(The Root) — Many film fans were introduced to actress Adepero Oduye through the 2011 independent film Pariah. Playing lesbian teen Alike, the Nigerian American grappled with sexuality and Christianity in such an honest way that she earned a shout-out from multi-Academy Award winner Meryl Streep.
Since then, Oduye has appeared in Lifetime's Steel Magnolias and landed a role in the upcoming Steve McQueen-directed 12 Years a Slave alongside Chiwetel Ejiofor. But this week she's joined another storied cast — Vanessa Williams, Cuba Gooding Jr. and Cicely Tyson — for a new experience in the Broadway play The Trip to Bountiful. Taking over for Condola Rashad, Oduye plays Thelma, a young woman who meets and bonds with Mrs. Carrie Watts, played by Tyson, during her travels.
The Root spoke with Oduye about performing with an African-American icon, why she asked President Barack Obama not to consider New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly as the head of homeland security and the George Zimmerman verdict … until her publicist cut her off.
The Root: You're joining The Trip to Bountiful in the middle of the production run. Has the transition been smooth?
Adepero Oduye: It's a surreal experience. During the first show, I was like, "Wow, I'm onstage with Ms. Tyson!" Everybody has been amazing, and the energy is really beautiful. I'm replacing my friend Condola, so everyone making sure that I'm OK has turned what could've been a very scary, nerve-racking and lonely experience into a supportive environment.
TR: What do you hope to learn from Tony Award winner Cicely Tyson?
AO: I'm in awe of how grounded Ms. Tyson is and how her performances can be different but the same. She can switch up the delivery, but it's still with the right intention. Her words are effortless in terms of their meaning and how she inhabits them. She's been doing Trip to Bountiful for four months, and it still feels real. She's pretty amazing.
TR: Your performance as Alike in the film Pariah was moving and earned you critical acclaim. What have you learned from that experience?
AO: It's weird. I grew up in New York and I've always lived here, so I look at myself as a regular person. When somebody recognizes me from the film — and it can be a wide range of people, which shows the power of film — I feel like they're talking about someone else we both know. I just find it hard to believe that anyone would stop me to share how much they loved something that I was a part of.
I can honestly say, it's never a nuisance. I always feel like I'm receiving this gift, and I'm thankful that I got to be a part of something that people have been able to relate to.
AO: I was reading the paper and saw a cartoon with Ray Kelly frisking Obama, and I was like "Wait, what's happening?" so I Googled it. For everything Obama stands for and the things he's said in the past in his books, especially with the Trayvon Martin thing — and I'm not sure if he [made his comments on Trayvon] because he was asked a question and he was trying to be diplomatic and neutral — that can't happen.
I assume Obama knows about stop and frisk, so this is not the person that should be the head of homeland security. I had to say something. Kelly's nomination would go against who President Obama is.
TR: Speaking of Trayvon Martin, what was your reaction to the verdict in the George Zimmerman trial?
AO: To be honest, I wasn't surprised —
Editor's note: At this point, Oduye's publicist interrupted and ended our interview because he didn't feel that her thoughts about politics were appropriate.
Hillary Crosley is the New York bureau chief at The Root. Follow her on Twitter.