InDepth InterView: Anika Noni Rose
Having appeared on Broadway in FOOTLOOSE, CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF co-starring James Earl Jones and Phylicia Rashad, and snagging a Tony Award for her work on Jeanine Tesori and Tony Kushner's CAROLINE, OR CHANGE, Anika Noni Rose cites the stage as her first love. Yet, co-starring with Beyonce Knowles and Jennifer Hudson as one of the eponymous DREAMGIRLS and a lead role on Anthony Minghella's HBO series THE #1 LADIES' DETECTIVE AGENCY has opened the door to film and television and Rose has continued on the Hollywood path recently, having scored lead roles in two films in just as many years: she voiced the title character in Disney's animated feature THE PRINCESS & THE FROG and also appeared alongside Whoopi Goldberg, Loretta Devine, Janet Jackson and many more marquee name leading ladies in Tyler Perry's film version of the Broadway play FOR COLORED GIRLS, available this week on DVD and Blu-Ray. Plus, we have exclusive news of her return to THE GOOD WIFE and first news of her self-penned musicAl Morgan STREET. Lastly, don't forget to catch Anika in COMPANY: IN CONCERT on PBS coming this Spring!
PC: DREAMGIRLS. Tell me about working with Bill Condon on that film.
ANR: Ah, Bill Condon is such a joy. Such a good guy. He loves Broadway and he actually saw me in CAROLINE, OR CHANGE and then he saw me in PURLIE [at Encores]. So, that's how I came to his notice for Lorrell.
PC: He was already a fan!
ANR: I actually had two auditions for him and I couldn't make the first audition!
PC: Why not?
ANR: Oh, I was preparing for some concert that I was doing at the Library of Congress. So, I said, you know, "Let me know when you're going to do the next round because I'm not gonna make it this time!" (Laughs.)
PC: So, how did you eventually audition?
ANR: I flew myself out - which you just don't do unless you really want something and feel it's viable. So, I went out there for that one and I just felt like it was mine. He and I just clicked immediately. Immediately.
PC: How would you describe Bill Condon?
ANR: He is a wonderful, smart, warm artist - all of which is so lovely, and so rare.
PC: And, he has the biggest movie franchise in the world right now, directing the last two TWILIGHT movies.
ANR: I know, right? If he would only make me a vampire I could say even nicer things about him! (Laughs.) But, that hasn't happened yet!
PC: DANCE OF THE VAMPIRES: THE FEATURE FILM!
ANR: (Laughs.) I wanna fly around and bite somebody - that's been my dream for years!
PC: Speaking of flying around, what do you think of SPIDER-MAN and the dangerous acrobatics and people getting hurt?
ANR: Well, I probably shouldn't say all that I feel about it, but I will say that, first of all, Julie Taymor is a genius.
PC: I agree.
ANR: Her mind is so amazing. And, to see a woman have the power that she has to be able to take her vision and actually make it happen - regardless of naysayers - and having people around her support her the way they do is just fantastic. I think it's unfortunate the level of injury that has happened in the past few years on Broadway. Starting with THE LITTLE MERMAID...
PC: Adrian Bailey. Right. What's the remedy, though?
ANR: In general, I think there needs to be more care taken for the actor. You know, we are not props! You know what I mean?
PC: Even if you play a washing machine - or the moon!
ANR: (Laughs.) If you're playing the washing machine, the Maytag man is not coming to fix your ass if you break!
ANR: I just think that, in general - and I'm not sending this out to Julie Taymor or anyone in that production -more care needs to be taken for actors and what we do. Regardless of whether or not the producers think that there are five other people waiting for the job, the one that is there needs to be treated as if they are the only person for the job in that moment.
PC: Have you ever been onstage where there was an incident? Did anyone ever fall out of the moon in CAROLINE?
ANR: (Big Laugh.) No, nobody ever fell out of the moon! But, they don't need to fall in front of me - because I will laugh at you! If someone falls out of the moon, I'm gonna laugh. (Deadpan.) As long as I don't see blood, I'm gonna be chuckling. (Laughs.)
PC: That's hilarious.
ANR: Seriously though, everybody has incidents onstage where they hurt themselves because, first of all, we are doing something in repetition, eight times a week. We are doing it twice a day - stuff that your body is not necessarily supposed to do. We are taking ourselves to the limit.
PC: Is there any other occupation you can compare it to?
ANR: I think athletes. Athletes and actors do really crazy things and we do them under weird circumstances because we love what we do and because we take things in an extreme manner. But, we're still all bodies.
