I recently watch The Women of Brewster Place, where you played a lesbian character, which was groundbreaking 20 years ago. Do you think Hollywood has progressed with how lesbian and gay characters are portrayed on the big screen?
I’m not gay, but I found playing the role was one of the most dramatically important roles of my life. I hope everyone thinks I did it justice; I think I did. And of course I adored Paula Kelly, who’s also not a gay woman, but I think we played it as best as we possibly could. The movie was directed by a lesbian, Donna Deitch, and she directed our roles with a specific sensitivity because of her own gayness and I think it comes through on the screen.
But I think as people of color we have to take control of the industry that we are so much a part of and we really don’t have so much of a say in it as we should. Plus as consumers, black folks spend money. We buy all the products we go see all the movies, we get all the cable channels, we buy everything and their not presenting us with choices. There’s what, three black filmmakers right now doing anything? Tyler Perry, Spike Lee and Lee Daniels.. and that’s not enough.
Are you a fan of Tyler Perry? A lot of people think that his movies often set the black community a step back. What do you think about that?
I have to give Tyler a lot of credit. Tyler is an entrepreneur and we can all have our personal opinions about how we each express our creativity. But you have to respect the fact that Tyler Perry has moved himself into an entrepreneurial position, where he is a mogul and he is now calling his own shots. If people don’t like what he’s doing, don’t go see it.
To a lot of people you are known for your beauty. The model Iman once talked about beauty being a burden. Do you agree with that statement? How have you handled the process of aging as a Hollywood actress?
Well I think that you have to frame it up in a way where it doesn’t become what drives us. Because beauty is fleeting and it’s superficial. Even when I was at the height of my beauty and my youth I never really felt pretty or beautiful. I always thought of myself as an awkward tomboy that preferred to be with horses and dogs and birds [rather] than at a party. I didn’t think about my looks and I didn’t really care about them.
Because I never took my beauty that seriously I guess I am having an easier time going through the aging process than say a woman like Iman, who’s entire career was built on how beautiful she is. She was a model…her whole career was built on her looks. So sure, I can see how beauty can be a burden, but it hasn’t been for me.
What was it like working alongside Common in the film Luv, which hits theaters in January?
I love him. He called me personally to do that movie. I was doing another project out of town and he tracked me down. Once I saw the script and realized it was so dark and dramatic, I knew he was going to tear up the role. I have always been a fan of his. He’s a very kind man and very smart, and on top of that he’s cute. I was just so happy to be a part of that with him and I think the film is going to go through the roof when it comes out. I think Common’s going to surprise everybody with his acting chops.
Follow Chris Witherspoon on Twitter at @WitherspoonC