Kimberly Elise: Pursuit Of Happiness

    Playing the dual role of mother and celebrity is a natural, calm act for Kimberly Elise, yet the Minnesota native has played some of the most angst-ridden characters anyone could imagine in her career. From the naive bank-robbing mother in Set It Off to the scorned wife in Diary Of A Mad Black […]



Playing the dual role of mother and celebrity is a natural, calm act for Kimberly Elise, yet the Minnesota native has played some of the most angst-ridden characters anyone could imagine in her career. From the naive bank-robbing mother in Set It Off to the scorned wife in Diary Of A Mad Black Woman, Kimberly has taken audiences with her on some emotional rides.


Elise’s latest work in the films Pride alongside Terrence Howard and The Great Debaters with Denzel Washington and a stunning young cast have given her the chance to show even more depth in her talent. We spoke with Kimberly about her career choices, the pros and cons of film and television work, her passion regarding the writers’ strike and how family always comes first. They’re already buzzing about The Great Debaters being a possible Oscar contender with the Golden Globe nominations already. How do you feel about that?


Kimberly Elise: I completely agree, I think it’s definitely the best picture this year. I’m not biased. A lot of the roles that you’ve played in movies have been extremely intense, emotional roles from Set It Off to Beloved to John Q and Diary Of A Mad Black Woman. All of these are very emotional roles, what do you draw from as you perform?


Kimberly Elise: I really just tune into the character, I don’t go to any sort of personal place. I think every character really kind of has its own spirit if you can connect in and tap into that which is what I do. The truth comes out. For me, anything else would kind of be manufactured and false. Do you work with the producers to get the back story on the characters?


Kimberly Elise: If it’s appropriate. Denzel and I talked a lot about the character I played in The Great Debaters. James Farmer’s wife and James Farmer, who is played by Forest Whitaker, actually wrote a book about his life and [it] mentions his mother in there quite a bit. So I was able to get a lot of information on her from that source. You’ve said in the past that Cicely Tyson was someone that you emulated or admired. Have you ever had a chance to speak with her, and if so has she given you any good advice?


Kimberly Elise: She’s a great friend and we talk all the time, she really is supportive of me as I am, and respects and trusts the choices that I make. It’s not even so much career stuff that we talk about, because that’s really natural and instinctual. I have a natural ability of forcing my way in that. We talk more about life in general, there’s so much wisdom our elders have to give us, and she’s a great fountain of wisdom for me in all aspects of my life as well as my children.


She took my oldest daughter to spend two weeks with her in Europe over the summer, and they traveled the countryside. My daughter learned so much just being with her, so she’s an element in my life in all kinds of ways. You’ve done both television and film. Are there any advantages or disadvantages to either, and what do you really prefer?


Kimberly Elise: They both have their advantages and disadvantages. Television, I like the regularity of it and being home with my children and having a set group of people that I work with regularly. You become a bit of a family. Film is more creatively liberating. You’re really hired to bring your gifts and what you have, that part is there. It’s less mechanical, the system and that’s always as gratifying. But films aren’t as often, they’re little temporary families. You do one or two of those a year, and also they’re taking away from my children. But my favorite I would have to say is film, simply because I’m such a creative being that it really just allows me to let all of that flow. Given that you’ve had over a decade working in Hollywood, do you feel that there’s still challenges for Black women in getting good roles and the right roles? 


Kimberly Elise: It’s still a challenge. I’d like to see Black female audiences reach out and exercise their power more, and communicate to the powers that be at the studios. Let them know through letters, phone calls and the almighty dollar that they want to see Black women on screen and that we’re here, we are an audience, we count, we matter, we care. We love our Black actresses, and we want to see them more. That kind of power that we have, I don’t think we exercise it as much as we can so that it does resonate.


Eventually if enough of that happens, you start to see a greater change. The studios only respond to the dollar, the audiences and what they seem to be asking for. They’re not just gonna automatically start creating greater roles for us. When we do things like bootleg our movies, [studios] don’t see a dollar and they don’t think that [anyone is] gonna see our movies, so they don’t make them. But if you go into the beauty salons, you see stacks and stacks of our movies.


We spend a lot of money on movies, but we spend it in a way that the studios aren’t seeing it, so they’re not acknowledging it and generating as much and they just think audiences don’t care about Black women. I think we have to take responsibility ourselves in demanding from the studio, and letting them know we’re here as audience members and that we have a voice that we want to express. If you could take your own money to produce a movie, what would it be and why?


Kimberly Elise: I have a number of things, I’m also a writer. I’ve written a number of things. I have various options on things, they’re all strong female character stories, human stories that are very passionate and exciting which I will bring to fruition very shortly. If you could go back in time and take any role in any movie that’s ever been made, what would it be?


Kimberly Elise: Celie from The Color Purple. You’ve been married and you have children. What kind of challenges do you have being a single woman, and how do you meet men doing what you do?


Kimberly Elise: I’ve been a parent for so long. I have a 17 year old daughter and a nine year old also. My kids are great, they really make it easy for me. They’re first, that’s the main thing. Every decision and move I make is with them in mind first and that makes everything else fall into place properly. It is challenging to juggle everything myself because I do everything myself – I drive my kids myself and make their dinners, do their laundry and hair.


I’m definitely a full hands-on mother, no one’s hired to do things for me. But that’s my choice because they’re growing fast and I don’t want to miss a minute of it. I have someone very special in my life, we met very organically and beautifully and it’s a wonderful thing. Is there anything else you want people to know about upcoming projects that you have?


Kimberly Elise: I’d like people to really tune into the writer’s strike and how much it affects all of us. That’s really where my focus is right now, because if the writers are on picket lines right now soon the actors will be facing it and directors as well. They’re the source of everything, what I’m working on right now is the picket lines. What other ways are you showing support for that?


Kimberly Elise: The biggest thing is being on picket lines, and discussing it with press like you – then you don’t cross the picket line. I’m a writer but I’m not in the Guild, I’m not gonna write anything or try to sell anything and be a scab. Those are the ways you show the support, it’s very simple. If I was on a show right now, within the contract of the show actors still have to perform on the show, but those have all been shut down now because there’s no scripts. Do you have any resolutions for the new year?


Kimberly Elise: Just to keep being me and living a simple honest life, and listening to my heart. More of the same, keep being Kim.