PC: Human beings, with failings.
ANR: I mean, I've seen people hurt. I've seen people fall off the stage. I've gotten hurt myself onstage, on occasion. It's not because we are out there flying willy-nilly and not doing what we're supposed to do, but any time you do something with that kind of repetition there is going to be an accident. That's why you call it an accident!
PC: Do you find that in long runs you take it farther and push it more?
ANR: No! No. (Laughs.) Most people that I know get to the sixth month and they are actually taking something down because they are exhausted. After eight shows a week...
PC: You have been in some very noteworthy casts featuring strong women -DREAMGIRLS,THE #1 LADIES' DETECTIVE AGENCY, FOR COLORED GIRLS. Is it empowering as a woman and an actress to be surrounded by women like Phylicia Rashad and Beyonce and Whoopi Goldberg?
ANR: You know, I was so lucky with FOR COLORED GIRLS because Phylicia and I had done CAT together.
PC: Truly one of the great dames of the theatre and film.
ANR: She just continues to re-invent herself. I think she is just more beautiful every year. She's such an artist and she's such a craftsman. So, it's wonderful working with and being around someone like that. And, we didn't even say anything to each other, as characters, in FOR COLORED GIRLS - we didn't have one word that we shared! But, being able to share each other's energy there, again, was just lovely. No one has to twist my arm to be with Ms. Phylicia Rashad in anything - ever!
PC: And the other women in the FOR COLORED GIRLS cast?
ANR: The other woman, we had been orbiting each other for years. Kerry [Washington] and I have been looking at each other for years, and seeing this part go to that person and that part go to this person - each of us had a time and a role where we were like, (Furious Voice.) "Dammit! You got it!" (Laughs.)
PC: No hard feelings, though.
ANR: Oh, not at all! We talked about it and we laughed about it because, at this point, we are both at such great places in our careers that we can laugh about all that and then share in each other's talent and share in each other's skill. It's all a real blessing. And, also, to be able to be friends for each other - we weren't there to cut each other down or to try to get something that the other person wants - everybody was there to be supportive and to create a sense of camaraderie and appreciation of what everybody was bringing. I think that that was quite a gift to have.
PC: What was the atmosphere Tyler Perry created and maintained on set?
ANR: (Pause.) Well, the atmosphere on set was pretty damn dreary!
PC: Expectedly so, given the text.
ANR: It was not like we were doing a musical, I'll tell you that! (Laughs.)
PC: A big leap from DREAMGIRLS to FOR COLORED GIRLS.
ANR: The atmosphere, once somebody hollered "Cut!" and we could step out of what we were doing - we had a fantastic time with each other. In the make-up and the hair trailer and at lunch, you could kind of sit for hair and make-up and get a breather from the heaviness of what was going on and really talk about each other and the many layers of years of work that was sitting in that trailer, all of us together. I mean, with Loretta Devine and both of our experiences as Lorrell...
PC: "Ain't No Party" or "It's A Party!"
ANR: She's... divine. (Laughs.) I loved talking to her about doing DREAMGIRLS. Then, there was Whoopi and all I could learn from her - her experiences as a comedic black woman coming into Hollywood and what she went through and is still experiencing in her career, plus all doors she had to pry open and kick down and stand with her foot in. It was such a fascinating thing.
PC: What about the other women?
ANR: Well, to be there with women who are my contemporaries- like Thandie [Newton] - and just hang out and realize that we really, really like each other, not just for what the other person is doing but for who the other person is. You know, you laugh first thing in the morning, because Thandie walks in at six AM just as beautiful as she is as six PM - and maybe you should slap her for that! (Laughs.)
PC: (Laughs.) You really seemed to have loved the FOR COLORED GIRLS experience, then.
ANR: It was a really, really wonderful experience to see those women and speak to them and learn each other - and learn from each other.
PC: Could you tell me about working with some of the directors you have on your resume: first, Tyler Perry and auditioning for him?
ANR: I actually didn't audition - I have to say, I was really pleased about that. He offered me the role and just trusted that I could do what I was there to do - which I am very thankful for. I have to say, he was trusting and he was collaborative and he was appreciative of the thoughts that I had put into the character and what I was bringing as an actor - a thinking actor. So, that was all very much appreciated.
PC: What about working with George C. Wolfe on CAROLINE, OR CHANGE?
ANR: That genius?
PC: That genius.
