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December 2006
DREAMGIRLS: An Interview with Anika Noni

DREAMGIRLS: An Interview with Anika Noni
By Wilson Morales

December 11, 2006

Not everyone can make the transition from Broadway to the film world. There are a number of famous people who have Tonys and worldwide recognition for the work they have done on the stage, but for many, the move to another industry doesn’t always garner the same success. For Anika Noni Rose, hopefully luck will be her side. Coming off a Tony award for her performance in “Caroline or Change”, Rose couldn’t have imagined that her next highly profiled role would be on the big screen, let alone in the most anticipated film of the year. In the film version of the Broadway hit, “Dreamgirls”, Rose plays the young singer, Lorrell, who while traveling and singing with the Dreamettes, fall in love and head over heels with hot rod R & B singer James “Thunder” Early, played magnificently by Eddie Murphy. At 5’3 and shorter than Beyonce and Jennifer Hudson, Rose had to wear high heels to seen on screen and photos when the three are together. In speaking with Blackfilm.com, Rose spoke about getting the role, working Beyonce and Jennifer, and the transition from stage to screen.


You were the only one fortunate enough to have one of the original Dreamgirls around for a little bit. I don’t know if you were able to interact during the shoot, but did you talk to Loretta Devine at all about playing Lorrell?

Anika Noni Rose: I didn’t speak to her about Lorrell. There really wasn’t any time speaking, but I wouldn’t have done that anyway. I feel like her performance was her performance, and clearly it was a defining performance. She made the role, but I wanted to it fresh, and give it my creation. And so, I was able to that, because I never saw the play and I was really able to take and turn it into what I thought it was from the page, which doesn’t take away from what she did because she’s phenomenal, and she’s a really wonderful woman, and I was able to just with her, and she made me laugh so hard. She’s so funny and how wonderful to sit across from the legend who created it. We have total respect for each other’s creations and each other’s space so she didn’t try to give me unwanted advice and push something on me and I wasn’t trying to take anything from her that she wouldn’t have wanted to give. It was a great thing for me and mutually respectful.


Can you talk about going after the role and the audition process?

ANR: I broke about 4 girls’ ankles. (Laughs). I flew myself out for the first audition. They had offered me an audition here in New York but I was working at a concert at the time and I had to go out of town, and I really just felt that I didn’t have the time to prepare myself the way I wanted to. I also didn’t want to sing on video tape, which I thought would be sort of flattening. I wanted to really go in and be present with those people so I asked if they could let me know when they had another round for auditions and I would make sure that I was available for that because there was too much going on. I’d like to be able to create something and know that I’m not going off half ready for something; so I ended up flying myself to LA, which turned out to be a good thing. I auditioned for Bill (Condon) there in LA and he’s a wonderful person to audition for. He’s very present and he is very much taking in what it is that you are doing so if you say something that is funny, he’s going to laugh and that’s a nice thing to know that someone’s actually listening and caring about what you are doing. I did that first audition and I left there and I was on cloud nine. Well, there it is. If I had to do it again, if I had to turn right back around I would do it the same way. I’ve done the best that I can do, and that is a rare, rare,thing for actors. We are always kicking ourselves in the back of the neck asking ourselves what else we could have done. There are so many things that are going through your mind. I was able to say that I did that best that I could. In the four months between the first and second auditions, I didn’t have to be nervous, and crazy, and fidgety because I knew that I had done the best I could and I knew that if they chose someone else, it would hurt my heart, but it would be okay, because it wasn’t about what I did. It was about something else that they wanted; something else that they needed to see. So the four months went by much easier than they could have and I got my call back and I had about a day to prepare to fly out to LA and learn that song. They flew me out this time. There was a cute little limo at the airport when I got there. Once again, Bill was there along with a few producers in the room. I sang a different song. I sang it twice, and I did one of the scenes, and I did the scene about 12 different times, and each time he would tweak something and ask me to do something just a little bit different, which I think as an actor, that’s a great thing and it feel really good, in particularly in an audition situation because you come in there and you bring in what you think the character is. But if you don’t get the job, and they didn’t take the time to do that, they you don’t know if you could have done what theirvision is because you didn’t know what it was. So, it’s a really wonderful thing. I walked out of there just feeling good. I just felt good and I felt strong and I had prepared myself as much as I could. I had done everything that I could. It took about a month before I had heard that I had gotten it and it was amazing. There are times when you feel like you got the job, and you simply don’t. You so don’t that you were even on the short list. I didn’t know if I had gotten the job but I knew that I felt good about my work and that’s just a great feeling.


