Sunday, December 23, 2007

Kimberly Elise: The Great Debaters Interview

Interview with Kam Williams

Headline: There’s No Debate, Kimberly’s Great

Minneapolis’ Kimberly Elise might be the best African-American actress around yet to generate any Oscar buzz. This, despite receiving rave reviews for her work in everything from Beloved to The Manchurian Candidate to Woman, Thou Art Loosed. The problem could be that she’s just so accomplished at her craft that when she thoroughly disappears into each role she gives the impression that her performances are almost effortless.
Nonetheless, she has landed her fair share of accolades elsewhere on the awards circuit, most notably, the NAACP Image Awards, for which she’s been nominated seven times, winning twice, for Diary of a Mad Black Woman and for Close to Home, the CBS nighttime crime drama where she plays prosecutor Maureen Scofield.
Kimberly released just a couple of movies in 2007, Pride and The Great Debaters, both inspirational bio-pics. Here, she shares her thoughts about appearing in the latter opposite Forest Whitaker, as his character’s wife, Pearl.
As for her personal life, Ms. Elise divorced her husband of 16 years, Maurice Oldham, in 2005. Unfortunately, he passed away on May 17th of this year, leaving their two daughters, AjaBleu, 17, and Butterfly, 9, fatherless.

KW: I don’t know whether you remember this, but I live in Princeton, and have been friends for years with your former mother-in-law, Mamie, who lives here. My condolences to you and your daughters on the passing of Maurice. How are you all holding up?
KE: It’s still pretty raw, thanks.
KW: What interested you in The Great Debaters?
KE: Well, a couple of things. One, I thought it was a fantastic part of our history, of American history, and what an honor it would be to be a part of telling this story. It’s a small part, but it was important to Denzel [director/co-star Denzel Washington] that every part be filled by a strong actor. So, it was a no-brainer.
KW: Casting a mediocre in a minor role can often ruin a film.
KE: I agree, and I think Denzel totally realizes that.
KW: And how was it working with Forest Whitaker for the first time?
KE: It was fantastic. He’s such a great human being, just a wonderful man and, of course, an extraordinary actor. I can’t wait to work with him again in a larger capacity.
KW: How do anticipate audiences responding to the story?
KE: I think it will be really inspiring, because it’s not just about the abuse and suffering that our people endured, but it’s also about the offspring of those people and how they went on to do some great things in and of themselves, and who basically we are. And how we are the offspring, and how we now go on to achieve things in our own right. So, it’s really inspiring, empowering, and exciting.
KW: Did the experience of making the movie move you?
KE: Oh, definitely.
KW: What’s your next film?
KE: With this writer’s strike, there’s nothing going on.
KW: Didn’t you sign to do Red Soil with Tasha Smith? Is that already finished shooting?
KE: No, we actually haven’t started yet.
KW: The director of Red Soil is Charles Burnett, who has enjoyed a renaissance this year with the long-overdue theatrical release of Killer of Sheep, a movie he made 30 years ago, way back in 1977.
KE: I’m very excited to be working with Charles.
KW: I know that story is set in Ghana. Will you be filming on location?
KE: Yes.
KW: You made Pride earlier this year, which was another spiritually-uplifting, historical drama. Are you picking positive pictures like this by design?
KE: I just pick what moves me. It’s very guttural. And also directors call me.
KW: I know you’ve worked with Denzel as an actor before [in The Manchurian Candidate and John Q], but how was it having him as a director?
KE: It was very exciting to see him as a director. I was so happy for him. There was just this light that came out of his eyes every day. He was always running here and there, checking monitors… makeup… rehearsals… Few actors are lucky enough to have the experience of working even once in their lifetime with a director with such passion.
KW: What’d you think of some of the young talent in this movie?
KE: Oh my God, Nate Parker, who played my brother in Pride. I was so happy that he got the part of Henry. And Denzel Whitaker, who played my son, looked like Forest spit him out. And Jurnee [Smollett] is so emotional and powerful with everything she does.
KW: Snoopy Jimmy Bayan wants to know where in L.A. you live.
KE: The Hollywood Hills area.
KW: And this question was inspired by Columbus Short. Are you happy?
KE: Yes, I’m extraordinarily happy.
KW: Thanks again for the time, Kimberly.
KE: Okay, take care.

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