We wrapped shooting in April. We then had two-and-a-half months off. We actors go our separate ways to discover ourselves in different roles.
Michael Irby headed off to New Orleans to shoot a jazz movie featuring Wynton Marsalis. Demore Barnes went back home to Canada and worked on his own film project. Abby Brammell traveled to Bangkok, where her tattooed blues-singing husband was making his acting premiere in a Sylvester Stallone movie.
I returned to Dallas to start a home-renovation project. My aunt Virginia currently lives in the atomic ranch-style house as I go back and forth to L.A. I'm moving in another aunt who has a disabled daughter by the end of the year and wanted to make the home wheelchair accessible - ramps, wider doors, a new bathroom - so I find a contractor who says they can knock the job out in three weeks. In my mind I tack on a couple of extra weeks, thinking I'll still have plenty of time to sit on a beach in Tahiti during the remaining hiatus and "renew."
I use my time in Dallas during the renovation to reconnect with family and to finally go through my mother's belongings - her paintings, dress patterns of clothes she designed, her writings, her baptismal scarf... things she held on to. As I am excavating, I discover things that I never knew about her when she was alive. Secret desires and fears are uncovered in the sifting through of things that remain. As I grow older I am always surprised in how I am growing more and more like her. Or I am in less denial - it is an ongoing dialogue between mother and daughter that continues to evolve. Weeding through my own things to clear some space for my Aunt Rose and her daughter Rosalind, I find myself reconnecting with myself at different stages in my life. College photos to elementary finger paintings, high school report cards. I even find "Gigi." My mother, wanting me to have a doll that looked like myself, couldn't find any brown-skinned dolls in the stores. She made a brown rag doll - I named her "Reggie Gianni" when I was 6. As an adult holding Gigi, I try to find the child she was made for.
The two-and-a-half months pass too fast. The contractors who claimed in their ad that they would do it for me has done it to me. They are still - months later, to this day - working on this three-week renovation project. I don't get to travel to the mystical island of Tahiti but I'm grateful to have time-traveled through ancient remains in Dallas. I head back to L.A. stripped down and freshly varnished, clearer from this trip.
We come back to the Santa Clarita Studios. Scott Foley returns glowing - newly married. Audrey comes back glowing, newly pregnant. Dennis Haysbert returns shining - bald and lean having dropped over 20 pounds. He comes back ready to kick some butt as Jonas Blane.
I am at the series-premiere party last Tuesday with a rowdy group of cast members, crew, staff and friends, at Rick-the-editor's great '70s tri-level house in Granada Hills.
is back (minus our rocking theme song), tight, fast and powerful as ever. We're gathered around holding camouflage plates of food and drinks talking back to the action on the 64-inch screen. The ladies all swoon out loud whenever Jonas appears.
Rick-the-editor's house is very eclectic. Walls are filled with photos and objects from various projects and travels. Rick is a baseball fan. An extensive baseball collection sits encased off the playroom on the second level. In the dining room Rick's wife has a photo of a beautiful swan-necked woman, a distant relative who wrote
Imitation of Life
. Written in the '30s, it was twice made into movies in Hollywood. I tell her it was one of my favorite movies growing up. They'd play this movie every summer in Dallas and we'd all gather around my grandmother's 24-inch black-and-white TV, talking back to this melodrama about a tragic light-complectioned mulatto denying her own identity until her large, dark-skinned mother dies. At the funeral Mahalia Jackson sings, "Soon We'll Be Done with the Troubles of this World." The daughter breaks down and finally claims her mother and her past. Folks around the TV would be shaking their heads and tsking - "Umph, too late." The movie made us laugh and weep.
Every time we would see a black face on the black-and-white everyone would call everyone they knew. Everyone would gather in front of whoever's TV and put our faces close to watch - Sidney Poitier films, Bill Cosby in
, Lieutenant Uhura in
, the secretary on
. And oh yes, Di: Diahann Carroll. We were so proud to see them - to see reflections of ourselves. Usually they were single individuals. We saw little or nothing about their families or their communities. Their characters and plotlines had little or no mention of race. But we understood the underpinning message of their presence in the times we were living through. They played human beings in human situations with which everyone could identify.
Forty years later, Jonas Blane is the only black lead in a drama on national television. Jonas and Molly Blane are the only black couple in a drama on national TV.
is not about race. It tells the story of human beings under stressful situations dealing as human beings. Their characters are universal and black.
I find myself in the role of Molly Blane, a character that when I was a child I could not have imagined to have existed on TV.
I try to instill in Molly the characteristics of those who raised me and helped to shape my life. Those strong, resolute, regular colored women who sometimes found themselves humanly fragile and very extraordinary in the face of life's storms. I try to keep her humanity shining through for anyone who presses close to the screen searching for recognition. Stepping into this new season... I look forward to the journeys.