I hear that wearing heels was a physical challenge.

ANR: The heels were painful. There was no choice because of the height difference and sometimes they were hurtful. There weren’t the only things that were painful. Our finale gowns are these beautiful amazing gowns but they are not made to be worn for 15 hours straight because they weighted 10 pounds, literally. It was like chain mail, and so by the time we got to the second day, the second straight run of 15 hours, and 10 pounds on your there were bruises on your neck and on your shoulders. The orange dresses had a little snap and they rubbed a nice little hole right in the shoulders. Clothing is made to function during the day, but in this situation, it wasn’t made to function in that type of high energy. The thing that Sharon Davis did that was amazing, and she knew that these things were uncomfortable, she was able to make them as comfortable as possible by covering the snaps with something soft so that it wouldn’t bother you as much. Ultimately you are doing a show that’s deep into fashion and beauty and you can’t ignore and beauty is not fun. That’s what you can take from Dreamgirls.


Was there any of you that could relate to Lorrell and her motivation to stay in that relationship with Jimmy?

ANR: Well, I’ve never been in that situation, but I do understand loving somebody enough to forget yourself. I understand making choices that aren’t the best choices for you because of the care you have for someone else. Particularly at 17, you don’t really know yourself yet. She’s a 17 year old in love with this amazing charismatic idol and there he is, in the flesh, and wow, he feels the same for me, because he loved her. Jimmy loved that woman, otherwise she would have been gone. It was 8 years. You saw in the beginning the way he got rid of women and then moved on and on. That was a true love relationship, but it was just a situation that was healthy on either side and could not have been anything else and was dangerous for both of them.


Can you talk about working with Eddie Murphy?

ANR: Eddie Murphy was a joy to work with. He was really sweet and really generous with his person and with his talent and open to give me room to do what I do, and so we really had an amazing give and take when we were with each other. It really felt like a huge band of energy running back and forth between us and that’s what you want to happen. You want to be in something that feels like a real good tennis match. He was wonderful in that way and I have to say, in watching it afterwards, and watching the intimate and vulnerable beauty that came off of him on that screen, it’s amazing. I hope that people see that and are opened to him. What I think he has just done is open a whole new vein of career.


How was working with Jennifer and Beyonce? Did you bond off-screen to capture a vibe that would be seen on-screen?

ANR: It’s not something that we honestly we didn’t have to work hard on. It was just there. We got along together very well from the beginning and we had a month of rehearsals. We had a month of dance rehearsals and vocal rehearsal so it was just part of what it was. We got along and we knew each of us was coming from something different and had respect for what the next person was bringing, and with that, there’s a certain ease there. There’s a comfort there and there’s knowledge that no one was going to letthe other person fall at all, physically or if their little heart was getting hurt at some moment, no one was going to let that happen to the other person. That’s a really comfortable place to be in.


Of the three of you, you’re the only one coming from the stage world. How’s the transition from theater to film?

ANR: It was fine. It was good. I didn’t find it to be so drastically different. There were technical things that were different. The fact that things don’t happen chronologically on film was sort of odd. You would start themorning at one age and then come back in the afternoon at another age, take a break, and then there’s something else. That was a weird thing and sometimes you would start a scene on an emotion and you would start on the cry and that’s a weird thing. I don’t cry on cue. It’s not one of my talents. For example, the scene with Eddie and I and I’m crying on that time, and Bill’s like, “I think we’re going to go with the tears”, and I’m like, “You don’t want it to seem emotional” and he’s like, “No”. Then I go, “Well, I think it might take me a minute”. “That’s fine. Take all the time you need”, he says. Eddie was silent and they waited and of course, it felt like two hours because I was the person they were silent for, but they gave me the time to get deeply enough into that situation within myself to find that emotion and when I was ready, I turned to Bill and nodded, and he said, “Action”. He said it really soft, and really quiet and respectful of what my process was. I think I’m really lucky that I was put into this piece, which is such a wonderful and is so reflective of Broadway but also has a director who is so respectful and so loving of actors and their process.

 

 

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