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Salli Richardson-Whitfield Tells S&A About Playing A Stripper, TV Work, Her Lena Horne Project & More!

Interviews
by Vanessa Martinez
February 6, 2013 10:00 AM
10 Comments
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Salli Richardson-Whitfield has been working steadily for the past several years. Aside from big screen roles in films including A Low Down Dirty Shame, Antwoine Fisher, I Am Legend, Black Dynamite and Ava Duvernay’s indie darling I Will Follow, Whitfield-Richardson has further proven her versatility as an actor on TV in shows such as Family Law, CSI Miami, Rude Awakening, among numerous guest-starring turns. On the small screen however, she is probably best known as Dr. Allison Blake in the sci-fi hit show Eureka.

Despite recent news of the cancellation of her new Lifetime series’ pilot Secret Lives of Wives, the stunning actress isn’t disheartened. In my mind, I’m going to get another show,” says Richardson-Whitfield, adding, “I think there’s enough respect from people that they want me on their show. They know I’m nice; they know I’m good, and I know how to do it.

Salli Richardson-Whitfield in SyFy's 'Eureka'

There really isn’t any need to pity her. Whitfield has kept quite busy lately. The actress just finished shooting a Robert Townsend romantic comedy, in which she co-stars in and co-produces. She’s also preparing for a Lena Horne stage project she’s developing.

Beginning on February 7th, Whitfield is being honored as host of this year’s Pan African Film Festival, which takes place in Los Angeles. Also this month, she will star in Rockmond Dunbar’s Pastor Brown, which she co-produced. In Brown, set to debut on the Lifetime network on February 16th, Whitfield plays an ex-stripper who honors her ailing father’s wishes of taking over the family church.

The actress wants to make very clear that Brown isn’t a “message” movie. I had the pleasure of chatting with the lovely Whitfield, who graciously took time aside from her busy schedule to discuss Pastor Brown, her career and future projects.

S&A: How did you get involved in Pastor Brown?

SR: It’s funny because we were at a birthday party for Nicole Ari Parker, and Rockmond Dunbar looks over and goes, “I’m about to direct this movie and I really want you to do the lead in it." I was like, OK, a lot of times in L.A. you may never hear from that person again. Literally, that week he gave it to me, and it was funny because I had started taking these Sheila Kelly pole-dancing classes here in Los Angeles. So, it was perfect. I had been doing them for about three months and then we weren’t starting for another month or two for his film, so I was ready. I grew up in the Baptist Church so I had a foundation in that; it was a perfect fit for me. They brought me on as a producer too, and I was able to get some actors in there that I really wanted in there and be helpful with the casting process. Everything just kind of fell in place perfectly.

S&A: This is great ensemble of known faces. How was working with the cast?

SR: All I can say is well, it was shot a while ago [2009]; but we had no drama on that set.  Everyone sort of knew each other. There were a few faces but most of us; especially me, Tasha [Smith], Tisha [Campbell-Martin], Keith [David] Errnie [Hudson], and Rockmond already had this friendship. One wonderful memory I do have is that at the end of the movie, I have this big speech I have to give. It was a really hard speech, and I had to really be a preacher. Tasha especially, she really gave me some help, along with Tisha and Nicole. They all stayed there while I was giving the speech and gave me such great support. I will always remember them for just being so kind and giving to me.

S&A: Any hesitation on playing a stripper? Where you concerned on the public’s reaction as in “Oh, here we go, a stripper!

SR: No, you know as an actress, the fact that I’m going to go from that [stripping] to preaching…you can’t hesitate. It’s not like I’m actually nude in it. That would make me hesitate and be like, “Hey wait a minute we have to discuss this,” but no, it was a challenge. Every aspect of the movie was a challenge. For me, that’s what I look for.

S&A: What did you like about the script the most?

SR: I’d like to be clear that this isn’t a “message” movie, although you sometimes get films like this, and they’re beating you over the head with some lesson you have to learn; or there is so much church you can’t enjoy it unless you’re in the church, and this film isn’t like that. It just happens to be in the backdrop of the church, you know. Really, it’s about this woman, her problems, the wrongs she has done in her life, making them right, getting that together with her family, and finding herself again. That’s really what it’s about.

S&A: Just curious, after this film, how do you view stripping as a profession? Any judgment on that?

