Aunjanue Ellis on how she landed the role on King Richard over more famous actresses

Aunjanue Ellis is nominated for her first Oscar for her portrayal of Oracene Williams in the phenomenal film King Richard. This movie is so worth renting and is my favorite since Parasite. Please see King Richard if you haven’t yet, you won’t regret it. Aunjanue is incredible in the role. She brings heart, strength and depth to the story of a woman whose role in Venus and Serena’s lives was often overlooked. I also know her from Lovecraft Country, where her character had one of the most satisfying arcs, and she was excellent in that too. Plus she was in If Beale Street Could Talk. I didn’t even realize that as I watched it before Lovecraft.

Aunjanue was interviewed on People Magazine’s podcast, People Every Day, and explained how she landed the role despite the fact that she knew well known actresses were up for it. She just thought she had a shot and so she practiced a lot with her sister. I started listening to this interview and it was so good I ended up transcribing more than I expected. You can hear it on People’s site and here are my favorite parts:

She’s enjoying the awards shows
I have had a good time these last couple weeks, I didn’t expect that I would go to these events and win or lose I’m like ‘this is fun.’ Part of it is I’m just happy to be out of the house, to be hanging out with other human beings. Hopefully this will be another night that I’m just having a good time.

On landing the role of Oracene Williams
I knew that they were interested and were going to pursue some other actors who are a lot more famous than I am, I’ll just put it like that, but when I knew that for some reason I wasn’t nervous about that. I wanted this part. It didn’t worry me too much. I felt like ‘I’m going to have a shot at this.’

I had to on the down low get on a plane while I was doing Lovecraft Country and run out to Los Angeles real quick and read with Will [at his house]. I changed clothes on the plane, brushed my teeth. It’s not like I could walk in Will Smith’s house and be like ‘Can I brush my teeth? Can I change my clothes at your house?’ He was lovely and he fed me afterwards and I still didn’t get the part. Then a week later they called and told me I was going to play Oracene.

On how it was to work with Will Smith
He stayed here [in character]. He wasn’t doing this whole thing of being a method [actor], I’m not into that at all. What he was doing was being honest to the character that he was playing. Then he would just goof off as Richard Williams. What’s fundamental [for Will] is that everybody on the set be treated really well. He feels that it should be a place of joy and he just creates that environment.

On Venus and Serena
When I’ve been around them I’m fully aware that I [only] played their mother. They are still very much goddesses to me.

On diversity and inclusion in Hollywood
Being a part of this was a personal very specific dream that I had. We are in a lot of stuff now and we have some wonderful women producers who are creating some great stuff. Our next step is owning the studios, but also the breadth of our imagination that we can put on small and big screens. They want to keep us very limited. I want to be able to tell stories like Terrence Malick, Wes Anderson, PT Anderson and Martin Scorsese. I want to be given the money and support to do that kind of work. I’ve been in rooms where people doubted that. They’re not used to somebody looking like me doing that. That’s something that I personally battle and am going to continue to fight.

[From People Every Day Podcast]

I really enjoyed this interview and recommend listening as I got a lot out of it. Aunjanue was asked if anyone discouraged her journey and she didn’t name anyone. She talked about forging her own path and getting support from friends and family. She added “What penetrates is my own voice, my own doubt. That’s what I have to tell to shut up all the time.” I loved what she said about just thinking she had a shot and working hard (my words) to go for it. I believe in goal setting and manifestation to a degree, but first you have to think it’s possible and prepare. A lot of people miss this step or think of it all as mumbo jumbo. I’ll be watching Aunjanue’s career and am excited to see her on Oscar night!

Photos credit: and Instar

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