RAIN | An Interview with Brooklyn Sudano
May 30, 2007
By Kam Williams
A Diva Grows in Brooklyn
Brooklyn Sudano is an ingnue with the beauty, pedigree and versatility which makes her one of Hollywood's emerging stars to be reckoned with. Born in Los Angeles, she's the daughter of disco diva Donna Summer and singer/songwriter Bruce Sudano.
She and her two sisters were raised by her protective parents far from the public eye. While Brooklyn was in her early teens, the family moved to Nashville, Tennessee, where she began to blossom creatively singing in a gospel choir, writing songs and appearing in all of her high school's theater productions. During the summer, she and her sisters would tour with their mother, performing as backup singers, dancing in stage productions, even doing some duets, often in some of the world's largest venues. Not one to worry about getting her hands dirty, Brooklyn willingly pitched in to help with the crew behind-the-scenes before and after shows.
But in the Fall, she always turned her attention back to academics, excelling to the point where she was valedictorian of her graduating class. Though she was accepted to Brown, Duke and Georgetown Universities, in the end she decided to stay close to home and attended nearby Vanderbilt University, for what turned out to be a short stay.
Her passion for performing led her to the famed Lee Strasberg Theater Institute in New York, to study a full curriculum of method acting, dance, musical production, movement, stage, film and television. While in that program, Brooklyn was spotted by a booker from Ford Modeling Agency, who signed her on the spot.
She immediately landed major print ad campaigns and TV commercials for Clairol, Burger King, K-Mart and Clean & Clear. And she later made her television debut as Vanessa on ABC-TV's hit show My Wife and Kids.
Currently living in L.A., here Brooklyn talks about her feature film debut in Rain, an adaptation of the V.C. Andrews best seller about an orphan raised in the ghetto who learns that she was the abandoned love child of a wealthy white debutante and a brother who came from the other side of the tracks.
KW: Hey, Brooklyn, thanks for the time.
BS: No problem.
KW: Let's see, where do I want to start? I've got a million questions I want to ask you. Wasn't your maternal grandmother a schoolteacher? Didn't she teach in Brookline, Massachusetts?
BS: She may have. I don't know whether my grandma was a teacher or not. Her name is Mary Gaines.
KW: I'll tell you why I'm asking. When I was in college in Boston back in the seventies, I was a live-in servant for a family with three kids who always talked about how Donna Summers' mother was a teacher at their grammar school.
BS: Oh, that side of my family is definitely from that area, but I'm not sure. I don't think so, but she might have been.
KW: Where did you get your name? I'm guessing that because your father's from Brooklyn, that that's where it came from.
BS: Yeah, I think that had to be part of it, and also that my dad was in a band called Brooklyn Dreams. I think the combination of the two, plus my parents being the creative types that they are, whether I was a boy or a girl, that was going to be my name.
KW: Have you ever been to Brooklyn?
BS: Yes, of course! [Laughs] I used to live in New York. It was always a funny thing when someone would ask me my name and I would say "Brooklyn." They would always think that I meant that I lived in Brooklyn, and I would have to clarify that.
KW: What was it like having disco diva Donna Summer for a parent?
BS: [Laughs] I didn't see it that way. To me, my parents are my mom and dad, and we were able as kids to do a lot of cool things. Just being part of that family definitely brought out and cultivated the creative arts in us. But to me, they're just mom and dad. It was normal and what I've always known. I don't know anything different, so I don't really have anything to compare it to.
KW: Weren't you parents touring frequently?
BS: My parents definitely went on the road a lot, but every opportunity we had to join them we did, especially if they were going to be traveling for long stretches at a time. We would bring a tutor along, like when we went to Japan for five or six weeks during the school year. But if they werejust going away for a couple of days, they would always leave us in good hands.
KW: At what age did you develop your passion for performing?
BS: I think it was just there. Every person in my family has that desire. But it's more about the art, and being creative. Whether it's singing, acting, painting or writing, my entire family engages in those types of activities. They're forms of self-expression, and it's what we love to do, so I just grew up in that environment. When I was a kid, I always envisioned myself as performing, as being in that business. It was all that I knew, so it's kind of like I'm just following in the family tradition.
KW: I know that you were valedictorian of your high school. What school was that?
BS: That was Christ Presbyterian Academy in Nashville. I was always kind of a student, a nerd. I didn't have a lot of dates in high school. I really didn't. [Laughs]
KW: Were you one of those brainiacs who didn't have to study?
BS: No, I was one of the serious studiers. I'm not somebody who just shows up and gets a hundred on a test. I really put a lot of work into it and was always reading books and studying for tests. I was lucky to have that drive. That's for sure
KW: In watching your performance in Rain, I couldn't help but notice your perfect diction and grammar which I didn't expect from a character raised in the Ôhood.
