History maker, boundary breaker. Anika Noni Rose has never been one to put herself in a box. The mega-talented actress/singer has conquered the stage, winning a Tony Award for “Caroline, or Change,” the big screen, voicing the first Black Disney princess in the animated feature “Princess And The Frog,” and wowed TV audiences this spring when she starred as Kizzy in the reboot of Roots. Now, Rose has set her sights on joining the pantheon of primetime villains in her latest role as LaVerne “Jukebox” Thomas on the hit cable drama Power. Jukebox is a respected D.C. police officer, living a double life as a stone cold criminal, much like her cousin Kanan (played by 50 Cent).
EBONY.com caught up with Rose to discuss her explosive new character, diverse representation on screen, why we need more movies about slavery in America, and what it’s really like working with 50 Cent.
EBONY.com: What was it about Jukebox that attracted you to the role? How did you get it?
Anika Noni Rose: Courtney [Kemp Agboh, Power’s creator] offered the role to me, and I jumped at it because I felt like it is so very different from anything people have seen me do before. It’s not something I would have normally been called into the room for, so to me, that makes it extraordinarily exciting but it also makes it really fun. I love this character; I think she is pretty amazing.
EBONY.com: How would you describe Jukebox?
Anika Noni Rose: She’s a hardcore New Yorker. She did not grow up in easy circumstances, and I think that lives in her and informs the way she handle herself. She does not suffer fools. She is extraordinarily smart and she’s a survivor.
EBONY.com: Jukebox is in a relationship with another woman, Candie, who is very aware of Jukebox’s illegal activities. They have a very interesting power dynamic.
Anika Noni Rose: Jukebox is definitely an alpha. I think she’s alpha in any situation she’s in or she would not be in the situation. I think Candie is somebody that is attracted to that. They know what works for them, and what gets the other person off. I don't’ think there is anything untoward about it. I just think it’s the power dynamic in any relationship, which shifts. But, I think that if it were to shift too far, it would not work out for Jukebox. It can only shift but only so far for her to be there.
EBONY.com: There was a lot of media attention about “Star Trek Beyond” actor John Cho’s request that the Sulu character have a husband who is also Asian. It made me realize there aren’t a lot of non-White gay/lesbian characters on film and television. What have been your observations on this kind of representation?
Anika Noni Rose: I think that’s very true. It’s difficult for people who don’t understand the need for this kind of representation. I have a lot of friends who are in mixed race relationships who are gay. But I think that the reason it bothers people is because there is not enough representation, even in the straight world, of people loving people who look like them.
EBONY.com: What was it like working with 50 Cent and what was the most surprising thing you learned about him?
Anika Noni Rose: The most surprising thing that I learned about him is that he is very easy on the set. I found him very easy. He doesn’t have an ego that sucks up all the air in the room when you’re working. He takes acting seriously, and works at doing whatever it is that he wants to do. So often people come to acting and they think, oh this is easy, like, “I can do this. I’m not playing hockey anymore, I can just act.” He doesn’t come to it with a disdain for it, or with the thought, “Oh this is just some sh-t I can do.” You don’t have to tiptoe around somebody and somebody’s ego. You actually work together and figure out how a scene works, whether dramatically or physically together. You’re not worried about the ego sitting next to you.
EBONY.com: What is the energy like on set having a Black woman running the show?
Anika Noni Rose: I have to say that it's fantastic to see a young Black woman in charge. It’s also fantastic to see a young Black woman in charge who knows what she’s doing and does it well. The third part of that is she knows what she’s doing, she does it well, but she’s also is a really cool person, so you’re not dealing with a dictator. If she has to throw her foot down she will. That’s her job. But she’s not going into the room as a dictator. She’s coming in a room as a creative who knows what she wants and knows what her show is, but also gives you the room and turn it into what you think it is from the guideline, which is the script.
