“Middle Of Nowhere” Star Emayatzy Corinealdi On Working With Ava DuVernay, And Playing Francis Taylor In Miles Davis Biopic

February 9, 2015  |  

Addicted comes out on DVD tomorrow (that’s right, Feb. 10!). To help promote the DVD release, I had the chance to talk to many of the stars involved with the film, including the beautiful Emayatzy Corinealdi. She plays Brina in the film, but Corinealdi is most known for her role as Ruby, the main character in one of Ava DuVernay’s first films, 2012’s Middle of Nowhere. And now, Corinealdi is sure to make very big waves in her role as Miles Davis’ ex-wife, Francis Taylor, in the biopic about his life, Miles Ahead. I chatted with her about what it was like to work with Don Cheadle on the film, what it was like working with Ava DuVernay and seeing her meteoric rise, and how a trip to LA by herself with little money and a lot of ambition opened so many doors for Corinealdi.

If She Read Addicted Before Playing Brina In The Film

No I hadn’t. I’ve never read the book or anything remotely close. I’ve never really been a reader of fiction too much, so I hadn’t read anything beforehand. Based solely on the script, I thought being able to explore that world of addiction in a way was different. It was different for me in that we have a woman who is at the center of this addiction and she’s a black woman. When you put that together, that’s something in our community that we don’t really talk about: addiction or mental illness and things like that. So that’s the thing that really caught my eye first. Then the story itself and how it unraveled did too.

When She Knew She Was Bit By The Acting Bug

I had enjoyed acting since about middle school. Anything like that I could do, I did it. But at that time, and for a while, I didn’t think of it as a career option or a career choice. It wasn’t in my mind. By the time I got into high school I was much more focused on sports, and I was running track. Though I was still involved in different theater companies within school, I was never a part of the drama department. I felt like, “I’m too cool to be in the drama department.” It was the weirdest thing. I was still involved in all the other acting orgainizations in school that weren’t the drama department, but yet, I always had this desire of, ‘What if I could do this? I don’t know if I can.’ By the end of high school I was like, ‘You know what? I think this is what I want to do. You have to do this.’

Making The Scary To Decision To Drive To LA And Make Her Dreams Come True

At that time, when I made that decision, I was absolutely fearless. I was like, ‘What do I actually have to lose? Nothing.’ At a company that I was working at, whenever someone would leave, they would send an email saying where they were moving to. So someone had done that about California. I said, ‘I’m going to get in touch with this person because I’m going to move there at some point.’ Three months later, I saved up only about half of the $2,000 I wanted. I reached out to that person and I said, “I have a couple questions about LA. Any advice?” They gave me advice and then he said, “You know, whenever you do move out here, you have a place to stay here with me.”

I didn’t know this person. I was like, “Oh okay…” But when the time came, I packed up and drove out and he was the person I stayed with when I first got here. It’s this guy named Jay that I’m still friends with to this day. I didn’t know anything, I didn’t really know anyone, I didn’t exactly know where I was going, I just knew that I had a plan and I was willing to take the risk to see what would happen. I got my first gig within a month of being here. And from there, I just started doing little things, like infomercials and taking classes, doing anything I could to get started.

Working With Don Cheadle On Miles Ahead 

When you work with someone like Don Cheadle who is just one of those actors committed to his craft, it’s a gift. He’s always been someone I’ve respected and admired. He’s someone who takes himself so seriously, but yet, doesn’t at the same time. It just leaves so much room for you to explore and learn some new things.

How She Prepared To Play Francis Taylor

I actually got to meet the real Francis Taylor. Don had set it up for she and I to meet, so we had lunch a few times. That really helped me with my preparation, just to get to know who she was and her experiences, and how all that fit into the context of the film. Having her real life point of view on some of these things made all the difference in the world. And with her being a dancer, a trained ballerina, I went and took classes as well to refresh upon that for myself. And then, taking all that and then putting my own personal experiences in a character, it’s kind of my way into the character, it really helped me to find who she was and what her story is.

Watching Ava DuVernay’s Rise After Middle Of Nowhere

She hasn’t felt the need to change or conform. She’s still her. That’s encouraging for her as a woman in this industry who’s a director and a black woman. She hasn’t compromised. That has been exciting for me to see. She’s always assured in what she’s doing and she was that way on Middle. I hope it’s encouraging to other people who want to be a director. It can be done. We’re talking about a woman who not that long ago was a publicist. Nothing is impossible in that sense.

If She Hopes To Work With Her Again Down The Line

Absolutely! Working with Ava was such a joy. We had this kind of unspoken understanding with each other. She gets you, you get her and then you move on. I would for sure love for us to work together again soon.

What’s Next For Emayatzy

[Amazon series] “Hand of God,” which we start shooting in mid-February. I’m very excited about that. That’s something, again, so different from Middle or anything else. All of these women I play are very different women, but they all have a particular experience and point a view. I’m really excited about jumping into “Hand of God” and being able to portray this woman who maybe a lot of people view in a particular light, but you’ll get to know who she is.

The Biggest Lessons She’s Learned Since Entering Hollywood

Having a solid foundation. My faith has been my base. That’s the thing I go to when everything else seems to be falling apart. Also, knowing your power. I think at times, as actors we’re told that we have no power. And we feel like we have no power, but we do: Knowing your power to say no. We don’t have to accept every role. Every audition you don’t have to do. And knowing the power you have as an artist. You have this canvas you’re able to paint with whatever you see necessary. You can see that character, and there’s power in that.

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