ANR: George is just a genius. (Pause.) He is one of the fastest talking people you will ever run up on. He will give you five seconds of some of the most poignant thinking you will ever get. It's wonderful to be able to work with somebody who thinks at the rate that he does - and, also, with the scope that he does - because you get to move with the same speed. That's exciting. It's so exciting to be with somebody who is so fiercely intelligent and well-rounded and has been around as long as he has - and, he is so funny and appreciate of humor, too. The fact that you know that what he is doing with you is going to turn out to be something so lush is just so fantastic.
PC: Could you tell me about working with the late Anthony Minghella on THE #1 LADIES' DETECTIVE AGENCY? He was such a talent.
ANR: Oh, I loved Anthony Minghella. (Long Pause.) I feel like Anthony gave me so much - and, that doesn't mean that the other people I have worked with haven't - but, I may have never gone to Africa if not for Anthony Minghella. And, I was there when we did the first episode, the pilot - I was there for two months and I only shot for eleven days.
PC: So you got to experience Africa thanks to that - and to him?
ANR: Yes. He brought me out early and he kept me there. We spent three days in this camp - the actresses playing three main characters - just living and experiencing. We did a wilderness safari - looking more at the land and the people of the desert there than the animals. He wanted us to be entrenched in Africa and what Africa really was. He is somebody who cast you not only for your talent, but, after "Are you talented?" it was, "What kind of person are you?" Because he didn't want people that were going to be that remote and nasty and ruin the energy that was there. That was so important to him.
PC: Can you tell me an onset story that reveals some of his personality, since many of us will never get to meet him?
ANR: (Pause.) I remember one day we were doing... Oh, my God. Well, first of all, I have to tell you that he loved to sing. He was not a great singer, but he didn't care! He was always singing on set. So, we would hear "Cut!" and he would start singing some old Motown. And, literally, like some corny movie, every single person on set who knew that song would sing along with him. They'd be changing the film and people would be singing a song.
PC: Like GLEE.
ANR: Yeah - but, actually singing! (Laughs.)
PC: That's too funny.
ANR: I know some of those GLEE people and they can really sing! I wish we could hear them live, because I know some of them and they can really sing like nobody's business!
PC: You would be great on that show.
ANR: Say that out loud! (Laughs.) Say that out loud!
PC: You'd love to do it?
ANR: Love to.
PC: Do you think that is a great avenue for Broadway talent wanting to do Hollywood? Did DREAMGIRLS open a lot of doors for you?
ANR: I think it quietly did. I mean, I came to Anthony's notice in DREAMGIRLS.
PC: Will there ever be another season of the show?
PC: But, you will be returning to the small screen on THE GOOD WIFE, yes?
ANR: Yes, I will be back on THE GOOD WIFE very soon!
PC: I also wanted to just mention that I loved your work on THE PRINCESS & THE FROG andyour work with Randy Newman on the soundtrack.
ANR: Thank you so much. It was so much fun. A dream come true.
PC: What is on your iPod right now?
ANR: Oh, my gosh, there are so many things on my iPod! Right now, I am so into Cee Lo!
PC: That's a great album.
ANR: Yeah, everybody knows it now because Gwyneth Paltrow did a version of the song on GLEE, so now it's like the whole world is into Cee Lo! I also love Janelle Monae. She is the fierceness. I am so jealous that nobody gave me that act!
PC: You have your own act!
ANR: I know, it's hers and she created it - but I want it! (Faux Tearfully.) I want it! (Laughs.)
PC: What is your favorite Broadway score?
ANR: (Long Pause.) Maybe PORGY & BESS. It's so hard to choose.
PC: What's next?
ANR: I am writing a musical right now. I am co-composing a musical. We are submitting to festivals and looking for investors because we are pretty much ready.
PC: Can you tell me anything about it?
ANR: It's called MORGAN STREET and it's about a young man who is adopted in the seventies. The seventies was a time when a lot of people didn't tell their children they were adopted, you know.
ANR: It's a dramedy. It's about some very heavy things, but it's very funny and the music is pretty amazing - if I do say so myself! So, it's very exciting.
PC: So the score reflects the sounds of the seventies? Soul? Disco?
ANR: Not so much disco, but we've definitely got lots of stuff. We've got some Carole King-y type stuff in there. Some R&B. Some funk. It really reflects the time period.
PC: We need a new DREAMGIRLS! It's about time.
ANR: I hope so!
PC: Thank you so much, Anika. This was phenomenal.
ANR: Thank you, Pat. It was fabulous. Have a great one, baby.
Photo Credit: Peter James Zielinski