Surely, there can be nothing more “heady” for an actor than being sought to reprise the role she so fully embodied onstage, in another medium: TV.
Such is the case for actors Cicely Tyson and Vanessa Williams as per a notice published on Backstage.com. In the play, Tyson stars as Carrie Watts, an elderly woman with dreams of returning to her childhood home and Williams co-stars as the bossy daughter-in-law that constantly tries to stop her.
The plot of the play goes like this:
Set in the 1940s, the play tells the story of an elderly woman, Carrie Watts, who wants to return home to the small town where she grew up, but is frequently stopped from leaving Houston, Texas by her daughter-in-law, and an overprotective son who won’t let her travel alone. However, old Mrs. Watts is determined to outwit her son and bossy daughter-in-law, and sets out to catch a train, only to find that trains don’t go to Bountiful anymore. She eventually boards a bus to a town near her childhood home. On the journey, she befriends a girl traveling alone and reminisces about her younger years and grieves for her lost relatives. Her son and daughter-in-law eventually track her down, with the help of the local police force. However, Mrs. Watts is determined. The local sheriff, moved by her yearning to visit her girlhood home, offers to drive her out to what remains of Bountiful. The village is deserted, and the few remaining houses are derelict. Mrs. Watts is moved to tears as she surveys her father’s land and the remains of the family home. Her son eventually turns up, and drives her back to Houston.
The Trip to Bountiful cast also included Cuba Gooding, Jr. and Condola Rashad; yet ironically, both of these actors dropped out due to scheduling conflicts. Rashad (eventually replaced by Adepero Oduye) took the co-starring role in the Broadway production of Romeo and Juliet with Orlando Bloom; and Gooding, Jr. who made his Broadway debut here, went on to another gig as well. He was later replaced by Leon Addison Brown.
No word on whether any of the revival’s original (or replacement) cast will transition to the Lifetime movie adaptation as well; but casting is currently underway and shooting is set to take place in Atlanta, GA throughout the month of November.
The Trip to Bountiful first debuted in 1953 and starred Lillian Gish as Carrie Watts.
*A woman’s desire to have children is a part of life. It keeps the world turning.
But what happens when women desirous of fulfilling the role of mother are unable to conceive? For any rationally thinking person, options such as adoption, surrogacy and other legal means likely spring to mind, but on the other side of that coin are the irrational that do unspeakable things to realize their dreams of motherhood.
Actress Aunjanue Ellis (pictured) sheds lights on that sordid “other side,” as she assumes the role of Ann Pettway, a woman who – straight from a real life story that recently made headlines – abducted baby Carlina White from a Harlem hospital and raised her as her own, in the Lifetime Original Movie “Abducted: The Carlina White Story.” Ellis is joined in the film by Sherri Shepherd, who plays White’s birth mother, and KeKe Palmer, the abducted, Carlina.
Ellis (“Ray,” “The Help”) signed on to play the title role as the abductee, because she saw a deeper issue that she felt compelled to expose through her involvement with the film. She spoke with EUR about this issue, which is possibly common among women, her perspective on color in Hollywood and her respect for the “art” of acting.
EUR: Aunjanue Ellis, what is the origin of your first name? It’s very nice.
Aunjanue Ellis: My mother and her girlfriends kind of came up with it … it was a magazine or something … it was a French word, but my name is spelled differently.
*Ironically, Aunjanue phonetically leads to “ingenue,” which not only is the name of a magazine, but also means: a naive young girl or actress who plays the role of such…*
EUR: As revealed in your bio, you have a profound respect for your craft … describe it in your own words.
A.E.: I just feel like most roles are works of art created by actors … like paintings or great albums, people that do great acting that transcends and resonates throughout the ages, I think that sometimes get lost in celebrity, but it doesn’t take away, it doesn’t diminish how when an actor says a word or says a phrase or a line that makes somebody cry or makes someone change their world view or makes someone see their reflection, there’s a great king of power, a great kind of influence in that and I feel like when you do it and do it well, that’s a power that’s not to be taken lightly. Some of the most life changing experiences I’ve had I’ve experienced in the theater … and cinema or watching television and actors were responsible for that.
EUR: your bio also states you want to create more spaces for black women in theater in film … do you feel we’re going in the right direction?
One thing I’ve stopped concerning myself with – and don’t get me wrong…I certainly agree that there’s a lack of faces of people of color, not just black women, black men, but people of all colors are being excluded out of the American experience on television and film – but I don’t really care anymore because I feel like I’m trying to … I feel like my life will be in vain if I don’t create those paths for myself. And I know, every job that I get, I know who creates these opportunities, you know, and a lot of times, the faces of those creators, I don’t see me in any of them … it kind of begs logic sometimes to not have that expectation.
I don’t feel like it just begins with representation. It’s not enough to just have black faces or faces of color on the wall we need to show the full experience of ourselves. One thing that I want to do is not just tell our story, but tell stories of, let’s just say for instance … like a classic novel like Nicholas and re-imagine that happening to black people. I think that we’re only limited if we limit ourselves by how we see ourselves and I don’t have that limitation at all. I’d like that to be articulated in what I try to make happen, not just in the jobs that I get, because I don’t always have that control, but in the things I try to make happen on my own.
EUR: You’ve been part of phenomenal films such as Ray and The Help … and worked alongside great actors and actresses … can you name your most rewarding experience?
