The 22nd annual Screen Actors Guild Awards took place on Jan. 30, 2016, at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles. Here is what this Screen Actors Guild Award winner said backstage in the Screen Actors Guild Awards press room.
Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Drama Series
(“How to Get Away With Murder”)
Have you seen “Making a Murderer”? Do you think Steven Avery is guilty or innocent?
You know what’s amazing? I haven’t seen it. I watch “Forensic Files.” I watch “Snapped.” I watch “Dateline Mysteries,” “48 Hours.” And I’ve never watched “Making a Murderer,” so I can’t comment.
There’s been a lot of talk recently about the lack of racial diversity for this year’s Oscar nominees. Can you comment?
I’m just enjoying the moment. We’ve become a society of trending topics. Diversity is not a trending topic. It’s just not. I’ve always considered myself an actor since I got my equity card in 1988. I’ve never put any limitations on myself. I felt like I could play any character in Chekov, in Shakespeare, in Miller, in August Wilson.
I see myself as an actor, no matter what is going on in the business, I will find a way to practice my art. And all the actors of color I know don’t place limitations on themselves either. So regardless of what is going on in the Academy, regardless of what is going on in Hollywood, they will find a way to be excellent. We always have, and we always will.
Who has been your biggest advocate in the industry, and how has that person helped you?
I have had so many advocates in the business, but I’d have to say my biggest advocate has always been my parents. And the reason is because there is an imposter theory that happens as an actor: that someone is always going to find you out as the hack you are. You never feel good enough.
I remember Marlon Brando said in one of his documentaries that there was a famous prima ballerina who said that her life would be so happy if she could dance one minute perfectly. And I thought it was a really powerful statement because you never feel good enough as an actor. You never feel your work is good enough.
But my parents have always been my biggest cheerleaders. They always thought I was fabulous. And that always gave me the foundation to try a little bit harder and get up when I felt down. Everyone else in the business, they come and go.
What has your Annalise Keaton character taught you about womanhood?
Annalise didn’t teach me. I taught me. But what it’s taught me about womanhood is that we are very complicated creatures. And it’s also taught me that we wear the mask that grins and lies as women, that so much of our public personas have been created by our culture, especially by a male-dominated culture. If we stay pretty, we’ll be OK. If we stay nice, we’ll be fine. If we stay what people define as feminine, then we can get that check mark of acceptability.
And what Annalise has taught me is to just be that firestorm which is just human, to be just as messy and screwed-up and absolutely essentially yourself as you humanely can. And it’s given me a certain freedom. It really has. I always tell people, “Why do I have to have structure as Annalise?”
What do you think about some people boycotting the Oscars this year because no people of color were nominated in the acting categories?
I think people should do what they want to do with the Oscars. I think if they want to watch it, it’s fine. If they don’t, that’s fine. I think more importantly, when you walk into a theater, where it be a movie theater or a live theater, be open to the experience of the story.
I think that sometimes people feel like stories about people of color are not inclusive. They’re very much inclusive. The works of August Wilson, which pretty much made my career, is everyone’s story. When you watch Annalise, she’s not just a black woman; she’s a woman going through her life.
And I feel like people forget that in our business, we can’t act in a room. You need the actor, you need the writer, you need the director. And finally, you need the audience. So I’m just saying, plop your money down to see “Race,” to see “Dope,” to see “Straight Outta Compton,” to see “Selma,” to support directors like Ava Duvernay or Lee Daniels or Spike Lee. Their stories are just as valid and important as anyone else. That’s more important than boycotting — openness.
What advice would you give someone who hasn’t achieved their dreams yet?
I sat down at a party once. And, as life would have it, I sat down next to a life coach. And one of the things he told me is that everyone is told to follow their dreams. Everyone is really focused on success. And we do everything to achieve that success, but we forget the final stage, which is significance. So I would tell anyone who has a dream, especially if it’s in this business, to find the significance of it.
Listen, when I started out, I just wanted to act. I didn’t have a speech with the toilet paper roll in the mirror. I just wanted to be a great craftsperson. I wanted to move people. I was perfectly happy doing theater. I was. I was making a living. I could pay my bills. I paid my student loans off.
But I wanted to create. I wanted to joy of that, the joy of making people feel less alone made me feel significant. And so, that’s what I would tell them: to follow their heart. As cheesy as that may sound, listen. I’m 50 years old. It works. It’s cheesy, but it works.
For more info: Screen Actors Guild Awards website
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