This time around, Kimberly Elise wants to make you laugh. And emote. And maybe—if you’re so inclined—she’ll want to make you get up and dance. Elise is mostly known for turning in dramatic, woman-done-wrong-in-the-worst-possible-way performances. So if you’ve raised an eyebrow at the very thought of her making you do something other than cry along with her character, she understands.
But as strong as Elise is in the dramatic arts, allow her a chance to show off a few other skills—skills on full display in her new VH1 series Hit the Floor, which premiered just last night. EBONY.com chats with Elise about her new role.
EBONY: Your introduction to us cinematically was playing gripping, complex roles. Is it because you relate to those characters in a way that isn’t acutely aware to us?
Kimberly Elise: I’m very free with all my emotions, whether it’s happy, sad, mad, glad, whatever. And I have a lot of compassion for human beings in life experiences, so I allow myself to feel what these characters are feeling and don’t have a problem accepting that. Personally, I haven’t had probably any of the experiences that any of my characters have had, so it’s not like I go to a personal place to tell these stories. I think it’s just having a comfort with my own emotions and recognizing that these are human emotions these characters are going through.
EBONY: You really melt inside of these roles and it stands out, because you don’t see a lot of characters written for Black actresses on large, acting platforms.
KE: Yeah, I think it’s improving though. I think we’re seeing more Black actresses get great opportunities to showcase talents. I always look at things half full and definitely see a change in how things are going as far as Black actresses and their opportunities.
EBONY: And there are so many new opportunities for TV work as well. Five years ago, VH1 wasn’t a possibility. Now there’s Aspire, TV-One, BET… A ton of networks airing original work.
KE: Definitely that’s opened up the gate. I think what also has opened up the gate is we’re finally getting to a place—really with my show and some of the other shows like Kerry [Washington]’s show—we’re being recognized as people, not Black people. So the stories that we’re telling have nothing to do with the color of our skin, it’s just us as people.
Networks recognize that we’re people, and that people will watch us and follow us. And the writing and the stories are interesting, and they don’t care what color we are. Then it’s like, cast anybody. I know in my show, there are three Black women in central roles, and we’re just playing human experiences. So the more that that continues to happen, the more of us that will get opportunities.
EBONY: The landscape is very different now. Three years ago, the chatter was about the lack of diversity on primetime television. Now, you, Taraji P. Henson, Kerry Washington and soon Gabrille Union will all have shows.
KE: Exactly. You’re seeing us all over the place more, and it doesn’t have to do with the color of our skin, it’s just good stories. And it’ll continue to happen because these shows are successful, that’s what it comes down to. And once it’s recognized that people don’t care what color the people are as long as it’s good TV, then they’ll keep making them and we’ll continue to be considered for casting when casting comes up. We’ll get more opportunities than the judge or the secretary or the obligatory Black casting part. We’ll get lead roles or strong supporting parts just because it’s a great actress who’s right for the part.
EBONY: What made you want to do this show? It’s a bit of a different look for you.
KE: It was the writing. When VH1 came to me about the project, [they] were like, “this is something where you’ll get to do everything.” And people don’t really give me that opportunity. I have not in the past had the opportunity to play the full spectrum of what I can do. I can be dramatic. I can be funny. I can be sexy. I can be sad. I can be glad. Every episode I’m having a new experience with my character and getting to do all that I do as an actor.
EBONY: Has it been limiting because we’re so comfortable seeing you play these very strong, richly complex characters? Is it rare that someone says, “Hey, let’s put Kimberly in a sitcom or have her be the funny sidekick?”
KE: I love what I’m doing. I love my drama and I’m going to always continue to do that. Interestingly enough, when I first came to Hollywood, my first jobs were always sitcoms. I was booking sitcoms left and right, and pilots. And when I was doing onstage, it was all comedy as well. Beloved was the first time I really did drama, and that was something that I really liked, and I just kept going in that direction.
Now I would really love the opportunity to explore more of what I do, because I do do it all, and that’s something that this has afforded me. I know it will continue to come, and I’m excited about that. I think partly people don’t think I want to. Like, I was talking to someone who does makeup for Kevin Hart. I said I’d love to work with him, and she was like, “Really? I think he’d be shocked. I didn’t even think he’d realize that you would want to do!” I think that that’s something that happens a lot: they think that I wouldn’t even want to and I’m like, “funny is genius!” I want to be a part of anything that’s genius.
EBONY: Is comedy hard for you or is drama harder?
KE: I think they’re both very natural and comfortable for me. It all happens in life, and if I just do what is real, it’s not hard. You know?
EBONY: Will we get to see you dance?
KE: You have to stay tuned! It is a common question to ask me that, but you just have to wait and see. I do have a dance background. I will say that. I danced in my teens, I trained up to a certain point and then stopped. And so it’s kind of been cool to have this dance project come into my life. Get ready for your next addiction! You’ve been given fair warning.