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Thursday, September 29, 2022

Onganyu Ellis leans into a supporting role and turns her into a speaker

Actress Onjanue Ellis almost 30 years of her screen career, but about ten years ago, she thought it was all an accident.

The 52-year-old Mississippi native grew up on a farm and had no dramatic experience other than participating in Easter and Christmas plays at church. She began her studies at Tugalu College, a history university for blacks, where an acting teacher advised her to take the craft seriously.

“There was no way at my feet and he just gave me one,” she said in a recent interview.

Now she’s only a few weeks away from the biopic that prompts Oscars to chat about her acting: King Richard is the story of Richard Williams (played by Will Smith), father of tennis champions Venus and Serena Williams. Ellis plays his wife Oracen Price.

On the one hand, this is a typical part of a career that can perhaps best be described as a series of roles ranging from minor to minor. But Ellis, who went on to earn degrees from Brown and New York Universities, leaned completely towards them and made them her own, whether it was her showcase of her comedic ability in Undercover Brother or her seriousness in dramas such as Ray and Help”. … “

In recent years, she has received critical acclaim for productions such as If Beale Street Could Talk and The Clark Sisters: The First Ladies of the Gospel, as well as Emmy nominations for her roles in When They See Us and Lovecraft Country. “. Her performance as Price could be another step towards the awards: she was recognized by both critics and connoisseurs of Oscars when she played at the festival ahead of its November 19 release on HBO Max and in theaters.

During a video call from Chicago filming her next project, 61st Street, a series that will air on AMC, Ellis talked about what she hopes viewers will gain from her performance as Orasin Price and about the need to choose roles that reflect her well. on black women. Here are edited excerpts from our conversation.

Your first on-screen role was in the TV show “New York Undercover “. Do you remember what it was like when you were dumped?

I say this on purpose because someone will hear it and feel reflected in my story. My grandmother was queuing up for state cheese and peanut butter so we could eat – to support us. I grew up on AFDC [Aid to Families with Dependent Children]… I was hiding because I would be embarrassed that my grandmother pays for our food with government assistance.

There was nothing in my imagination that I could make a living with something creative. Absolutely none. I got the New York Undercover job, I just thought it was an accident. It was probably only 10 years ago that I began to believe that I could support my life and my family by playing.

What makes you say yes to the role?

I am childish about this. It will be fun? Am I going to have a good time? Can I do it and not be embarrassed and stand for what I did? I am still solving this problem. I have a responsibility that the people I usually work with do not have. I know what it’s like to be in a movie, and when it’s over, black women will look at you saying, “Why did you do this? You let us down by doing this, ”and you have to answer for it. I think black women should be held accountable like no other. Here are my thoughts: Is it fun to play and am I serving black women?

How did you come up with the script and what do you think of it first after reading it?

I know there were probably other candidates that they looked at that they were going to go to initially. I’m used to it. I just waited and waited for the opportunity to read about it – and I did it.

Playing with the hero’s wife can be downright boring because they are figurines and their only purpose is, as I read somewhere, to create problems for the hero. I felt it [the screenwriter] Zach Bailin did something that Miss Oracen didn’t do — she had a life outside of her husband. I thought it would be fun to play.

How did you prepare for the role? Did you have the opportunity to talk to her?

I play the role of Miss Horacene Price. I’m not going to recreate her life. So I approach this the same way I approach any other role. Another great thing is that I have material to work with. There is a story, information that I do not just make up.

Zach and Reynaldo Marcus Green, the director, did extensive interviews with Miss Horacene, so I listened to these tapes over and over. She is a special woman who is a big challenge for me. When I play characters, I try to find something outside of them that I can pick up, like accents, how they walk, how they talk. But Ms. Oracene is a very inner person, so I had to rely on her words about myself. Her daughter Isha Price was on set every day, so she was a great helper too.

I’m curious what you are talking about. Is this a man? Where does this intensity come from?

[On] She was referred to on Wikipedia as a trainer and I had such a cynical response to that. I thought, why does she call herself a coach? Isn’t this overkill? I mean, it’s great that she’s in the stands with her kids and cheers them on, but that doesn’t make you a coach.

And listening to these tapes, listening to her daughters talk about her, you discover that Miss Oracen was as much a coach for these girls as Richard Williams. She developed their approach to the game. I did not know that. I think 99 percent of the world doesn’t know this about Miss Horacen.

Mr. Williams is the architect of the next generation of tennis; Miss Price is the builder of this. Now she does it all, working two jobs – multiple jobs – and practicing for years to coach her kids. So many women live that kind of life. I wanted people to know who Miss Oracen Price was and who she is. This is what drove me. I speak on behalf of this woman.

I wonder if you see parallels with your career? Sounds like your time?

I do not know. This is weird. I worked hard. I was involved in a whole bunch of things that no one saw or liked. They let me know they didn’t like it. God knows I was in gold and glossy things, but I was not so proud. But I am so proud to be part of something that I hope is giving this family flowers.

What you bring to this role makes you a possible Oscar nominee. How do you feel?

There is actually a practical side to this, right? When it’s next to your name, it helps you get more work done. I lose my job all the time because of girls who have this thing at the end of their name. If that happens, it will be great, because it will expand my work opportunities and everything related to it. But on the other hand, for me it’s just another sequel when I shout out Oracen Price. She stood in the stands and applauded her daughters, but it would be so great to hear people applaud her.

Are there any directors you would like to work with?

Reinaldo Marcus Green from King Richard – I’d love to work with him again. Raven Jackson, a southerner, is filming her first feature film. She is a wonderful writer. I hope I will have the opportunity to work with her.

There are things that people send me – my managers and agents – they come from these famous directors. It is not interesting for me. I’m interested in black people who are eager to tell stories about blacks and do it in really interesting, innovative ways.

Would you do a movie about a cop buddy or a romantic comedy?

Listen, nobody throws scripts at me. This sound you hear is not people throwing scripts at me.

This could change.

Well, not now. This is not my life. So if I had to choose, I would choose King Richard, I would choose When They See Us. I enjoy this kind of work.

Acting is not something that you do for a hobby, it is how you pay your rent. I do what I need to take care of my family. If I had to choose, I would continue to do the kind of work I do now.

Are you thinking of a movie in which you would like to be a star?

Undoubtedly. There are things that I am currently working on and trying to implement. I’m from the South, and one of the greatest parodies is the erasure of black women who have been central to the freedom movement. And I’m talking about the freedom movement, not the civil rights movement, because they were two different demographic groups. So, I live to fix this.

World Nation News Desk
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