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Happy Birthday Audra McDonald! Will Hollywood Finally Fully Embrace & Employ Her Talent?

Photo of Tambay A. Obenson By Tambay A. Obenson | Shadow and Act July 3, 2013 at 5:59PM

EDITOR'S NOTE: On her 43rd birthday, I thought I'd repost this piece I penned about a year ago (with updates to it added at the bottom), asking whether Hollywood would eventually recognize and exploit her talent (on the big and small screens), after her historic win at the Tony Awards last year.
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Audra McDonald

EDITOR'S NOTE: On her 43rd birthday, I thought I'd repost this piece I penned about a year ago (with updates to it added at the bottom), asking whether Hollywood would eventually recognize and exploit her talent (on the big and small screens), after her historic win at the Tony Awards last year.

And also since the site's readership has grown since then, I'm sure a lot of you haven't read it, so here it is again, with, as I noted, necessary updates to it at the end (since there've been some changes in her career, since I published it in 2012).

Happy 43rd birthday Audra McDonald! 

Congratulations are in order for Audra McDonald who made history during last night's Tony Awards celebration, becoming the first black woman to claim 5 Tony Award wins; last night's pickup for Best Leading Actress In A Musical (for Porgy & Bess), also tied the record held by Angela Lansbury and Julie Harris.

I should note that she's just 41 years old, soon to turn 42 (she's 43 today), and, according to IBDB.com (the Internet Broadway Database), she's appeared in just 10 Broadway shows, starting in 1991 through the present. Talk about talent and recognition; 10 Broadway shows, and she won Tony Awards for her performances in half of them. To help put this into some perspective, imagine a Hollywood actress making 10 movies over a 20 year period, and winning Academy Awards (whether supporting or lead) for her performances in 5 of them.

You'd think that maybe all that talent and success would be in demand, and transfer to TV and/or film, but it hasn't quite done so. Her last big screen role was a minor, thankless part in last year's Rampart. On TV, she was on the Shonda Rhimes-created ABC medical drama Private Practice from 2007 to 2011 (although from what I hear, she was under-utilized), before leaving to head back to Broadway to star in Porgy & Bess.

She also appeared in some TV movies - Wit in 2001, and A Raisin In The Sun in 2008; she received Emmy nominations for her performances in both TV movies - Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie; so almost everything she's touched, whether on screen or on stage, has been critically recognized, and you'd think that she'd be appearing in far more work than she is currently, especially in what we'd call leading lady roles, both on TV and in film. 

What's up Hollywood studio execs?

I think of Viola Davis being in a similar position: black woman actress, routinely critically lauded for her performances (stage, TV and film), and still relatively under-used - until very recently anyway (part of that being due to her own proactive efforts in forming a production company, and packaging projects for herself). 

But I suppose that's a song one could also sing for a few other lesser-known actresses.

However, with last night's historic win - a win that will hopefully help raise even further awareness of her and her abilities - I'd expect to see Audra get more looks for TV and film projects. Glancing over her IMDBPro page, she has absolutely nothing listed in the "Projects in development" category; however, I should note that the musical's run (Porgy & Bess last year), which was originally scheduled to end on July 8, was extended to September 30 - an almost 3-month extension, which suggests that it must be doing really well for them to have that much confidence that it'll continue through the fall.

So Audra will be tied up on Broadway for about 4 more months (last year), as it was confirmed that she would stay on with the show through the end of its extension! What comes after that for her is still a mystery; but I'd say that she deserves far much more than a bit part as one of Woody Harrelson's one-night-stands in Rampart.

I should also note that Aretha Franklin has set her sights on Audra to star in her biopic; although, Aretha has had her sites on a number of other actresses to play her in a film about her life. And would Audra even want to do it if offered?

One could argue that there just isn't as much of a mainstream awareness of her (despite how well-known she is on the theatre circuit), which might be a hindrance. But with what we could call the "broadening of Broadway" in recent years, as Broadway producers welcome Hollywood actors with open arms (reviving, adapting, or "blackening" familiar, existing shows), in order to reach beyond typical theatre audiences, and boost ticket sales, lauded stage actresses like Audra McDonald might be introduced to audiences who weren't already fully aware of her and her talents.

