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February 2010
BLOOD DONE SIGN MY NAME | An Interview with Lela Rochon

An Interview with Lela Rochon

By Wilson Morales

February 17, 2010


After twenty years in the business, Lela Rochon is still in the game. The Los Angeles first captivated audiences with the role of Sunshine in Eddie Murphy’s ‘Harlem Nights,’ and then shined again in the film adaptation of Terry MacMillan’s ‘Waiting to Exhale.’

Along with ‘Why Do Fools Fall In Love?’ and Oliver Stone’s ‘Any Given Sunday,’ she’s certainly received some prominent work in big budgeted films.

Her marriage to director Antoine Fuqua and raising their children hasn’t slowed her down. In her latest film, she’s featured opposite Nate Parker in ‘Blood Done Sign My Name,’ which is a civil rights drama based on the acclaimed book of the same name by prize-winning author and scholar Timothy Tyson.

The movie recounts the life of Henry Marrow, a 23-year-old black Vietnam veteran who was shot and beaten to death by a prominent white businessman and his grown sons.

In speaking with Blackfilm.com, Rochon talks about her role in the film, her years in the business, and upcoming work.

What was your attraction to doing this?

Lela Rochon: The nicest thing always is they offered it to me. I thought it was a really important film to be a part of. I didn’t just read the script, I read the book, and I really, really loved it and really wanted to be a part of it.

  Can you talk about your role?

Rochon: I play a role that is really connected to the author, Tim Tyson, and it’s him as a child. I go to work for his family, the nanny of the little boy. I try to teach him love in the middle of all this hatred that’s going on around him, and try to explain things that are basically unexplainable.
Is your character fictional or real?

Rochon:: It’s a true-life character.

You said you read the book, but was there any research you did for the role?

Rochon:: Yes I did, even though there was a lot more of her that’s not in the film which is more why I accepted the role, but some of it didn’t end up in the film unfortunately. I insisted on talking to Tim Tyson and his parents, who were available to me, and what I realized is they love this woman. They love her like family. She helped raise him and he loved her right back. I never had the opportunity to talk to her because I understand she’s old and not in great health, but he still loves her to this day.

Did you do anything physically for the role in terms of language or appearance?

Rochon:: Oh yeah, I got as frumpy and down as I could pull myself to. (laughs)

This is a little different from what your fans recognize.

Rochon:: I know, poor things, I’m sorry. Every role can’t be the glamorous sexy girl, and for me that was the fun of it all. I think sometimes when we take it down and seriously become someone else… for me, I just wanted to do something different. I would never have lived as an actress unless I play everything.

You’ve got a lot of stuff to your credit, both TV and film. What other roles are you looking to play?

Rochon:: I’m looking for mature, powerful women now. I’ve done the southern thing now. I’ve done an age-range from 17-years-old to this woman who is a little older than I am. For me I’m really looking for some espionage, CIA type strong women.

You’re married to a film director, and between the both of you there’s probably more access to what’s out there is there anything you can go out there or is it still a hard ballgame for a black actress?

Rochon:: I think it’s even worse because I have too much information. I know the reality of how much we’re not thought about and how they speak of us when we’re not in the room. Being privy to that it’s sometimes too much information, and sometimes knowledge is power. We have a huge fight, and it’s about dollar amount, and your last film, and how they don’t market black people in Europe. It’s really hard, and when they ask what I’m doing next it’s about producing. I have a few projects through the company me and my husband have, that we’re planning to do. It’s about creating those roles and those movies, because studios aren’t doing it and they’re certainly not thinking about women let alone black women.
It’s ironic that you both have projects in the same time period, with Antoine’s ‘Brooklyn Finest’ coming out in a few weeks.

Rochon:: I do a little cameo in his too, if you blink you’ll miss me. I play the CIA investigator with Richard Gere. We spent the whole day together, and I had a really great time doing it. The scene was in, the scene was out, the scene was in! Because his film is so complicated and so long, and it’s in, but it’s trimmed, but I really enjoyed working with him. My God, I was in high school when “American Gigalo” came out so it was a treat for me.

Is it possible for you to get a bigger part when your husband is the director?

Rochon:: In good time we will, there’s no sense of urgency. A lot of the times the films he does are not geared towards women. My husband’s a man’s man and he does guy films, and there’s rarely any female parts in them, period, but we have some projects that are for me that we hope to do in the near-future.

What do you remember about the time period when “Blood Done Sign My Name” takes place?

Rochon:: I don’t remember anything, I think I was just a kid. For me I was able to pattern her after my aunt and my grandmother, southern women, their demeanor, how they walked, what they wore. I remember the ugly shoes they wore. Most of all I remember the comfort and the love. My family’s from Arkansas, I was born in California, but I do remember… I know what that is.


When you look at how things changed considering that state voted for Obama in the last election. What do you think this film does for today’s society?

Rochon:: I think it lets us not forget the steps we’ve taken so we don’t forget the Ben Chavis’s of the world who were sentenced to prison shortly after this incident happened for over 200 years, and he was pardoned by Jimmy Carter, only did 8 years. There are people who went to prison, died, gave their LIFE so Obama could be President of the United States.

What did you learn doing this film?

Rochon:: It was actually a historical incident I knew nothing about. I didn’t know they grew tobacco in North Carolina, and that they burned the tobacco fields and people remember this. It’s the kind of movie I can show my children that aren’t rated R, and they can actually watch this 5, 10, 20 years from now.

What do you plan for next?

Rochon:: I plan to focus on producing, a one-hour episodic show I developed, a film I’ve written with another writing partner, and other projects that Anton and I have the rights for which we want to eventually do.

Do you still get people calling you Sunshine?

Rochon:: Forever. (laughs) It’s over a 20 year-old movie, I guess it says a lot about me or the movie. I used to hate it but now I think it’s sweet. It’s amazing to me. That was my first film.

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