Talking about race, gender, ambition and the media with the star and playwright of Above the Fold at the Pasadena Playhouse.
Above the Fold, an original play by former New York Times reporter Bernard Weinraub, opened at Pasadena Playhouse last week. It stars Taraji P. Henson, an Academy Award nominee in 2009 for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and until last fall a star of the CBS crime drama Person of Interest. Henson plays Jane, a New York Times reporter who becomes swept up in a rape case on a Southern college campus where three white fraternity boys have been accused of raping an African American woman, Monique, played by Kristy Johnson. Jane’s desire to get the truth of the story collides with her desire to rise at the newspaper, where her editors are all too excited about the story’s apparent trifecta of racism, sex and violence.
Maria Russo: Taraji, what appealed to you about the role of Jane?
Taraji P. Henson: For me what appealed first was her passion for her career. She’s dedicated, she’s committed. The play talks about how she feels held back, but it’s not enough for her to walk away from. She thinks she can change the world through her work, through this gift God gave her. And that’s what I feel about acting.
In the play, there’s a feeling that there’s an extra task on her because of her gender and her race, knowing that she’s good and that she deserves more. If that floodgate opened and allowed her to express herself and her talent, there would be no limit to where she could go. But there’s a glass ceiling she’s up against, and I totally understand this woman. I understand her morality, her wanting to do the right thing in a bad situation. She got caught up! She got caught up, and who wouldn’t when your career is on the line?
MR: How did you prepare for playing a journalist?
TPH: I’m always doing interviews with some media outlet, so I paid attention in a different way. Journalists are different! I watched a lot of news and talked to some of the journalists I knew. Bernie also gave me some suggestions, some reporters to talk to, and I talked to them and that helped me too.
This is a multidimensional character. Bernie did a great job of giving her a back story in the script—her parents are educated, her brother is a doctor, but there is the pain of all her losses. It was pretty much right there in the script.
MR : Taraji, how has it been working with Kristy Johnson, who plays Monique?
TPH: Oh, she is such a great actress! She’s available, she’s vulnerable, she’s open. I love playing with her every night. We always find nuances. She’s a gutsy actress, she’s not afraid, she’s comfortable with the stage. That vulnerability kills me every night. When she falls within herself and says, ‘You think I tell lies?’ Every time, I think -– oh!
MR: Taraji, did your point of view about journalism and the media evolve over the course of preparing for the play?
TPH: I’m a celebrity, so I have a point of view about the media already, a really strong one. [Laughs] Because I am a part of this media entertainment whirlwind. Now everybody’s a blogger, everyone wants to have a say in who you are and what you do. So I’m caught in it – somebody wants to take a picture of me with a stranger, all of a sudden I’m pregnant and he’s my husband. I mean anybody can say anything about you, and once it’s out there it’s out there.
MR: It’s never been easy for actresses to find work, especially black actresses.
TPH: Absolutely. I am an Academy Award-nominated actress. And still I am told, you can’t open a movie. It’s tough. Amy Adams and I rolled together—the year she was nominated for Junebug was the year I sang at the Oscars, and then we were nominated together. But look at our careers, look at what she’s been doing. I can count on one hand how many movies I’ve done. People put me down for doing a Tyler Perry movie, but guess what? That’s who called.
What’s so unfortunate is that I have a mandate. I have people who want to see me in the movies. I’m just not getting the shot. I have over four million people on Facebook, however many million on Twitter—people want to see me. But I can’t do it. There’s that glass ceiling. I’m not going to let it make me bitter. I’m not going to let it change the love I have for what I do. And I love Bernie to death, and I want the world to know. Thank you, Bernie, for giving me a voice, for having the balls to change that character to a black woman!
the interview is with her and the playwright, I only posted her bits, you can read the full interview at the source