EBONY.com: Leslie Jones was the target of some really nasty racist and sexist trolling. It got so bad that even the CEO of Twitter had to step in and had to shut down one of the accounts of the people who were responsible. What were your thoughts on the situation?
Anika Noni Rose: My thoughts were when the guy shut down, he who shall not be named, it was about damn time. That’s not the first time that guy has been ugly and vitriolic and bigoted and nasty. That’s not the first time. It’s not like he just had a difference of opinion about some sh-t. He actively goes after people in a really ugly tone. So, it’s about time.
EBONY.com: As a public figure on Twitter, how do you handle trolls and harassment?
Anika Noni Rose: It depends on the person and the situation for me. Very often I will just block you. I just don’t want your energy and it’s cool. You want to be a jerk, that’s fine. I look at your timeline and I see that’s your job in life and I’m just going to block you. Sometimes you can look at a timeline and see that somebody is just being an asshole in that moment, perhaps that’s not the space that they live in. And you can have a conversation and perhaps something will change. I’ve had that happen too. Other times you need to slap a hand. So, there are times when I will put the smack down, and do it publicly because I feel like if you are going to come to somebody who you don’t even know on a worldwide platform, then your idiocy needs to be seen worldwide so it can get smacked down. And that’s what just needs to happen with some people. You decide who’s doing something for attention, and who’s just a jerk, and who can you possibly have a conversation with and how you feel that day. All those things come into play.
I’m not on Twitter for abuse. I don’t think anyone’s gotten on Twitter so that they can be abused, but people do go on Twitter to abuse people. When that becomes clear then Twitter has a moral duty to shut those people down when they see that somebody is there solely for the purpose of abusing others. Yeah you have free speech, but what you don’t have is the right to wield your speech like a cudgel to somebody who has done nothing to earn it.
EBONY.com: At the Democratic National Convention, Michelle Obama gave a rousing speech where she mentioned the White House was built by slaves and it became a media circus of “fact-checking” and some outright denying the White House was built by slaves…
Anika Noni Rose: Of course there was! Why would we admit that the highest house in the nation was built on the lowest point of degradation? So often when it comes to our country and our patriotism, we want so badly to be seen as this pinnacle of greatness. There are things about America that are stunning and great and phenomenal, but at that particular moment, which was long lasting and intense, it was not a great day and moment. It only helps people like Bill O'reilly and his slanted platform to pretend something other than what the truth is.
EBONY.com: Watching that whole debacle unfold reminded me that we actually do need more movies about slavery in the U.S.
Anika Noni Rose: We do! I saw a tweet where a woman said the slaves were paid for their labor. You clearly don’t understand the word slavery! Perhaps you need a vocabulary lesson. Absolutely this is something that is necessary because we don’t know our history. The problem is not that we we’ve only had about three slave movies in the past four or five years, which isn’t a lot actually. The problem isn’t too many “slave movies," the problem is that there are not enough movies about other things.
I think that people feel that this is the only way that people are represented. You either have buffoonery or slavery or a drama that is reminiscent of slavery. Where are the stories about us just living? Where are the slice of life stories and why are they were never deemed worthy of being made? That really is the root, no pun intended, of that issue.
EBONY.com: Disney has been adapting a lot of their animated films into live action movies. Would you be willing to do a live action version of “Princess And The Frog”? If not, which actress(es) would you like to see play Princess Tiana?
Anika Noni Rose: I would absolutely be willing to do it, but they’d have to do it quick. Disney takes a while to make something. We’ll see (laughs). I might wake up in 2020 and still be looking like I look right now. There are some other actresses I would love to see play Tiana like little Saniyya Sidney. I don’t know if she sings or not, but she is an amazing little actress. Adrienne Warren, who's on Broadway in “Shuffle Along,” would also be a nice choice. And… you can always find somebody new! I’m still hoping that we do an animated sequel to “Princess And The Frog.” Now that is something I can do 25 years from now.
Follow Anika Noni Rose on Twitter, and watch her on Power, which airs Sundays at 9p.m. on Starz.