Anika Noni: The Color of a Rose

Anika Noni Rose

A year ago, we interviewed Anika Noni Rose, the woman with acting’s most beautiful name, here at CYInterview. Now, she’s back.

After entertaining millions of boys and girls everywhere as Disney’s first black princess, Anika now moves to a very serious role. Early buzz indicates it could be Oscar worthy. In For Colored Girls, out this weekend, Ms. Rose stars alongside a who’s who of African-American, female entertainers including Janet Jackson, Whoopi Goldberg, Phylicia Rashad and Kerry Washington.

What might stand out to viewers is Anika’s role of Yasmine, a dance teacher who goes through some very dramatic experiences. Rose believes Yasmine represents many women who have been through very tough moments in their lives.

Some critics are calling Ms. Rose’s work, in the film, a stand out performance that well could be one of the 10 Academy Award nominations for Best Picture. The stage veteran wants everyone to know the movie’s title is about the colors of the rainbow and the emotions those colors give off, not about skin color. Each one of the characters has a different color in the movie. Anika’s is yellow.

Anika has had widely varying roles during the course of her career. And there’s no guessing what the Tony Award winner might do next. For example, she’s recently been appearing on episodes of CBS’s The Good Wife. Whatever happens during the movie award season, Ms. Rose would love to get the chance to show more of herself in a leading role on film. It will be interesting to see if she will find such a role, one that can best showcase all of her performing abilities.

Tales of Anika Noni’s earlier career struggles – starting out in theatre in New York – are nothing short of inspiring. She recalls when she was doing eight performances a week and didn’t have enough money to buy groceries. During those crazy times, Rose even regrettably admits to hopping the turnstile a few times in the New York Subway. She did this only until her next paycheck came in. During a filming for a movie, she also remembers having $25 in her checking account while looking for her next acting job.

Today, Ms. Rose has ongoing roles in movies, TV and stage. Perhaps, she will be graced with an Oscar nomination. If there is any justice in Hollywood, she will be.

Listen to the Anika Noni Rose interview:

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Chris Yandek: Before we get into everything else, why don’t you sum up how the last year has been since we last spoke?

Anika Noni Rose: “Wow! It’s been quite a year hasn’t it? It’s significantly got significantly quieter for a while, (Laughs) which was nice. I’ve done some concert work. I’m working on a musical. The Princess and the Frog continued even though it was out. The DVD then came out, but you know I’m constantly running into people on the street that want to share their stories about their babies and what it meant to them with me, which is sort of amazing having just gotten past Halloween, I got loads of pictures of little kids in their Tiana outfits. So that’s sort of an ongoing pleasure. It’s been a really lovely and blessed year.”

CY: I’d love for you to reflect back upon one of those moments, your keynote commencement speech at Florida A&M University. Why don’t you tell me about the experience, where does it rank and did you think about the importance of the message you would tell those graduates in this tough climate for them, job climate?

ANR: “I thought very hard about it because I didn’t, first of all, you know they were like, oh it’s just gonna be 20 minutes. And I was like, what? 20 minutes? I can’t. I don’t want to talk about myself for 20 minutes. That’s unbelievable. Like two minutes is too much, you know to be standing up there chatting about your own accomplishments. So I was trying to figure out how to turn this into something that is interesting for them, but also you know, important to the time. FAMU has a very interesting crest.

Literally I was sitting looking at the web page and like trying to find something to link to and I was just sitting there staring at the crest and it has field, hand, heart and [head]. So I used those tenets as my speaking points you know, telling people to do the best that they can in their field. To not be afraid to reach for a hand, ask for a hand, but also to give a hand in their journey. So I used all of that and I talked a little bit about what I’d do or how I’ve gotten to where I am, but more about the tenets that I think are important within that to hold on to, to try to make your journey in the best way possible. I didn’t want to be preaching to people. I really just wanted to talk to them a little bit and share the things that I think have helped me along.”

CY: Well, it sounds truly phenomenal and I think that you really definitely thought about it. Why don’t you tell me about this role, this current role in For Colored Girls and how this is different than anything you’ve ever done?

