such a plethora of choices, I think you really do take into consideration when you create a show like this that people want to be kept in suspense. This show has suspense, drama, romance, and there is some humor infused in it," Essence says.

OWN has made Ambitions a priority, something that Essence says makes all the difference. "It's hard for the audience to know where to look, and it requires the studio and network getting behind the show to make an impression. Without that, you get lost in the struggle. We're really excited about being involved with a network that is going to go deep for us."

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"It's fun to be on the rollercoaster that is Ambitions. We'll be at table reads sitting next to each other like, WOW!!' When you hear some of the dialogue out loud, the way things come alive instead of on the paper," Essence says.

"When they come to life, we are really excited about what's next. And sometimes, we're very surprised."

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Hopefully all of you will get entertained and surprised as the rollercoaster of Ambitions begins tonight, June 18, on OWN.

Will you be tuning in to watch?

Carissa Pavlica is the managing editor and a staff writer for TV Fanatic. She's a member of the Broadcast Television Journalists Association (BTJA), enjoys mentoring writers, wine, and passionately discussing the nuances of television. Follow her on Twitter and email her here at TV Fanatic.

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