BS: Rain, as a character, was similar to how I am, in that sense. She studied, she wanted to learn. Education enables you to see more of the world, even if you can't travel. So, you're still able to expand your horizons, and go beyond your borders, in a way. And Rain wanted to do that, even though she loved her family. She wanted to see and experience the rest of the world as well. That excited her.
KW: What interested you in this script?
BS: The screenplay was by a very well-known book writer, V.C. Andrews. He wrote the script and he's very eloquent. I think he put that quality in the character of Rain as well, I think maybe he wanted that to be a little bit more her vibe.
KW: You mean "she," don't you? The "V" in "V.C. Andrews" stands for Virginia.
BS: Well, actually Andrew Neiderman writes under V.C. Andrews' name.
KW: Oh, you're saying that Andrew Neiderman ghostwrites as V.C. Andrews?
BS: I'm not sure if I'm supposed to say that, but he's a very accomplished author on his own. He wrote The Devil's Advocate, but I don't know how he portrays himself in the media, and I don't want to get in trouble for that.
KW: Okay, mum's the word. How much pressure did you feel playing the title character in your first feature film?
BS: It was a very big undertaking, but I was very blessed to have so many accomplished people surrounding me. One of the reasons I took the role was because I would be the lead, but I was also interested because of the caliber of professionals I would be working with: Faye Dunaway, Khandi Alexander, Giancarlo Esposito, Robert LoggiaÉ And then all the behind-the-scenes people, including Craig DiBona, the director, who's been a part of so many amazing films and worked with so many greats.
KW: Did you identify with your character, Rain, at all?
BS: Yes, I think you find pieces of yourself in every character you portray. I feel I was a lot like herÉ sometimes misunderstood, sometimes people think of you one way and their expectations are not who you really are. So, there were a lot of areas where I could connect with her such as being a young woman in a new situationÉ a fish out of waterÉ You pick pieces of those things you've experienced in life to make it real to yourself.
KW: Well, like Rain, you do have one black parent and one white parent, but you weren't abandoned by them.
BS: No, I'm very well loved. That aspect of it was different for me.
KW: And you didn't grow up in the ghetto, either?
BS: No, those things I had to create, but the true essence of who she was, I can relate to.
KW: Growing up in Tennessee, I suppose you must have encountered your share of racism?
BS: I lived in California until I was about 10, and then we moved to Connecticut. I didn't move to the South till I was 14 years-old. By then, I had already traveled, and seen much of the world. I had friends of many different nationalities. So, when I moved to Nashville, it was a bit of a culture shock for me.
KW: How so?
BS: It was never really overt racism. It was more the subtlety of the mentality. Of course, my parents tried to protect me from it, but people are people, and I think a lot of those attitudes are deep-rooted, and it's not like people even understand some of the things that they're saying. You know what I mean?
BS: There's often a subtlety to it. It's not always overt. If you're in the minority, you often have to deal with bigotry. It doesn't matter whether you're black or white, practice a different religion, come from a different culture, or have a disability. If you're different from most of the people you're surrounded by, some people might not be as tolerant as they should be.
KW: Do you have a favorite city you enjoy living in?
BS: No, from traveling so much, I've really learned to enjoy wherever I'm at, though Los Angeles is great. The weather is great. You can go to the beach. I love that about L.A. New York I love because I can go to plays. Don't get me wrong, Nashville is a great place, too. Much of my family and many friends are there, and I have warm feelings for it as well. So, there are different things about each city that are special to me. I try to hold on to the things that I like about a place, and enjoy my time while I'm there.
KW: Where in L.A. did you grow up?
BS: I kinda' grew up in a few different places, but I spent a lot of my time out on a 56-acre ranch in Thousand Oaks where we had chickens and cows and dogs. My mom had a big garden, and I spend a great deal of time playing outside. I had the country life, but also the city life, since we would go to New York a lot. Now, I live in the main Los Angeles area, so I've sort of come full circle.
KW: Would you mind answering the Jimmy Bayan question by telling me what L.A. neighborhood you're in now?
BS: I'd rather not say, just for safety's sake.
KW: I understand.
BS: It's unfortunate, but that's how you have to be at this stage of the game, especially because of what's available with the help of the internet. You have to be very aware of the information that you reveal, because you just don't know how someone might use it. I'm not worried about you, but you know how things can be with the internet. I don't even have a page at MySpace. [Laughs]
KW: Was it ever hard being the daughter of a pop icon?
BS: When you have parents who are recognizable, there's a certain part of you that wants to know that people you meet are able to not get clouded by that. For one reason or another, people often get kinda' caught up with it. You want to know that people see you for who you are before that comes up. It's not like you want to hide or be dishonest, it's just that you want to give people an opportunity to see you clearly, without anything else attached to it, if possible. Then you're able to get the same shot that they did for a real connection. You kind of want to be able to meet people directly where they're at.
