Treme's Khandi Alexander: New Orleans Is in Her Character's Blood and Bones
When Treme co-creator David Simon approached Khandi Alexander for his new HBO drama, she didn't even have to read the script.
"I said, 'It doesn't even matter what it is, I'm in," Alexander tells TVGuide.com. "It was just the opportunity to work with David again. To be in the company of someone you feel so comfortable with creatively and personally, there was no second guessing. It was a yes before I read the material."
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So Alexander, who played a drug addict in Simon's Emmy-winning HBO miniseries The Corner, was even more thrilled when she saw just what Simon and co-creator Eric Overmyer were up to with their look at post-Katrina New Orleans.
"I felt their particular take from the musicians' point of view was very unique and something I understood well because of my past as a choreographer and dancer," Alexander says. "This was something I really thought to be special. This is a take on New Orleans that I've yet to see."
The 52-year-old actress, whose other TV credits include roles on NewsRadio and CSI: Miami, says she liked getting back into one of Simon's gritty worlds. Her character, bar owner LaDonna Batiste-Williams, is far from the heroin and cocaine addict she played on The Corner, but Ladonna's life has been far from easy.
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"Once I read the pilot and did research and was trying to maneuver my way around the world, I asked David to help me out with this character. And he said, 'She's a woman who clawed her way to the middle class,'" Alexander says. "That is pretty much the underlying theme of this character. This is a woman who has really come from poverty and got her family somewhat out of it to what she thinks is a safe haven when the world slips upside down on her. She's a fighter."
With her bar still semi-operational, LaDonna is torn between staying with her mother and rebuilding her life in New Orleans or moving to Baton Rouge, where her husband has set up his dental practice and where her sons are now in school.
"She very much loves New Orleans. It's in her blood and her bones," Alexander says. "She's reluctant to leave and give up that part of her spirit and part of her identity that is so much connected to the city and what it means."
She also doesn't want to give up the search for her brother Daymo, who has been missing since the storm and is believed to be somewhere in the penal system. Assisting Ladonna in the search is civil liberties lawyer Toni Bernette (Melissa Leo). In Sunday's episode, Toni makes a breakthrough that gives Ladonna new hope — but also reason to be skeptical.
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"Like any layperson, she's leery of lawyers but at the same time [Toni's] a woman she can instinctively tell has integrity," Alexander says. "But she is leery of lawyers and the system itself, especially after ... everything that happened with the government and state. It's kind of hard not to be a little suspicious.
"It is unbelievably emotional. It's soul-bearing and raw," Alexander, whose name is already being batted around for an Emmy nomination, says of her character's search for her brother. "Once you get caught in the system, God help you. But in New Orleans, in the aftermath of Katrina, it is really overwhelming. As an actress, it's the type of juice you dream of playing but when you step back and hear the stories and get to know people, it can take you to the bed quite a few times."
Ladonna's relationship with her ex-husband Antoine (Wendell Pierce) provides even more drama, but it's also cut with some comic relief, Alexander says. "It's very much like real life: Some days it's hot, some days it's cold," Alexander says. "[It] very much mirrors a true relationship, especially between ex-spouses with children. Sometimes you want to kill him, other times you remember why you love him, and you also remember why you divorced him."
Treme airs Sundays at 10/9c on HBO.