Catching up with Elise Neal: Actress talks life, hair and controversial new film that examines black church

Elise Neal is in a term, down-to-earth. TheGrio had the chance to speak with the gorgeous forty-something actress, and much to our delight, we found that she was warm, extremely funny, candid, bright, entrepreneurial, and insightful about life.

Her Journey

Elise is analogous to the proverbial tortoise in Aesop’s famed fable about a hurried hare who runs ahead of his much slower, purpose driven, and steadfast opponent, the tortoise. Arrogant and determined, the hare tries to win the race quickly.  Yet, much to the hare’s chagrin, he awakens from a sleep to find that the tortoise has won the race ahead of him.

Elise Neal may not be one of Hollywood’s biggest marquee names — yet — and her acting roles to date have been mostly in the supporting role category, but give her time. Just like the steady tortoise, we may not notice, but she is already winning the race.

She is a native of Tennessee, born in the jazz rich city of Memphis, and hails from humble roots. Her mom was a nurse, her dad a blue-collar construction worker. She attended the historic University of the Arts College in Philadelphia for two years prior to moving to New York City where she began her acting career. Neal climbed her way up steadily and carefully, landing her first role on the soap opera Loving. She then moved to into prime time on SeaQuest2032 on which she played Lt. JJ Fredricks. In 1997, Elise made her major motion picture debut in John Singleton’s controversial film Rosewood starring as Scrappy.

Fast forward to 2012. Neal has a new TV One sitcom Belles, and is unveiling a new hair weave line in conjunction with California Lace Wigs & Weaves. She also has a starring role in the award-winning, forthcoming film The Undershepard starring Isaiah Washington and Malinda Williams.

We had a chance to speak with her about the controversial film, which was produced by radio personality Russ Parr, and her role in it as a church “bad girl” — a switch for her because she always plays the good one.

Here is a candid look into the mind and heart of one of Hollywood’s brightest shinning sister stars:

theGrio: Tell us about your new movie that has caused quite a stir, as it examines black megachurches, celebrity black pastors, first ladies of the church, and the wealth that some of these churches have generated —  some say at the expense of teaching the gospel of Christ.
Neal: I play a character named Sister Roberts. She is married to one of the head deacons in the church. I don’t want to give too much of the movie away, but suffice it to say all of the issues you raise are addressed in the movie in detail. And I think that the way Russ addresses them through our characters is very accurate.

Do I think it will cause some discussion and some reflection: Yes. Do I think some in the church will be upset by it? Yes. I applaud Russ for being brave enough to tackle this subject and all of the backlash and conversation that will go along with it.

We really focus on the issue of tithing and money, and where it goes once it leaves your family and goes to the pulpit. The movie is art imitating life. Anyone who has ever given money at church and has question marks, this movie goes there. And we explore a variety of topics from adultery in the church, pastors cheating, money being taken for personal gain or spent illegally, and more.