Danielle Brooks talks playing Mahalia Jackson in new biopic

The 'Orange is the New Black' actress takes on the famed gospel singer for Lifetime

The first trailer for Robin Roberts Presents: Mahalia has dropped and in it, Danielle Brooks sizzles onscreen while playing the lead role of gospel legend and civil rights activist Mahalia Jackson.

Thursday, People obtained an exclusive preview of the Orange Is the New Black actress in the new Lifetime biopic which highlights Jackson attempts to navigate her rising fame as a singer against the backdrop of the civil rights movement. 

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“All these white folks tell me how wonderful I am, then they get mad when I buy a house in their neighborhood,” she says in one scene encapsulating the two worlds that Jackson had to straddle despite her undeniable talent.

Mahalia Jackson 1962 (Carl Van Vetchen, public domain)

According to Deadline, Brooks has credited her former Color Purple Broadway costar Jennifer Hudson for piquing her interest in playing such a formidable icon in the Black community.

“I had the privilege of working with Jennifer Hudson and I remember her coming to my dressing room, which she did every day before she got on stage, and we would chat and she said, ‘You should play Mahalia Jackson,'” the 33-year-old actress recalled at Lifetime’s TCA presentation earlier this month.

When one other person recommended the role to her, Brooks said she took it as a sign from the universe.

“Maybe God is telling me I should really think about this character or this person,” she explained. “So they planted that seed and I immediately started grabbing books and telling my team at the time that I was interested in seeing where this could go.”

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From Rock’n Robin Productions and Lincoln Square Productions, Mahalia is executive produced by  Roberts and Linda Berman. The Kenny Leon-directed film stars Joaquina Kalukango (Slave Play), Jason Dirden (Fences), Olivia Washington (The Butler) and Rob Demery (Lovecraft Country). Brooks and Leon are co-executive producers.

Robin Roberts Presents: Mahalia premieres April 3 at 8 p.m. ET on Lifetime.

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