SR: I think it depends on the person and, actually, I don’t have a judgment about it. Now, would I want that to be my profession? No. Would I want that to be my daughter’s profession? No, because I know when it comes down to it, it breaks you down; it breaks your soul down; brings your mind down, and eventually, it’s not good for you. But, for a lot of women that’s what you got to do to take care of your family; so you do what you have to do. You don’t have to be sleeping with people on the side. There are a lot of women who are not doing anything on the side; they’re and not drinking and doing drugs. They are just making money in the way that they can. I don’t have any judgment about that.

S&A: How was working with Michael B. Jordan? His new film Fruitvale caused quite a stir in Sundance! What’s his role in Pastor Brown?

SR: He is just a little sweetie pie; since then, he has gone on to do so much. He’s just doing so well in his career. He’s just a nice kid. I guess he’s not really a kid, but he’s a nice kid. He plays my son.

S&A: Oh my god! You are too young for that.

Salli Richardson Whitfield, Omari Hardwick in 'I Will Follow'

SR: Oh well, he could be my son, but we’ll just move on [laughs].

S&A: Since the working in the acclaimed I Will Follow. Any plans of working with Ava Duvernay again?

SR: Ava has become, honestly, one of my best friends. We talk all the time, and there’s not any pressure like, “Hey can you bring me in your next film?” If it’s the right part for me, I know that she’ll have me there.

S&A: How hard it to find work on the big screen?

SR: There are definitely less roles on film, always more TV stuff. Honestly, you know, I love doing movies, but for most actors TV is much more lucrative. You go through a movie for three months; they hardly pay you anything. Really, TV is the new place to make a living and luckily to do some work now.

S&A: We hear that you’ve been working on a dream project: Lena Horne – Is it still on the works?

SR: That’s something I’m working on. I am actually going to rehearsal right now because I’m singing in an event tomorrow night; and so, my way is just to start singing again. I was always a singer, but I had kind of lost my voice. Sometimes you are just not thinking about it. I was so into acting and I found my voice again. In the next few months, I’m going to start performing in some clubs around L.A. and doing these jazz, old standard kind of things to get ready. I plan on making that happen.

"There are definitely some jobs that I get that I can just memorize the lines in my trailer and keep it moving. But, it’s not satisfying."

S&A: What kind of roles challenge or interest you? Is there a particular type of role you would love to play?

SR: It’s so funny, I can’t think of any particular role. I think it comes down to whatever the story is. At a time I did a Lifetime pilot, there was another show I was offered, and it could’ve been the biggest hit ever, but the one I picked on Lifetime was a challenge and it was the harder project as far as acting goes. I just look for stuff that, if it makes me feel uneasy and I’m scared to do it for a second, I know it’s the right thing because it means that it’s going to challenge me. I keep forgetting; I just finished a movie about two weeks ago with Robert Townsend.

S&A: Do Tell!

SR: He’s directing and also in it. It’s a romantic comedy with the two of us and we shot it in Miami. I’m not sure when it will come out because, literally, I just finished it after New Year’s.

S&A: How do you feel about hosting at the Pan African Film Festival (PAFF) in LA next month? You are doing so many things!

SR: I am literally parked on the side street about to go in this parking lot to go do vocal warm-ups, so I can sing with this band for rehearsal. I am so honored to do this [PAFF]. Last year, I had a short film that I directed in the fest, and the year before that, I had I Will Follow. So they’ve just sort of become a nice family over there, and it was really nice that they asked me to do this this year. It’s great, and then I’ll get to go to more of the festivities there.

S&A: I know you’ve worked on a few TV pilots; one of them isn’t happening anymore. So, how challenging is it?

SR: It’s always challenging. I am a black actress in Hollywood, so you can’t pretend that it is not a challenge, but I have been very lucky to consistently work for the past seven years. Like the pilot I just did [Secret Lives of Wives]. It didn’t get picked up, but I’m in pilot season. In my mind, I’m going to get another show. TV has been very good to me and I always get a good show; at least a good pilot, and I think there’s enough respect from people that they want me on their show. They know I’m nice; they know I’m good, and I know how to do it. At the same time, I’ve been doing other things. I’m directing; I’m developing some shows. So, maybe I wasn’t thinking this in my 20’s or even my 30‘s, but now I’m really about making things happen and not waiting for them.