KW: Do you have stalker issues? I'm sure your mother must have had some over the course of her career.
BS: Luckily, I haven't had anything too intrusive to this point. I'm happy about that. I'm a pretty private person. I'm not "out there" out there. From living in New York City, I developed a certain awareness that you have to have when you live by yourself. And I think I brought that with me here to Los Angeles, even though it's not the same. I try to be pretty aware, and make sure that I'm safe, especially if I'm alone.
KW: I enjoyed you're singing in this role, but you sound more like Judy Collins or Joni Mitchell than Donna Summer. Who would you say are your influences?
BS: The style of music in the movie is not necessarily the same as my own personal music. I helped write one of the songs, but the rest were written by other people. My parents are very much singer/songwriters, so they ended up showing me a lot of that type of music when I was a kid, but as I've gotten old I've really listened to a wide spectrum of music, whether it's The Carpenters, Stevie Wonder, Justin Timberlake, Jay-Z or Lauryn Hill. I've kinda' run the gamut, and in listening to so many different styles, you come to take bits and pieces from all of it.
KW: How did you enjoy being on My Wife and Kids?
BS: That was a great experience. It was my first professional, series regular gig. I had so much fun, because it was a great learning experience in a family environment.
KW: How was it working on that show with Damon Wayans?
BS: He was one of the most professional people I've ever met. And so sweet and so giving. And [co-star] Tisha Campbell was the same way. I felt very blessed to be able to get paid to go there, because I would've gone for free.
KW: You wouldn't believe how many times I interview someone, and they end up raving about how great it was working with one of the Wayans Brothers. Why do you think that's the case?
BS: They are enablers, and they do many things well. So, they bring a lot of people along for the ride, especially if they believe in you. And they love kids, and they love their families, and it's very evident in the environment they create on the set.
KW: In your bio, it says you were spotted by a booker for Ford Model Agency who signed you on the spot. I always hear stories like that. Is that true or was that dreamed up by a publicist?
BS: Well, it was kinda' like that, but maybe a little glorified. The introduction wasn't solicited by me. I was introduced to one of the agents at Ford, and very early on, they were like "We would love to work with you." I didn't really pursue them. It happened through a natural connection, and it all happened very, very quickly. So, I was really blessed to get a break because it's not an easy industry.
KW: I'm curious about how you see yourself ethnically, given that you have one white parent, and one black parent.
BS: I've taken some journeys with that throughout my life, and come to an understanding about how I felt about, and then how the world kinda' sees it. I grew up in an environment where of my two best friends, one was Korean, and one was blonde with blue eyes. And I was very close to my nanny, who's like my second mom, and she's from El Salvador. From very early on, I was surrounded by different cultures, so, as a kid I wasn't really aware of it. Then, as I got older, I always identified equally with my mother and father's sides. My dad's family is Italian-American from Brooklyn, so I always considered myself bi-racial, because I didn't want to disconnect from either side, and I felt very strongly about that. Now, I understand that the world sees me as a black woman, a person of color, and I'm okay with that. I wouldn't want to change the fact that I'm a person of color. But I also try to be fair to both sides of who I am, since they both played a big part in making me who I am today. The world kinda' gets caught up in putting people in boxes, and you have to check a box saying you're white, or Hispanic, or black, or Asian-American, or a Pacific Islander. But we all share the same emotions and have the same blood running through our veins and we're all a part of the human race. Culturally, we might be a little bit different, and say things differently, but if we could all see beyond the boxes and focus on those areas where we are very similar, at the end of the day we'd see that we are simply who we are. And I think the film Rain shows that as well.
KW: What do you see as the movie's message?
BS: It delivers the message that life is a journey, and that there are going to be some major bumps in the road. You might question who you are and what you're going to be, but you can fight through it, and even though you're tested, it will make you stronger and you'll come to see who you are.
KW: Your generation has recently been dubbed "Generation E.A." meaning Generation Ethnically-Ambiguous. The New York Times says that what's popular today is a face whose heritage is hard to pigeonhole. Faces that are ethnically neutral or diverse suddenly have considerable appeal.
BS: Yeah, that is becoming true, because we live in a melting pot. More and more, people are some kind of mixture. Even if you're Caucasian, you're a mixture of something.
KW: Like a Benetton ad.
BS: Yeah, whenever I see a family picture of mine, I always call it a Benetton ad, because it kinda' looks that way. The whole world is gravitating towards being multi-national and multi-racial, which has enabled people of my generation to be more tolerant of differences.
KW: Thanks so much for the interview. I was extremely impressed by your being so forthcoming on so many different subjects. I just hope that when you get as famous as your mother, you'll still make yourself available to me for another interview.
BS: Sure, definitely. Thank you for taking the time. I appreciate it. Speak to you soon.