ANR: “Well, it’s very different. I play Yasmine. Her color is yellow. I think she is a beautiful yellow person. She is bright and warm and brilliant and far-reaching. She’s a teacher. She teaches dance and she uses the introduction of this art form to shepherd high school students who may or may not get the opportunity not only to express themselves, but to find within that expression a way to step forward in the world. So like her greatest joy is the amount of students that she’s helped matriculate from high school to college. She is one of those people who just seems to have a soundtrack in her mind all the time.

She’s, music is so important to her. It moves her so deeply and she expresses that through movement. It is different for me. She goes through a couple of events in the movie that are extraordinary painful and intense. I think one of the reasons, the main reason that I found her so enticing is because I felt that there’s so many women that go through horrible experiences in their lives and it silences them.

So for those, the ones who have felt that they cannot open their mouths again and speak on the horrors that have befallen them, I wanted to play this woman who does, who does get up and say this is what happened to me and it was awful and it’s not my fault and I refuse to live under it. You know, it’s very important. I don’t think that everybody in life can speak out on every wrong that has befallen them, but for the people that do, they make it a little easier for the next person.”

CY: There is a lot of early buzz out there that perhaps this very serious role of Yasmine is Oscar worthy and perhaps this might be the moment that you get nominated for an Oscar. With all the amazing acting accolades, how would it feel to get nominated for this? This is obviously early, but you never know.

ANR: “It’s so early. I’m sort of even scared to say anything and I didn’t really know that. (Laughs) So I’m a little blown away by that. I, obviously it would be phenomenal. Absolutely phenomenal! You know, she to me is such an important character in America because she is so many women. She’s so many voices. So your mouth to God’s ears. It would be a wonderful way for many women to really exhale and free themselves with that type of recognition.”

CY: So regardless of whatever happens during award season, everything you’ve learned on stage, on television, in movies, singing and everything else as a serious performer, is the ultimate dream and surprise maybe that you haven’t found yet to find that leading lady role that comes along once in an actress’s career like Sandra Bullock last year?

ANR: “Hmm, you know, I would love to do some leading work. Absolutely. And I have on stage definitely. I have been a lead amongst other leads I guess, but I’ve been really lucky in the supporting work that I’ve done because the characters have been so clear. They’ve been varied. They have arcs. They’ve allowed me to challenge myself and that’s ultimately what I’m looking for. I wouldn’t want to take a lead role just because it puts me in the lead.

I would rather have a small role that moved me than to be in the lead and feeling like I’m just treading water or floating along because it’s not enough for me. So not to say, I hope that didn’t sound like, ‘Oh no. I don’t ever want a lead role.’ I just think it has to be the right role. Any time I take a role, it has to be the right role. It has to be something that shifts something within me.”

CY: Well, besides yourself there’s a lot of serious actresses in this film. Where would you rank this movie when it comes to an accurate representation of black women in America today?

ANR: “Well, you know I wouldn’t really rank it as a representation of solely black women in America and I think that’s scary about the title because there are a lot of people I think who are thinking that it is only for colored girls or women of color because of the title and I think that it’s really more about the color of the experience. It’s about the morning that you wake up red with rage or you are too blue to get out of the bed or you feel so yellow that you can’t even walk out the door and face anybody or you’re orange with joy.

It’s more about those colors than it is about the color of our skin doing it. That being said, it is a phenomenal opportunity for the actresses in the film because we women so often are put in a situation where it’s either or. Either you’re the lead or you’re the sidekick and often the sidekick is treated as such. They’re sort of shunned off to the side and we have a situation here where we’re all in this piece and we have all of us a moment where we get to shine with each other, on each other, for each other.

That is very, very special. I think it is a testament to womanhood in general. Women across the globe who have dealt with the issues that of lack of love, lack of love from the outside, lack of love from the inside, learning to look at ourselves truthfully, learning to accept ourselves with our flaws and learning the value of woman friends and the support of each other. There’s no way to be loved if you do not love yourself. That’s very important for women to learn because we so often throw ourselves away for others.”

CY: Is there one great story from your entire experience on working on this film?

ANR: “Well, they’re many great stories. We were backstage and we were doing this photo shoot. We were waiting for everything to set up and maybe somebody else was doing a scene and we might’ve been waiting for one person to come back from a scene. Kerry [Washington] and I were backstage. We were talking to Whoopi [Goldberg] and Phylicia [Rashad] and Tessa [Thompson] was there. I can’t remember who else was next to us at the time.

