HAMILTON, LISAGAY: True Crime
BREAKING BLACK BOUNDARIES
It is not easy being a black actress in a white dominated industry, an industry that is
actively racist, says LisaGay Hamilton, who is trying to break through racial boundaries.
The co-star of the award-winning TV series The Practice, is now on the big screen, in
Clint Eastwood's True Crime, and also as the younger Oprah Winfrey, in the much talked
about, Beloved. Hamilton spoke to PAUL FISCHER in Los Angeles.
Acting, says the 35-year old LisaGay Hamilton, "has always been in my
psyche." The Los Angeles native actually spent most of her childhood in New York,
where she became passionate about performing, but has no idea from where that passion
originated. "We can't necessarily trace it to biology, though my mother's father was
a classical pianist, but nobody else in my family had a real interest in the arts."
In fact, her parents didn't want their daughter to become an actress. "It's such a
risky field to go in, full of disappointments, especially being a black woman, the
challenges are even greater."
"In life generally, it's a challenge being a black
Though she is able to meet those challenges, her colour has still remained a stumbling
block. "In life generally, it's a challenge being a black woman, regardless of
profession; therefore in every profession there exists racism. But what's unique about my
profession, is that racism is not practiced, but accepted. It is the only profession in
the world in which someone can say to your face: We won't audition you because you're
black, and that's not illegal." To try and shield herself from that, Hamilton says
that she "holds on to my own integrity and my own belief in my skills as an actress.
It is only that which will shine through and challenge racism. After all, if you're good,
you're good, and I think black parents educate their children, that you have to be better
than anyone else, better educated and smarter, because it is so hard for you, so you have
to be able to compete."
Based on the classic novel by Toni Morrison, Beloved tells of Paul D. (Danny Glover)
who finds his old slave friend Sethe (Oprah Winfrey) in Ohio and moves in with her and her
daughter Denver (Kimberly Elise). Shortly after, a strange girl comes along by the name of
"Beloved". (Thandie Newton) Sethe and Denver take her in , when strange things
start to happen...Hamilton plays the younger Seth, and it's clear that while working on
this significant film was an unforgettable experience for the actress, she's disappointed
at the way the film was handled in the US, resulting in its lackluster box office
performance. "I disagree with how they pushed the film, and how they labeled and
publicized it. I really felt as though it was not only Oprah's film, but Kimberly's and
Thandie's, and I think they missed an opportunity to let America know about these two
young women, and that might have possibly opened the door to it being a film attracted to
an even younger audience."
"I guess through osmosis, I was able to take some of
her spirit in"
Though she plays the younger Seth in the film, Hamilton resisted the urge to copy
Winfrey's performance. "Jonathan [Demme, the director] didn't want me to look at her
scenes, but what I ended up doing was hanging out with her on the set, even though we
didn't have any scenes together. I guess through osmosis, I was able to take some of her
spirit in.; at the same time, I was also allowed to bring my own interpretation to the
role." Despite the hard time that Beloved may have finding a broad audience, Hamilton
remains proud of this film. "I think it's a most extraordinary film, and how it
really is a part of filmmaking history, whether it's identified that way or not. It's also
relevant to other cultures. After all, in every culture, there's persecution based on
sexuality, religion, gender and race. So this could very well be the Albanian or
Aboriginal story. To be separated from your family, to be forced to start over again, to
be forced and challenged to endure demeaning, offensive and degrading torture, and yet
survive it. Also, if you don't face your demons, if you DON'T look at your past, it sure
will come back to haunt you in some form."
"I really love to collaborate"
From Beloved to working with Clint Eastwood on the thriller True Crime, is quite a
leap. Based on another bestseller, this film revolves around recovering alcoholic,
womanizing reporter Steve Everett (Clint Eastwood), who inherits a human interest story
about a prisoner (Isaiah Washington), who is sentenced to die at midnight for the murder
of a pregnant woman who owed him $96. However, as the reporter starts to figure out that
the key witness lied about what he saw and believes the prisoner is innocent. He then sets
out to prove his belief in the final 12 hours of the prisoner's life.
In a commanding performance, Hamilton plays the prisoner's wife. While she received
glowing reviews , she found working with director Eastwood challenging, to say the least.
"Every director has their own theory about filmmaking, and I think Clint's process is
a mixture for me. I really love to collaborate, I love to talk and I love more than one
take, and he's not that. It's not that he's difficult; he just doesn't want to talk about
it. At one point he said to me: I really haven't said anything to you, because you really
are doing everything. Now I respected his process of working, but I'm not sure I enjoyed
the process, because it's a very isolated way of working."
Hamilton says she feels very strongly that she has "a contribution to make, I feel
strongly that I'm well qualified, and I feel strongly enough that I can play anything, and
that I should be given equal opportunity to do that. We are a still society that drools
over white women with long hair, the Gwyneth Paltrow look, a look that we love and
embrace, yet ignore black actresses like Kimberly Elise and Thandie Newton, whose work in
Beloved is extraordinary."
"I want the respect that I've attained in the theatre
community in New York, to carry over to film and television"
Hamilton loves to communicate, and is passionate about the collaborative process, which
is why, during her upcoming hiatus from The Practice, she'll be returning to the theatre,
to star in a new off-Broadway play, "which I'm so excited about," before
returning to a fourth season of The Practice. As for her ambitions, she has one: "I
want the respect that I've attained in the theatre community in New York, to carry over to
film and television. My white counterparts get offers all the time, and I'm still being
put on tape or auditioning for one line characters. That's frustrating, and I just aspire
to greater, and not in the sense of fame and fortune, but just equal opportunity to show
True Crime opens May 13; Beloved opened May 6;
The Practice airs Monday nights, Seven Network
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