If you haven't read it, see Sergio's interview with Pastor Brown's actor/director Rockmond Dunbar HERE.

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10 Comments

  • Adam Scott Thompson | February 12, 2013 10:57 PMReply

    I still remember watching "Posse" as a kid with my parents. Thank God I hadn't hit puberty yet.

  • lilkunta | February 11, 2013 6:44 PMReply

    salli IS beautiful but this pic is photoshopped.
    Movies pay well depending on your role. will/denzel earn $15/$20 mill a film which is why they dont /wont do TV. Salli does indy and tv movies not movie theatre movies so perhaps that is why she is complaing/saying the movie is very little.
    ..and TV too pays well depending on you role on the film. Plus the schedule of tv is 13hrs days, salli has 2 young kids,does she want that? Is she ready for that? she'll be missing her kids.

  • Donella | February 7, 2013 4:30 PMReply

    The Lena Horne project caught my eye too. Sounds good to me. She works steadily in a lot of independent flicks, under-the-radar.

  • ALM | February 7, 2013 3:31 PMReply

    She hasn't aged a bit. If she hadn't said that she was out of her 30's, I would have never known. I am excited for both the Robert Townsend project and the Lena Horne stage project.

  • lilkunta | February 11, 2013 6:32 PM

    @run : Are you saying she hasnt aged bc she is a vegetarian? You dont know if it is great genes or if she has had botox, face injections, juvaderm, etc.

  • Run @2006 | February 11, 2013 4:47 PM

    She will be 46 this yr.....she is also a vegetarian

  • CareyCarey | February 6, 2013 6:26 PMReply

    Yes Salli, I hear you calling my name. I mean, look at that first photo, doesn't look like she's thinking about me? Well, a brotha can dream... can't he?

    I love everything about Ms. Richard-Whitfield; her acting her beauty and her style. And truth be told, she carried "I Will Follow". But other than that "Do me baby" photo, a few more tid-bits caught my eye.

    I think it's safe to say many of us have no idea of the money an actor makes or does not make in their chosen profession. So it was interesting to hear her say "I love doing movies, but for most actors TV is much more lucrative. You go through a movie for three months; they hardly pay you anything."

    In response to that, I am reminded of the question "What's love got to do with it?". Well, Toni Braxton said "Love shoulda brought your ass home last night" but Sali says, TV pays the bills so it looks like another love TKO. Come to think of it, that has to be especially true for black actors, particularly black female actors, b/c their choice of plum roles are few and far between.

    To that point, it was interesting to hear how she got involved with Pastor Brown. No, not the real pastor, Rockmond Dunbar's movie ( The story of Me & Mrs. Jones is still in the planing stage, and we already know they got a thang going on). I mean, Salli said it was sorta like fate that she had already been working the pole before Rockmond Dunbar put that bug in her ear... at Nicole Ari Parker's birthday party. Hey, Rockmond might be the most under-appreciated black actor by the black community (don't ask him what he thinks about the Image awards) but the brotha -- obviously -- got game. I mean, he picked up Nicole and Salli in the same night. Damn, that's A-league mackin'

    But of course we're talking about putting them in his movie and not in his romper bumper room.

    Anyway, it would have been nice to hear how Salli snagged her roles opposite Denzel and that other mega star, Will Smith. I wonder if her beauty had anything to do with it? I am serious, I've never seen Will or Denzel with an ugly fat chick.

    Of course I am being facetious. Salli Richardson-Whitfield is an exceptional actress. And, it was nice that she stopped her busy schedule -- long enough -- to have a chat with the folks at Shadow and Act. I appreciate her and Vanessa.

  • CC | February 15, 2013 1:09 AM

    Lil Kunta, I have a question for you. It goes something like... AND??? ** Shrugging shoulders**

  • lilkunta | February 11, 2013 6:41 PM

    careycarey: Salli Richardson is MARRIED to actor Dondre Whitfield hence her name Salli Richardson-Whitfield; the couple has 2 kids: daugh Parker and son Dre.

    The party was for Nicole Ari parker's KIDS not her; parker too is married to Boris Kodjoe.

  • JessO | February 6, 2013 5:30 PMReply

    She's an underrated actress. Glad she's stays working.

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