We started talking about Whoopi’s show that she did on HBO years and years ago, how we watched it as little kids and memorized it. You know, it was one of those times where you actually could get away with cursing because you were doing the show. And out of the blue, the both of us started doing a piece from her skit. Neither one of us knew that we felt that way about it. Neither one of us had that conversation and we did a complete section of this show and Whoopi was looking at us sort of flabergast. But what a wonderful way to pay tribue to somebody who helped pave the way for your career whether they were thinking about it at the time or not. It was thrilling.”

CY: Yeah. I spoke with Whoopi years ago and she’s beyond phenomenal and we had a blast. This interview won’t air till later this week, but I wonder given all the budget cuts across the nation at the local and federal levels, how concerned are you about the future of arts programs in this country in general, but also in the school system for children?

ANR: “I really am most concerned about the school systems. If art is eliminated in the school systems, then we don’t have to worry about it being an issue later because it will then eliminate itself. I think there is a direct correlation between the cutting off of arts programs and violence in the schools. When children are not allowed to express themselves, they resort to other ways of expression that aren’t necessarily healthy.

If a child is allowed to dance out their anger about what’s happening in their social strata at school, if they’re allowed to draw the fact that their parents are not getting along, to sing out the fact that somehow they are hurt or unsatisfied or uncomfortable or whatever. There is expression there that sometimes children aren’t able to say, but they are able to do and the arts allow that opening to happen. Otherwise, you have these children that are little time bombs, you know. They like the teakettle are just boiling.

They’re on boil and they’re shut down and there’s no way for them to express until there’s an explosion. I think it’s severely detrimental to our society as a whole when we cut off the arts in the school system. It’s wonderful to have football, but everybody’s not going to be able to be an athlete. Yes, we should be good in our sciences and our maths, but everybody is not going to be able to be good in science and math. Even if you are, that is not the end of your expression. It’s important for children to be able to be creative, to be smart within their creation and to feel invisible within their ability to create. We take the arts away we take that away. We cut off a part of their expression and therefore part of their growth.”

CY: Well said. One of the best kept secrets on the Internet in my opinion is that you actually have interaction with your fans on the Facebook group fan page that you have.

ANR: (Laughs)

CY: What has that experience been like for you? I know tons of stars have Twitter, but I think this is just more personal and you and me have kept in touch over the last year. I think it’s just been phenomenal.

ANR: “You know, I got Facebook because there were so many pages out that I had nothing to do with and I felt like I needed to have some control over you know what was going on and to be able to say, ‘Hey! Thank you so much for that kind thing that you said to me.’ I appreciate it because I do. I’m so grateful to the people that are supportive of me and what I do and you know, I don’t care what it is that they’re saying. There’s a young woman who sent me a picture of herself with a tiny frog that had jumped into her kitchen this summer. She was like, ‘Look what happened to me. Look what I found in the kitchen.’ (Laughs) And I was like, ‘You know it’s a recession. Don’t omit the fact that you kissed that frog. (Laughs) I know you did cause times are rough you know.’

And it’s just the ability to have that personal moment with people that you wouldn’t otherwise have. It’s really nice without being crazy and stalkie. I’m not on that thing all the time, but I do get to say, ‘Thank you’ and ‘check this out if you’re interested in it’ and’ please vote on Tuesday.’ Those are the great things to be able to tell somebody. Not in an interview fashion, which I love to do, but I think when it’s your own page, you’re giving your own interview. You’re deciding what you want to address and who you want to delete. (Laughs) And all of those things are important.”

CY: Yeah. I will put the link at the bottom of this interview when we put this online, but it’s kind of the best kept secret. It’s kind of just one of these little quiet things some people know about, but most people don’t know about yet I think.

ANR: “No. There’s another site that has like 4000 fans that I have nothing to do with. I never. It’s just not mine at all. I could never answer if I wanted to and I find it interesting because you know that’s also a tribute to the fans and how they feel because they keep posting. I have no ability to even answer on that page. But, they keep posting. So I’m really thankful. I’m really thankful that people want to reach out and want to say something kind to me about how I made them feel because that’s really what I do. It’s about making people feel something.”

