Emayatzy Corinealdi stars as Ruby in the award-winning film Middle of Nowhere. Written and Directed by Ava DuVernay, who became the first Black woman to win best director at Sundance. It’s the story of a married woman’s struggle for self-identity and survival after her husband is sentenced to prison. Corinealdi spoke with BET.com about why the movie empowers women, working with costar David Oyelowo and why the film has the best message for ride or die chicks.
Your first name is a combination of your maternal grandmother’s name and that of a Panamanian princess. Did anyone in Hollywood ever tell you to change or Americanize it?
Yes. I had a casting director tell me when I first moved out here that I should just go by Emayatzy and forget the whole Corniealdi last name. But I felt like that was a little too much for me. I’m not Prince or Madonna; I just didn’t want to go by the one name. And then later on I had someone say I should just shorten my first name — go by Ema or Emma or something like that. But growing up, my parents really instilled me to have a pride in my name. I was never embarrassed by it. I’ve always loved my name.
What drew you to the role of Ruby, the lead character of Middle of Nowhere?
When I originally read the script I was auditioning for a different role, but I could not get over the beauty of Ruby. All of the characters in Ava’s scripts are beautiful and that’s what I love about her writing. I was attracted to Ruby, but thought, "They already cast her." And even if they hadn’t, I thought they wouldn’t have considered me. But then the casting director told me, "I think you’d be good for the Ruby role. Could you come back and read that?" It was like God really answered my prayers. I couldn’t believe it. I was so excited about having this opportunity to portray this woman. How often does this kind of story come around? So when I read for it I gave it my all.
Ruby is much more than a "ride or die chick." Why is the film a good think piece for women who believe and live that philosophy?
I’m really so glad you asked that question. This movie helps women [who are blindly devoted to men in jail this way] to ask, "Is this person worth your sacrifice and would this person make the same sacrifices for you if all chips were down?" I say this exact phrase to my niece; not everyone is going to be worth your goodness. You can’t just go around willy-nilly handing it out, not your heart. You have to make sure it’s someone who's worthy of you. Even if you get your heart broken, you won’t walk away empty and depleted if you love someone who truly deserves you.
What was it like working with David Oyelowo? He’s really emerging as one of the best and hardest working actors of our generation.
Isn’t he? David’s been in literally everything. I don’t know who’s working more than him. At one point we were in Toronto showing Middle of Nowhere — he left on a Thursday to go finish shooting on The Butler and then came back on Friday to finish the film festival because he had The Paperboy premiere there. He’s like our young Black male version of Meryl Streep. I was like, "You just do it, do it!" He’s taking over.
Finally, does Middle of Nowhere empower women?
It does. You can look at this character and know that from the beginning of this film to the end, she’s changed because she is a woman. She stands out on her own and makes a decision based on her well-being and what she needs. That’s empowering for any woman. I got a chance to portray a character that embodies the importance of making decisions for us that are not at the mercy of a man. You have to respect any woman who is able to do that.
Middle of Nowhere arrives in theaters October 12.
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(Photo: Larry Busacca/Getty Images)