By Darlene Donloe
By Darlene Donloe
Diahann Carroll is a living legend.
She paved the way for African American actors back in the 60s when she starred in the television series, ‘Julia’ and became the first Black actress to have a lead role on her own show.
Her career has been quite diverse. A Tony Award® winner, an Emmy® and Grammy® nominee, a Golden Globe® winner and a Best Actress Oscar® nominee, Carroll has appeared in nightclubs, on Broadway, as a Las Vegas headliner, in films as well as television, including a successful stint on Dynasty. She can currently be seen in a recurring role on the USA Network series ‘White Collar.’ She also recently filmed her stage show ‘The Lady-The Music-The Legend,’ for PBS.
Her film work includes ‘Claudine’, ‘Carmen Jones’, ‘Paris Blues’, ‘Porgy & Bess’, ‘Hurry Sundown’, ‘I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings’ and ‘Eve’s Bayou’.
This weekend she stars in ‘Peeples,’ a comedy set for release nationwide May 10. Although it’s produced by Tyler Perry under his 34th Street banner, that’s where his involvement ends. In his latest production Perry doesn’t wear the hat of director, writer or star.
‘Peeples’ is a comedy about the pros and cons of meeting ones prospective in-laws. The film stars Kerry Washington, Craig Robinson, David Alan Grier, Melvin Van Peebles, Tyler James Williams, Malcolm Barrett, Kali Hawk, Ana Gasteyer and Kimrie Lewis-Davis.
In the film, Carroll's first in 16 years, she plays Nana Peeples, the wife of Melvin Van Peebles’ character and the mother of Virgil Peeples (David Alan Grier’s character).
I caught up with Carroll at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills. She was stylishly dressed, donning overly large, black-rimmed glasses; a black, cropped sweater and black pants. She’s here to discuss her career and her role in the movie.
DIAHANN CARROLL and MALCOLM BARRETT in 'PEEPLES'
DD: After six decades in this business – what is the most important lesson you learned?
DC: To be quiet and listen. We have to learn to listen.
DD: What are you most proud of in your career?
DC: In terms of work, I would say the movie, ‘Claudine’ and the Broadway play, ‘Agnes of God’.
DD: What would you tell any budding actress getting started?
DC: I would advise them to talk to someone. But, um, I can only tell you what I did. I found the best teacher I could find on both coasts. When I had time. Very often I would go to a play and find out who was part of it and why. Whenever I could, I would find Beah Richards and she would tell me what was going on in the world of theater in LA. She was a caring, sharing, bright woman, who was very intelligent. It’s hard to tell them what to do until you’ve known them for a while. You have to choose wisely your company and the image mentor that you’re going to embrace.
DD: So many of us put you on a pedestal as a trailblazer. Is the crown heavy?
DC: There are young people who expect me to know everything about the creation of Julia and how it got there and got developed. They want to know how do I feel about how I handled it. I handled it as best I could. I only had limited information at that time, too. Sometime it’s not so clear. I don’t have the kind of power that they think I have. I try to avoid confrontations. Confrontations don’t work. It’s good to go home and think about it and write a note about it. It Having a confrontation doesn’t get you any place. Always work if you can. Go in and test the waters.
DD: Your co-stars all speak very highly of you. They also told me about a talk you gave on the bus.
DC: On the bus, it was time for me to break the bubble. I’m not what people think I am. Sure, I like pretty clothes. I’m talking about the shallow end of the personality. I don’t mind talking about anything. I’ll tell you if I’m not knowledgable about anything. To learn about people is about making contact. I think on the bus they didn’t know what it meant to me to be on a project with black actors, a black producer, black writer and director. It brought tears to my eyes. These people were definitely all paying it forward - beautifully. They were friendly and sharing. I came from a secretive period. The jobs were so few. We really didn’t talk much. I love how even in the music business there is some sharing. We didn’t have that. I don’t hear thing like ‘you should have gotten so on and so forth, not Dorothy Dandridge.’ I thought when I heard it when I was a girl, I thought it was so stupid. Take the part. Lets move on and find another part. I think that has diminished greatly amongst my race.
DD: Are you optimistic or pessimistic about where African Americans are in this business?
DC: It’s a double-edged sword. We need writers, producers and directors. The actors have done wonderfully well. We have some really fine actors today. We don’t have the jealousy anymore. I’m thrilled about that. It’s good to see Halle [Berry] and Kerry [Washington] in the same era.