If this whole Hollywood thing doesn’t work out, Anika Noni Rose has one heck of a backup plan. But considering we’ve been taking notice of her on-screen work since 2006, when she played the naïve love interest of Eddie Murphy in Dreamgirls, and her career hasn’t waned not one bit, she likely won’t have to put it into action. (You’ll have to read ’til the end to see her plan… and it’s a good one!)
This week, the 41-year-old, Tony Award-winning actress stars in the Hallmark Channel’s The Watsons Go to Birmingham; last week her upcoming film Half of a Yellow Sun debuted at the Toronto Film Festival. And next spring, Rose stars in the TV film adaptation of a beloved Terry McMillian book.
And if that’s not enough—clutch the pearls—she’ll co-star soon alongside Denzel Washington on Broadway. Girlfriend is bad. And she’s only just getting started.
We chat with the actress about her career and, naturally, her well thought out plan B.
EBONY: All of the projects you’ve been a part of have been so diverse. What’s the method to your madness?
Anika Noni Rose: I don’t want to get bored. And I don’t want you to get bored. So I’m always trying to choose something that is as different from the last thing I did as possible. I want to be challenged. I want to be excited about the person that I’m playing, and it’s not always going to be the good person or the wholesome person. I just try to do something different that’s going to stretch me in a different way from the last thing that I did, which I find very important.
EBONY: That’s not a luxury many Black actresses have. I’ve talked with many who are so tired of being the girlfriend, but those are their only options. Why do you think your experience has been so different?
ANR: (Laughs) Shhh! Don’t let it be known. I think it’s a combination of luck… Not putting down anybody else, because people do what they have to do, but I think there’s always a job you’re going to do because you need some health insurance. Sometimes you have to do that job. But I think there’s great power in “no” as well. And there have been times when I’ve been like, “Mmm, that’s not gonna work out for me.”
I may not be rich as some other people because of that, but I feel good about the nos that I’ve said, and I feel good about the yeses that I’ve given. There are things I wish I could’ve said yea or nay to that just never even came my way. Everybody has that struggle. But I believe strongly in the power of no to shape what it is you’re going to do and the path that you take, because you are responsible for you and your journey.
EBONY: Your new film airs on the Hallmark Channel. Seems like there are so many more options now for work. Does that make things easier?
ANR: I think it will get easier in the land of TV movies. I’ve been really lucky that there are lots of places where I stick my foot. So if I feel like TV isn’t fulfilling, then I’ll do some theater. And if I don’t feel like there’s anything for me on the stage, I can do some film or some music. I try to be as diverse as possible, so that I don’t feel the lack of opportunity. If you don’t have an opportunity for me here, I’m going to go knock on another door. I’m not waiting for you to get your thing together!
EBONY: You have a film coming that just premiered at the Toronto Film Festival, Half of a Yellow Sun, then you’ll be heading back to Broadway in the spring for Raisin in the Sun, right?
ANR: Yes! With Diahann Carroll, Sophie Okonedo and Denzel Washington! And the little boy who plays my son in The Watsons Go to Birmingham will be playing my little brother in Raisin in the Sun, so that’s how that works.
EBONY: What an iconic production to take on. Are you nervous?
ANR: No. Because I feel like all you’re responsible for is the word on that page. You’re not responsible for the person who did it before you, you’re not responsible for whoever’s going to do it after you. You’re responsible for your connection to the word on the page. And that means it’s your job to interpret it in a way that allows your spirit and your body to step in and make it yours. And that’s all you can do. It’s a classic. It was a classic before I was born, so it’s up to me to make it mine, however that is.
EBONY: Who else haven’t you worked with that you’d love to be on screen or on stage with?
ANR: Miss Cicely Tyson! I love her. And I say that as a person. I’ve met her several times and we’ve just had a very intense connection. I saw her on Broadway just recently in A Trip to Bountiful, and she was stunningly brilliant. She was the person who’s carving the road. She’s the reason I can do what I do, and I would love to work with her. She’s a beautiful, beautiful woman and she thrills me. I really have a great love for her.
EBONY: We’ll see you back on TV in the Terry McMillian adaptation A Day Late and a Dollar Short for Lifetime.
ANR: That’ll come out in the spring as well, and that’s Whoopi Goldberg, Tichina Arnold, Mekhi Phifer, Kimberly Elise… all of us are up in there. We just finished shooting that in Toronto.
EBONY: What would you love to mark off your list before the end of this year that would make you say, “this was a phenomenal year”?
ANR: I’d love a great lead role somewhere. I really have a penchant for action movies. I want people to see my name—the people who are making decisions—I want them to see my name and immediately say, “Yeah. Why not her? Let’s choose her.” So this is the year that makes that be the case; that would be fantastic.
I also would not mind winning the Powerball.