JT: You'll be playing her from age 5 to 65. That's a huge scope.
SR: It sounds a little crazier than it is. I think there's only a scene or two, when the ghost of her father comes to visit her in the dressing room. It's almost like a change comes over her and you see that little girl come out as she talks to her father about the love that he didn't give her. So as an actress you're changing in demeanor, in context of what's going on, feeling like that little girl when your daddy's there with you.
JT: Has the rest of the cast been chosen?
SR: I've always had in mind for Jenifer Lewis to play Lena's mother. When the playwright started writing, we sat down with Jenifer, and when we did our original table read Jenifer was there reading it. People see Jenifer in all these movies, but they don't realize this is a woman who's been on Broadway with Meryl Streep and Bette Midler and she's amazing on stage. So as long as Jenifer is available, it's Jenifer.
JT: Do you plan to direct again? We know that you directed a short film called Grace a few years ago as well as some episodes of Eureka on Syfy.
SR: Yes, that's a hard one. I directed a thing for Mekhi Phifer and his producing partner Inny Clemons recently as a show they're shopping. It's a hard one to push through and especially on these network TV shows, it's not just a white club, it's a male club. And unfortunately I don't have 100% of my time to devote to it, I'm also acting. But there are a few smaller indies I'm working on directing. It's going to take time but eventually I'll start doing more. Just like this project, it may take me a few years, but I don't quit.
JT: You worked on Grace with Ava DuVernay, and also starred in her first feature I Will Follow. Do you plan to work together again soon?
SR: It's funny, because Ava and I are actually talking about a particular project, and I just saw her when I was in Atlanta. We happened to spend the day together. Every movie she does doesn't necessarily have a role for me, but she still has become one of my best friends through that process of doing I Will Follow and that being her first film. We just really bonded during that film, so it'll definitely happen again. I'm so proud of her.
SR: I only can tell you a little bit, because I'll get in trouble. But I'm playing an old friend of [Mary Jane's] that seems to have a perfect life - the children and the husband, and the career, and everything. So I think that maybe it's something that's hard for her to deal with. Chris Spencer plays my husband. I don't think I'm allowed to say anything else. But I'm doing five episodes so far, so it's almost half the season.
JT: For A Lady Must Live, you're launching a fundraising campaign to get it going. What do you want people to know about the campaign?
SR: There's a reason I'm doing it this way. At least for this first step of us doing the workshop, I really wanted to have a certain amount of control. That's why we're doing it this way, because it's not like I'm asking for hundreds of thousands of dollars. But I really need that help and support because it's just such an important story to be told.
I really need my friends and my fans and my family to help me make this happen, not just for me, but really to get another one of our icon's stories out there, and done right, and done by us, not a movie about us that's directed and written by people that aren't us.
Thanks to Salli Richardson-Whitfield for the in-depth conversation.