Interview: Kimberly Elise

Published November 5, 2010

Kimberly Elise has done it again! In Tyler Perry’s For Colored Girls, the self-taught thesbian steps out of herself and evokes, for the audience, feelings of a deep blues. During a one-on-one interview with BET.com, Elise explains the process of preparing for such challenging performances. She also expressed her immense appreciation for her break-out role in the Oprah Winfrey-produced Beloved, and shares an inspiring daily mantra.

In For Colored Girls, you took my breath away, literally, in the with Phylicia Rashad where she said, “Girl, just breathe!” I could not breathe until you were breathing again!
[Laughs] Awww, man. Thank you so much!

Are you a crier in everyday life?
I am actually very in touch with all of my emotions from joy to pain and I am free with them. Whatever it is that I feel, I express it! I am free with my joy, my laughter, my pleasure, my pain and I am blessed in that way as an actress that I can access those feelings within myself and not be ashamed to show whatever that is that’s appropriate for the character. I really surrender to the character and what you see is what “she” is asked to bring forth, whoever the “she” is that I’m playing.

When you know you're going into a crying scene, how do you mentally prepare for that?
It’s funny because I never studied, I never took a class. So everything I do is very innate and organic, I don’t really have words for it. It is a communion with spirit. I don’t get in my own way and allow the character to do what it’s going to do. I am really just the front person of this other person who is on a page and I am there to bring it to life. Unfortunately, I don’t have a language or a word. It’s just a feeling, a place that I allow to bloom. That’s the best I can express it.

Once the director yells “Cut," how do you bring yourself back down?
It can take some time. With this particular project, it took a good while. I went to Atlanta with about five gray hairs and I came back with about 50. I am completely serious! That is about the surrender and letting “them” take over. So, my body really felt like it went through this experience and showed it! It showed that I had just gone through this and your body doesn’t know you’re acting and I’m like, “Wow, we didn’t go through that!” For the character, I stopped doing my meditations, my yoga, my hiking and all of those things that keep me centered and balanced because Crystal wasn’t centered and balanced. She could not have that peace that I wear in my life. So part of “coming back” was, first I slept for about five days. I came to terms with my gray hair that Crystal left me with! I went to yoga, I meditated, I hiked and I did a detox of just cleansing and nourishing foods. All of those things helped me re-center and come back to Kim. It is a process! It takes time. I am not even able to see the film at this point because I am still processing out of Crystal. To go back would be too much, it’s just too painful to go back again. I need some space between her and me and all of that.

This is your first time on screen with Thandie Newton since Beloved. That movie was met with mixed reviews. So now, over a decade later, what are your thoughts on the film?
Same as they were back then. I was immensely proud of it then. It was the most magical film making experience I’ve ever had! I am so proud of what we made together, all of us. I just think it was a powerful story, a powerful movie. It has taken time for some people to get to it, but people are getting to it on video and they’ve made a TV version.  They are like, “Wow, I didn’t know! I wish I would have seen it in the theatre!”  That’s unfortunate, but I am glad that people are discovering it now and love it.

What was your first reaction when you heard that Tyler Perry was taking on For Colored Girls?
Tyler and I did a movie together some years ago called Diary of a Mad Black Woman, and we had a really fun time making that movie. We knew we wanted to do something together again and it had to be right. We did not want to do anything until it was right. So he called me and said, “I have our next project.” I said, “Okay, well what is it?” Then he said, "For Colored Girls."  Then I said, “We’re going to do a play?” I was confused! He said, “No, I’m going to make it into a movie.”  I was like, “Wow! Okay!” Then he started telling me his vision. I was excited. It was scary. It was good-scary! This is the kind of scary an actor needs. So then I was just asking when are we going to go, when are we going to get started?  It was exciting!

The term “Colored” has often been thought of with a negative connotation. What do you think of when you hear that word?
I go back to being a little girl, when I first heard it and remember seeing the cover of the play and “she" was all of the colors. To me it always meant the inside of a person, the internal colors that we all wear. During the course of a day, how many different colors are you?  You wake up in the morning and you know you’ve got to break up with your boyfriend, you feel kind of blue about it. You get cut off in traffic and then you are red mad! You get some wine in the evening, and then you are mellow yellow. Then you meet a cute new guy and you are purple, fuchsia, and ready to go! All in one day you are flipping all of these colors. These women represent the spiritual colors of all women of all colors; we just so happen to be wearing brown skin and we are the storytellers. It is not exclusive to Black women. For Colored Girls is about what colors you are inside. What is your color today, this moment, this segment of your life? That is what it has always meant to me and I think that audiences shouldn’t be misled in that way and think that they are excluded. This is for every woman. This is about life; it’s about human life.

What are your words of encouragement to yourself when you are having that bad day and the rainbow isn’t enuf?
I say, “I am great. I am wonderful. I am wonderful. I am wonderful.” I also remind myself that my birthright is to shine my light. Anything or anyone that is blocking my light does not have that right. I have the right to shine my light! That’s what all women have. Once you own that, you can almost always shine your light.

Thank you! Keep shining on, Miss Kimberly!
[Laughs] Yes, shine on!

Written by <P>By J'Nara Corbin</P>

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