By Darlene Donloe
Salli Richardson Whitfield & Omari Hardwick
The independent film, “I Will Follow,” the brainchild of writer/director/producer Ava DuVernay, is set for release on DVD Aug. 23, 2011.
The drama, which found success and won several awards during its heavy film festival circuit, was released in theaters nationwide last March.
The movie, which takes place during one day in a Topanga Canyon home, focuses on a woman named Maye, played by Salli Richardson-Whitfield, who is sorting through her life while dealing with the death of Amanda, her recently deceased aunt (Beverly Todd). Amanda, who had breast cancer, decided she wanted to die at home and skip chemotherapy.
The movie, which is loosely based on what director DuVernay actually experienced with her own aunt, also stars Omari Hardwick (For Colored Girls), Blair Underwood (The Event), Michole White and Beverly Todd (Crash).
DuVernay, a publicist (The DuVernay Agency) and founder of AFFRM, (African-American Film Festival Releasing Movement) has several other projects under her directorial belt including, My Mic Sounds Nice, This Is The Life and Live From Essence Music Festival.
However, “I Will Follow” is her first feature film. The movie is an Official Selection of AFI Fest and Chicago International Film Festival and winner of Pan-African International and Urbanworld Film Festivals.
I recently caught up with Richardson-Whitfield (Syfy’s Eureka, I Am Legend, Antwone Fisher), who is married to actor Dondre Whitfield, to talk about her role in I Will Follow and the release of the DVD.
DD: What was it about I Will Follow that attracted you?
SRW: Well, it’s one of those things. My manager was instrumental in getting the script to me. I had no idea who Ava [DuVernay] was. I had to make a decision in a week. I read it. It was beautiful. My manager said, ‘you have to do this.’ Once I met Ava and we sat down and talked, I realized she was a powerhouse. I said, ok, I’m going to put my trust in you. As an African American, this piece is rare. I made the right decision. I’m so happy to know Ava.
DD: How did you decide to play her - what did you want to make sure you got across?
SRW: I don’t know if I look at things like that. I look at the situation. What am I going through as an actress? I just get there and I do it. I learn my words and know my situation. I do a little improv work with actors to get a relationship. I go where my feelings take me. I go along with the character. Now that I’ve been doing this TV show for so long, it’s helped me as an actress not to plan too much.
DD: Did you approach the role differently once you found out if was the director’s story?
SRW: It makes it a little more precious. She didn’t try to make me be her or act like her or get me to be a particularway in a scene because she would have been that director. She really helped me connect. She showed me a pic of her aunt one day. Seeing the picture helped me find the sadness and the depth of how hard this was for her.
DD: Could you relate to your character in any way?
SRW: Definitely. I’m not a big crier. I’m the one who keeps everything happy and strong. I don’t show a lot of emotion all of the time unless really needed. I think that’s what she felt that Maye was. It was a journey to find those feelings.
SALLI RICHARDSON WHITFIELD & OMARI HARDWICK
DD: What goes into your decision to play a role?
SRW: Right now the things I do on the side, I look for thing that scare me. I sit there for a moment and say I don’t know if I can do this. If it doesn’t scare me I may not want to do it. There are some things I can do with my eyes close. I have to put in some hard work, but I’m always striving to get better.
DD: Are you happy with the success of the film?
SRW: You do this tiny little film and most films like this would have done well at film festivals, but no one else would have every seen it. That’s why Ava is brilliant as a director. She knows how to market her film. I’m very surprised and happy about the film.
DD: What’s up next for you?
SRW: I started directing my show (Eureka) th last two years, last season and this season. I find I love it. Now that my show is over, I’m looking to do a short film during my break. I’m also interested in finding a new TV show to do.
DD: What does TV do for you and what does film do for you?
SRW: What’s great about film is - a character has a beginning, middle and end. You get four months to explore a character. With TV, I’ve gotten to an unbelievable comfort zone. I used to be an over preparer. It’s good when you do that but sometimes you’re not letting yourself be. It gave me a comfort in my acting. I like the consistency of a show. With my show [Eureka], because it’s cable, you only shoot 13 a season. I like to do a show, have fun and on break find an artistic piece to do.
DD: Your show, Eureka is about to end.
SRW: Yes, we’ll be done on Aug. 30. It’s done. It’s been five years. I’m excited about being home. While doing the show I’ve had to fly home every weekend. It’s hard when you have young children. My daughter is seven and my son is two.
"I Will Follow" will be available at Amazon.com and Walmart on Aug. 23, 2011. MSRP: $14.99