Condola Rashad is making a name for herself. The young actress, who turns 30 this year, has largely made her mark in theater. For her debut, she nabbed a starring role in Lynn Nottage’s 2009 Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Ruined, and earned a Drama Desk nomination. Subsequent roles in the Kenny Leon-directed Stick Fly and The Trip to Bountiful with the legendary Cicely Tyson have resulted in two Tony nominations.
In recent years, Rashad has made a conscious effort to step away from the stage and try her hand at film and television. She played Shelby in the black-cast adaptation of Steel Magnolias on Lifetime, which Kenny Leon also directed. In addition, she found a starter role in the short-lived Broadway-based Smash on NBC.
This year she appears on the big screen in the Jodie Foster-directed Money Monster, starring George Clooney and Julia Roberts, and the Joshua Marston-directed Complete Unknown, with Rachel Weisz.
Currently, the daughter of acclaimed actress Phylicia Rashad and former NFLer Ahmad Rashad has been circling around Showtime’s new hit show Billions—a Wall Street-centered cat-and-mouse chase featuring Paul Giamatti as U.S. Attorney Chuck Rhoades, who’s out to get hedge fund billionaire Bobby “Axe” Axelrod, played by Damian Lewis. She plays Kate Sacker. Showtime has already picked up Billions for a second season.
The New York beauty chatted with The Root about Billions, being attracted to “the work” of acting, how Ruined validated her, and showing up for living legend Cicely Tyson.
The Root: Tell us about Kate Sacker in Billions.
Condola Rashad: Kate Sacker is a very young, very ambitious assistant U.S. district attorney. She comes from a pretty wealthy family, but what we’ve made clear early on is that her connections are not what got her in the position she’s in. What got her in the position she’s in is the fact that she’s so competent at what she does and she’s so good at it and she’s incredibly intelligent.
The good thing about her is that she doesn’t really wear her background on her sleeve at all. She just works, and that’s kind of her M.O. Also, she’s kind of a problem solver, a quiet problem solver. Whenever there’s a missing piece or a missing link, somehow Kate Sacker always finds her way to it and always very quietly puts it on the table: “Oh, by the way, this is what you’re looking for; there it is.” She’s just very ambitious in a way. She just doesn’t show all of her cards.
TR: She’s a very millennial character, a black millennial character. At one point, she talks about wanting to be president. Was that something that you admired in the character?
CR: She’s pretty hard-core in terms of what she wants to do, and I feel like working with Paul [Giamatti, who plays her boss] and Toby [Leonard Moore, who plays his right-hand man] was very interesting because this is a character that unravels, as every character does, and so it’s kind of just seeing where they are going with it. It is kind of interesting to me because, when we filmed the pilot, we didn’t really know. So I think that the great part of her journey is kind of learning where she eventually ends up going or wants to go.
TR: How old were you when you decided to become an actress?
CR: I’ve been an artist since I was this young girl, so it was not necessarily when I decided to be [an actress]. I feel like I always kind of knew that was the path I would choose. That was the path that was kind of already there, and I just followed it. A lot of people don’t know that my mother really comes from theater, so when I was coming up, my mother was in a lot of plays … so I was able to see the entire process, from her learning the lines to the rehearsals to the sets. I was attracted to the work of it.
Some people are attracted to it because of what it brings, because of the publicity or the glamour. For me, what really drew me in was the work, the actual physical work that it took to get a character from a page and then bring it in front of people. That, to me, was kind of magical in a sense.
TR: Talk about Lynn Nottage’s Ruined, the debut role that earned you a Drama Desk nomination (for Outstanding Featured Actress in a Play).
CR: Ruined [about Congolese women sexually assaulted and exploited during a civil war] is one of those things where it was literally an experience of a lifetime. I had just graduated from college, literally, like maybe about a month and a half before I went into the audition, and it was one of my first theater auditions, and I was prepared to just be auditioning for years. I was like, “I know how it goes and I’m prepared for that.” I wasn’t scared by that. I was fully ready for that.
When I found out that I got it, I was over the moon because the piece itself, to me, was kind of, literally in a nutshell, what I wanted to do as an actor because, like I said, I’m attracted to the work. This is a work that speaks to people, this is something that moves people, this is something that inspires change, inspires people to think, inspires awareness. To me, that is the best way, as an actor, I can give back: by doing what it is that I do because I love acting. But I also love telling stories that really need to be told, so that was, like, both of them in one. On an activist level, that was, like, the best thing that I had ever done.
TR: Lynn Nottage didn’t know you were Phylicia Rashad’s daughter when you got the role. How has knowing that impacted you?
CR: It was the first validating moment of my career. Even now, knowing that has affected me even in terms of my confidence level and knowing that this is something that I am supposed to do. That I am meant to do. It’s mine. No matter what, this is something I bring to the table, and it has nothing to do with where I come from or what my family does, what my mom does or my dad does.
TR: Tell us about working on Broadway in The Trip to Bountiful with Cicely Tyson, who, even at her age, still puts everything she has into acting.
CR: Oh, she puts every ounce of her being into her work. Every ounce. And she does it with love and she does it with drive. She was so gracious to me. I hold her in such a dear place; literally, I light up whenever I know I’m going to see her. Again, it was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life to have been able to work next to her onstage. Most of our stuff was just the two of us. So learning each other in that way and being able to play pingpong in terms of the emotions. I don’t know if I could have been any luckier.
TR: For a legend like her to have that kind of trust and faith in you has to be incredible.
CR: Yeah, that’s what I mean, and she did. And it was so humbling that she did. And I didn’t take that for granted. I showed up to work every day with the intention of absolutely being there for her and working with her and supporting her. It was just really, really amazing.
Catch Billions on Showtime on Sundays at 10 p.m. ET.
Ronda Racha Penrice is a freelance writer living in Atlanta. She is the author of African American History for Dummies.