A.E.: Anytime I get a job, it’s a profound experience. And I’m not saying that to be modest, or humble or anything like that, you know, to be able to get paid to act is a rarity. There are people every day who want to do what I’m doing or who wanted the job that I got and they didn’t get a chance to do that and may have even been better than I was and they don’t get a chance to do it for whatever reason, and I just feel like that is not to be taken lightly … and I don’t.
EUR: Speaking of jobs that you got, how did you connect with the Lifetime production, “Abducted?”
A.E.: It was offered to me in June. I didn’t know anything about the case, so my knowledge of the case happened after I got the job and when I found out about what happened to these women, this terrible thing that happened to all these women, I was immediately intrigued by it, because I don’t feel it’s a story of villains and heroes, I feel like it’s a story of a woman who was desperate and a family that was torn apart. What I tried to do, and hopefully what we were able to accomplish, was we tried to make it in a way, tried to do it in a way were people will walk away from it and not really know how to feel.
EUR: Tell me about the role you play and what went into preparation for it?
A.E.: I played Anne Pettway, and Anne was the woman who abducted Carlina when she was a baby and she took her out of Harlem hospital. I was asked earlier about what it was like to play the antagonist and I said she wasn’t an antagonist to Carlina, in her mind she was Carlina’s mother and so everyday that I came to work, I played a mother. That is my point of entry to this film, the woman who wanted desperately to be a mother.
EUR: It’s hard to believe that stories like this actually happen … what do you think drives a woman – or a person period to steal someone’s child and raise them as their own?
A.E.: Well, I think there’s a lot of pain there, just lack of knowledge as to how to articulate that pain. There’s a lot of shame surrounding that pain, and I don’t think that Anne Pettway is alone in that. She was having reproductive issues, she had had reproductive issues when she was a kid – she was a kid already – but she was even younger than that and trying to be a mother and you have this community, our community where you have women among us who feel like they are less of a female or a woman because they can’t conceive.
I think as we’ve been shown countless times, sometimes it’s a badge of honor for young girls to get pregnant. So it’s not just about this one woman. I didn’t see her as just this one woman who did a terrible thing, I saw it as a woman who represents thousands and possibly even millions of other women who are first of all, going through reproductive issues … I saw it as a woman who was going through larger pain and didn’t know how to deal with it, did not know how to deal with it effectively, I saw it as a woman who had had a lot of shame surrounding what she felt her image was as a woman and what it meant to be a woman and what it meant to be a woman and not a mother.
I believe that all those things made it not just this singular story, but hopefully it’s a story that many woman will maybe see themselves in and see themselves as not, if I’m going through this pain or going through this situation, how do I deal with this and not hurt someone else, including myself.
EUR: did you meet the actual victims of this horrifying tale?
A.E.: no, I didn’t have a chance to. We did our research and we looked at interviews and harvested those to find out who these women were.
Thank you for your time and best wishes on your amazing career.
“Abducted: The Carlina White Story” air this Saturday, October 6 on Lifetime at 8/7 Central.
*Los Angeles Lakers star Metta World Peace (formerly Ron Artest) is using his off season to make his acting debut in a movie adaptation of Nancy Grace’s first novel, The Eleventh Victim, set to premiere in the fall on Lifetime Movie Network.
Peace will play Garlan Fincher, a Georgia detective who works very closely with Atlanta Assistant District Attorney Hailey Dean, played by “Beverly Hills, 90210” vet Jennie Garth.
The athlete became friends with Grace during their un on Season 13 of “Dancing With the Stars.” (Garth is also a Dancing alum.) The Garlan character “is very dear to my heart,” says Grace, who authored The New York Times best-selling novel based on her real-life experiences and serves as one of the film’s executive producers. “I wanted to cast someone for whom I have a true fondness. Metta World Peace was my first pick.”
“The Eleventh Victim” follows Garth’s character as she pursues the conviction of serial killer Clinton Burrell Cruise. The case becomes personal for Hailey when she is physically attacked by Cruise in open court. While still recovering, Hailey moves to New York and begins a new career as a therapist. When her clients start to turn up dead — with the murderer using the same M.O. as the Atlanta killer she put behind bars — she is forced to help catch a cold-blooded killer who could very well make her his next target.
*R&B singer and actress Jill Scott (The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency) headlines the Lifetime Movie Network (LMN) original film “Sins of the Mother,” a touching story about the harsh realities of love, forgiveness and the closest of bonds between mother and daughter.
Based on author Carleen Brice’s moving novel, Orange Mint and Honey, the movie features Scott as reformed alcoholic Nona, Nicole Beharie (“American Violet”) as her daughter Shay and Mimi Rogers (“The Door in the Floor”) as Nona’s sponsor Lois.
About ‘Sins of the Mother’
Graduate student Shay Dixon (Beharie) reaches a crossroad in her life when she finds herself broke, burned out and unable to cope with the stress of school.
With nowhere else to go, she embarks on a journey home to Tacoma, Washington, to face her abusive, alcoholic, estranged mother, Nona (Scott).
When she returns home, Shay finds Nona living life as a recovered alcoholic, with a new daughter and completely transformed.
Thrown by her mother’s new path, Shay must now accept Nona’s changes and influences, including her sponsor Lois (Rogers) — all forcing Shay to move past her pent-up anger and awaken her own relationships.
“Sins of the Mother” premiered Sunday, February 21 on Lifetime Movie Network. Look for encore presentations on Wednesday 2/24 and Saturday 2/27 (at 8 PM & 12 AM).