And that new awareness could translate into more, plumper offers in both TV and film - assuming of course that she wants those opportunities. And I'd argue that she probably does. She's an actress, after all, and I'm sure she'd like to work (on hopefully great projects), expressing her talent across as many areas as it would allow, and do so consistently. And let's face it, "black shows" on Broadway (or shows with roles for black actors - specifically leading roles) aren't exactly plentiful, despite the recent surge. So it's only logical that an actress of Audra's caliber would definitely keep all her options open. Plus she's done some TV and film anyway, suggesting that she most certainly is interested in working outside of the stage circuit.

I should also note that she routinely performs in concerts throughout the US primarily (she's also an opera/classical music singer, with two Grammy Awards and four albums), so earning an income likely isn't a problem for her. But... let's see what happens in the next few months with regards to her on-screen acting career.

Audra's win makes her only the 7th black woman to win a Tony Award in the category she won for last night - Best Performance by an Actress in a Musical. [Immediately before her win] LaChanze won the award for her performance in The Color Purple, in 2006 (and this year - 2013 - Patina Miller won the award for her performance in Pippin, so we'll make that the 8th time a black woman has won the award).

UPDATE 7/3/2013 - So, since I wrote this just about a year ago, what's Audra been up to?

- Well, she landed a co-starring role on CBS' drama pilot The Ordained, earlier this year - a series which revolves around the son of a Kennedy-esque family who leaves the priesthood and becomes a lawyer to prevent his politician sister from being assassinated. Audra was to play a character named Anthea, described as a senior litigator at the law firm where the son works, as well as his mentor, boss and ally, who runs Iron Man races to unwind, and lives to win cases. Unfortunately CBS didn't pick up the series.

- She's guest-starred on at least one episode of CBS' The Good Wife, playing Alicia's (Julianna Margulies) "nemesis" from their days at Georgetown law school, with the two rivals going toe to toe in the courtroom. It was reported that there was the possibility that she might return for other episodes.

- Most recently, she hosted a season of Live From Lincoln Center - the ongoing PBS series of musical performances (concerts, ballets, operas, recitals) produced by Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, in conjunction with Thirteen/WNET in New York City.


- IMDB does list 1 project on her upcoming slate - a crime drama based on a novel, titled I Fought the Law, directed by Adam Davenport. Although it doesn't appear that she's one of the film's stars, with Melissa Leo, Malin Akerman, Michael C. Hall, Josh Lucas, Giovanni Ribisi and others listed ahead of her.

And that's it - that I'm aware of anyway.

I should note that, last year, with the help of a contact closer to them than I am, we reached out to Audra's agents, requesting an interview, but we were never able to get one! A year later, I hope we're in a better position to do so, because we'd LOVE to chat with Audra McDonald, if it's not already clear that we're obsessed fans! *Chuckles*

And let me just say in closing, that this isn't a knock against theater/the stage, where Audra has found much success, and continues to do so. As I've already stated, I recognize that she's a multi-talented artist, with entry into several *clubs* if you will. As noted, I'm sure she's very comfortable financially and isn't longing to be on the screen, big or small. Then again, I'm not in her head, so I have no idea what Audra McDonald wants, and what he approach to her career is. This is all speculation based on available info, and more of an inquiry into whether or not she's even being considered for on-screen work, especially in a leading lady capacity. Maybe I'm just selfish and would like to see her talent used much more than it has been in TV and film, especially since that's my wheelhouse. 

Regardless, happy 43rd birthday to Ms McDonald, and here's to another 43 years of prosperity, whether on or off the stage! 

Watch her emotional Porgy & Bess acceptance speech below. As she says in it, the theatre has been so good to her, throughout her career, so maybe that says it all, and everything I said above is moot!

This article is related to: Audra McDonald, Things That Make You Go Hmm...


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