CY: What was interesting is I got so many responses from our interview last year and how so many people we’re moved by that interview and on the front page of CYInterview.com it’s in the Best of CY section. Point be told, it was just kind of funny how I came across this page. I’m like, you never know who’s behind the computer, but you knew exactly who I was right away.

ANR: “I did.”

CY: And I just thought it was so funny. You were just like, ‘Hey Chris! How are you? Are you taking over the media realm? What’s going on?’

ANR: (Laughs)

CY: I’m like, this is too funny. I’m like, let’s wait and see what happens and we’ll talk with her on the phone about it. But you know what I mean. I’m glad you have this over a Twitter page because Twitter is just not very personal honestly.

ANR: “I haven’t gotten into the Twitter thing yet. I’m just, and it’s too much. You know, who cares that I just bought an apple. Whatever. Who cares. (Laughs).”

CY: I want to clear something up because this is what I would love doing. I read an online biography that at one point during your career you were down to your last $20 and then you turned it around. Is this a true story or not true at all?

ANR: “You know, there were a couple of moments. I actually was, every actor when they’re not working, particularly theatre actors use unemployment because that’s how you are able to audition and continue working to get work. When I first got to New York, I had been auditioning for about three months. I kept hearing that, ‘Oh she was great, however. Oh that was wonderful, but.’ And I literally had one unemployment check coming. It was like 300 bucks. And it came and I put it in the bank and that was it. And probably about three days later, I got my first Broadway show. And it has happened like that before. I think when I was doing Justin to Kelly at the time I had like about 25 bucks or so in my checking account and you know, I was looking for another job.

I didn’t feel broke or anything amazingly enough. I just felt something is coming. I was doing a theatre gig in New York, literally working, doing my eight shows a week and I went to the grocery store and picked up, I’m not exaggerating at all, a package of chicken breasts, some milk, some bread and a vegetable and I checked out and my debit card did not go through and this is working. And that’s you know, that was off Broadway. So off Broadway and Broadway, very different check. (Laughs) But neither one are really making you rich on your way up. And that’s just the truth of what we do.

And that was a crazy time and I actually was sort of sad and I hopped a turnstile [in the NYC subway] for a couple of days till my next check came in. But, and maybe that’s not best to say because people shouldn’t hop the turn style, they’re gonna get caught. But that’s sort of part of what we do. You have your ups and you have your downs. I think the most important thing is to realize that down at some point you gotta go back up. You can’t go any further and something is always coming.

I used to get really anxious between jobs. Oh, I gotta work, gotta work, gotta work. Just used to working and the habit of working and loving what I do. But then I got to a point where I looked back and I said, ‘You know, being anxious about it hasn’t changed a thing.’ Looking back, there’s always something coming. It’s a matter of making the best choice for yourself and knowing that it’s coming and so that’s what I try to do.”

CY: So in closing with you, we’ll go back to this, I think all of your fans will be really interested in this lengthy conversation.

ANR: (Laughs)

CY: How would it feel again, so if we’re here again three, four months down the road and somehow you do end up with an Oscar nomination for this role, how would it feel?

ANR: “I think you might have to like have some sort of super jet web thing and shoot it up at me to pull me down for the interview. (Laughs) You’ll have to like pull me from the sky because I would be floating. You know, it’s not why you do it, but when it happens and somebody says, ‘Hey you! That was pretty special. We loved it.’ It feels really good.”

CY: It’s an open year Ms. Anika Noni Rose. Anything is possible. I’ll cross your fingers for you and we’ll see what happens. Hang on me with and thank you as always for a wonderful conversation.

ANR: “Thank you Chris. I’m glad to talk to you.”

You can find our first interview with Anika Noni Rose from 2009 on The Princess and The Frog and many other topics at the link below:

http://www.cyinterview.com/2009/12/acting%E2%80%99s-most-beautiful-rose-anika-noni/

Anika Noni Rose’s official online fan page is on Facebook. You can find it at the address below:

http://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/Anika-Noni-Rose/221278832473

You can catch Anika in her role as Yasmine in For Colored Girls now out in theaters. The official website for the movie is http://forcoloredgirlsmovie.com/

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