Actress Danielle Brooks Discusses Her New Show ‘Peacemaker,’ ‘The Color Purple’ and Stepping Into Her Gifts

Image: courtesy of Ira L. Black

Danielle Brooks is a quintessential entertainer. When first introduced to us in 2013 in Netflix’s Orange is the New Black as Taystee, it was love at first sight— and we’ve never looked back. Since then, she has gone on to become an iconic figure in Black Hollywood known for her continuity of dynamic roles.

After playing gospel legend and civil rights activist Mahalia Jackson in the Lifetime biopic Mahalia, Brooks has found her way into the DC Universe as Leota Adebayo in HBO Max’s Peacemaker. A spin off of the 2021 film The Suicide Squad, she stars alongside John Cena who plays the title role of Peacemaker. As if she couldn’t make us more proud, it was announced that she will be in the newest film adaptation of The Color Purple. In the film, she will be reprising her award-winning rendition of Sophia, whom she played on Broadway.

In addition to her success on screen, Brooks is a mother and new wife. Below, the veteran actress discusses with EBONY her life in the DC Universe, why she is thankful to her ancestors for her blessings and her most recent wow moment .

EBONY: You’ve played characters that are representative of different and sometimes underrepresented intersections in our community across tv, film and theater. What attracts you to these roles and do you feel an obligation to play them?

Danielle Brooks: I think more it’s than an obligation. I feel a deep desire to play different roles because it’s way more fun. It’s just more exciting to bite my teeth into material that is completely different from who I am and gets to show the array and spectrum of who we are as Black women. It’s more true to me to show the depth of who we are. I’m always striving for that more so out of necessity of my own personal excitement as an actress. Additionally, I do want to move the needle when it comes to the stories of women that look like me that I get the opportunity to tell. Eventually, I want to pass on the torch that was passed on to me with this door being cracked open. The women that came before me have really left it better than it could have been because of their desire to step outside of the boxes that they were put in. I’m sure they did not always succeed. But through listening to the interviews of women I admire or speaking directly to them is always so encouraging. They inspire me to push forward and not settle for a mediocre career when you know that you have the talent to back it up.

Let’s dive into your most recent role as Leota Adebayo in Peacemaker. The show picks up where The Suicide Squad left off. How does it feel to be a part of the DC Universe as Adebayo and working with Viola Davis?

It’s been the real deal, no joke. I was really scared of not being versed enough in the Universe to the point that I might not be accepted. But that hasn’t been my experience. I feel like I’ve been embraced wholeheartedly into this realm. It’s been so amazing as I feel like I’ve gained a new group of fans that may not have been introduced to my work before. It’s really cool. I’ve always been interested in the Black female comic book characters but never truly leaned into it because I’m always looking for more. Getting to talk to my friend Teyonna Paris who is Marvel‘s Monica Rambeau, I remember how excited we were when you see people dress up as your characters for Halloween. The fullness of who we are as Black people gets lost a lot of the time. There are actually so many Black people who are into anime and comics way more than we would even know, because we don’t hear about it. We have ignored that portion of who we are as Black people when it comes to TV and film. But we get to see a ton of gangsters and rappers and basketball players on screen. That’s why it’s been so fun doing Peacemaker.

What has it been like working in an action-based series in comparison to the other styles of work that you have done?

I enjoyed it. I think it’s healthy. I can play a lot of heavier roles, especially as I step into The Color Purple, and it can take a lot out of me, emotionally. I really do need that balance as an actor. For me to get to escape and live in this imaginary world where I really have the capability of doing anything— flying in the air, shooting guns, fighting fictional villains—brings out that the eight-year-old in me, which I don’t ever want to lose. That’s why I enjoy it so much. You really get to lean into your inner child. In the future, I would love to do more in the action genre. I would really love to continue this journey with James Gunn as well.

The season finale has now aired and it was announced that there will be a second season. What can you say about the public perception of the series and watching folks interact with the show in such a big way?

I never seen anyone of my size be in an action film or TV show to this caliber. I actually don’t think I ever have really besides being comedic relief. This show is a different beast. With the backing of James Gunn, who’s done all of the Guardians of the Galaxy, The Suicide Squad and all of the other incredible action movies that he’s done. This is a huge deal. Seeing Viola Davis as Amanda Waller in Suicide Squad with her afro being all the Black that she could be was so much fun to witness. It’s what made me so excited when I got the call from James Gunn, because I knew I could be my authentic self in this show.

The first thing I did when we started production what decide that I want natural hair. The second thing I decided upon was the type of clothing I wanted to wear. I really wanted to rep for us with Black power and BLM pins and shirts. These are minor things that a lot of people don’t even notice. But I know that they’re there. I know that there’s people out there that recognize that. As we all speak about social justice issues like Black Lives Matter a hundred times, I don’t think that it should ever end. I feel this is a conversation I can continue through serving as representation in television.

Outside of your success with Peacemaker, two major yet intimate moment of yours have gone viral recently. Oprah Winfrey announced you will be playing the role of Sophia in the upcoming adaptation of The Color Purple. How did it feel for that to go viral? Are you still processing that announcement?

It’s overwhelming but in a way that I’m able to receive now. I feel like a few years ago, I would be like “This is so exciting… I don’t know how to handle it.” But now, I feel like I’m floating but my feet are still on the ground. I’m just I’m very grateful. Gratitude is the key word here.

The message that I get in my brain is “Yeah, this is your life. You deserve it. You worked hard for this.” I still had to audition even after playing Sofia on Broadway, after winning a Grammy and being nominated for a Tony for my first Broadway show. One could say that I should not have had to audition, but I did. I had to swallow my pride because I knew that this opportunity was one I didn’t want to get in my own way of. So, I did the process and it was almost a year of meetings and chemistry reads and more meetings. It was just a reminder to wait on God. Your dreams are so, so small compared to what God has planned for you. When you’re living in it freely, it’ll just blow your mind. I’m so honored and I’m excited. It’s one thing for like 1,100 people to be watching you a night on Broadway. For the world to be watching? To do this character that means so much to you and so much to our culture? Yes, it’s great. The entire cast that our director put together are the sweetest, kindest, hard-working, most talented individuals that I think I’ve ever worked with—besides my Orange girls. I wish I had the words to describe how I feel. My daughter gets watch her mom do such an iconic role when she’s older. It’s something my whole family and my church family can be proud of. My passion for acting started in the church which is why Mahalia was a really big deal. Now, and this is the first time I’ve had this thought, this film feels like a “thank you” to the culture, to Black folks. Thank you to the ancestors, to the ones that are still here and to the ones that are yet to come. That’s what it feels like for me so I have high expectations for myself.

The other moment to go viral was your wedding. The internet streets loved the dress that you wore. What was the experience like working with Gbemi Okunlola to create the dress?

She was phenomenal. I knew that I wanted to go with a Back designer. I chose to go with both her and Christian Siriano, because he’s such a good friend of mine and it just didn’t feel right to not have him be a part of this special moment. Although it was my wedding, I always look for opportunities to celebrate other people. I was introduced to Gbemi through someone named Darrell, who helped to plan the wedding and so much more. I’m actually very shocked at how young she is and how talented and professional she was. We only had one fitting and it was over WhatsApp. While she was working, my husband was measuring me and helping out but I wasn’t nervous for some reason. We were more worried about getting the dress to me so I decided to fly her out from London to Miami. She came through and that dress fit perfect. Everything just happened the way it was supposed to. She came and stayed at the wedding and danced the night away with us. I’m just really grateful for her, she’s so innovative in her designs. I would totally work with her a hundred times over.

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