Writer and director, Christopher Stokes, who brought audiences You Got Served, brings this entertaining motion picture full of life lessons, self-discovery and of course dancing. But, the real treat is the youth dancers whose talents take the movie to another level.
Find out in this interview with Lynn Whitfield what’s so different about her character and if she has her own dance scene in the film. Also, read on for her experience collaborating with Chris Stokes and Marques Houston, and her “secret” to a successful and continuing career in the acting business, and more.
GlossMagazineOnline (GMO): Being from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, how did you get your start as an actress and get to Hollywood?
Lynn Whitfield: I went to Howard University in Washington, D.C. and studied. I was a drama major and I also worked at the DC Black Repertory Company, and then I went on to New York and did some plays. I toured internationally with “For Colored Girls” and did some work at The Negro Ensemble Company, and then “For Colored Girls” brought me to Los Angeles. So, it was a sort of gradual introduction to the demands of this business, how it all worked and all of that. But however, once I did get into Los Angeles, it was a little bit traumatic because it’s very spread out and when you grow up in a small town and everybody knows you and then you come to a place that’s really focused on work, on the business, on movies and you don't have any credits––then nobody knows you and pretty much most people don’t care until you prove yourself. So, that took some getting used to for sure.
GMO: How did you keep yourself grounded to keep pushing forward until you got what they call “your big break”?
Lynn: For me, it was the passion to want to do it, the passion to actually tell stories to bring character to the screen with some truth and all of that. And, I guess the part of it that comes from self-confidence or maybe the flip side of it was healthy ego, and was that I believed and still believe that I have something to share with an audience. I have a gift and I love hard work when it comes to acting, so I just feel like it keeps you going when you have something you want to do. And the other part of it is just the belief in God that whatever this is wasn’t put in me—this passion wasn’t put in me for any reason. It was put in me because there’s an open road and it’s going to happen.
GMO: We’ve seen you in Hills Street Blues, A Thin Line Between Love and Hate, Eve’s Bayou and Madea’s Family Reunion––and the list continues. What is your “secret” to being successful and having longevity in this industry?
Lynn: I think it’s all the same things I just said to you, which is having a passion for it, having a belief that there’s something for me to do, that there’s a way for me to serve a story and a way for a story to serve me because it shows my work. It’s just like the passion for telling good stories and I continue to have that. I don’t feel jaded, I don’t feel like “Oh, OK”—maybe it’s just certain roles that I’ve done already that I think they call it in Hollywood perhaps typecasting, and everybody when you get the particulars of a character you know there’s always a difference, but it’s just the passion for doing it and keeping myself together. I like being somewhat fit. I like beauty. I like to keep it together. So, that’s one thing. I don’t know if it’s true, but people say that I still look OK.
GMO: You play Marcia Parker in new film Battlefield America. Who is Marcia Parker and how is she different from the other roles that you’ve played in the past?
Lynn: Well, she’s a real raz-tacs type of woman. She is a case worker for people who are given community service so it’s not all criminals, but she’s like a parole officer. And she’s all about business and she believes that what she’s doing is helping people to get on the right track and be the best they can be. She is one of those people like if the law says this, then that’s what you’re supposed to do. So kind of in that black and white area, but she’s got a heart for people who are trying. So, that’s who she is and how is she different. I’ve never played that character before. Many of my characters feel like they can skate by what’s right and wrong, but at the end find themselves. But this woman was just a raz-tacs––a takes care of business kind of a person.
GMO: How is Marcia Parker similar or different from Lynn Whitfield?
Lynn: Oh, I couldn’t sit in an office every day, I don’t think. I’ve never done it and that work is about being on top of people; making sure all the paperwork is done; being a disciplinarian. I am more of a free spirit. Even with my daughter, when I know that I’ve got to put her on the straight and narrow and give her ‘this is how it’s going to be,’ I give choices and consequences. I’m an artist. I want the freedom to create, the freedom to have fun, and have joy and be the life of the party. So, I’m just really not that person.
GMO: So, do you have any dance scenes in the movie?
Lynn: No (chuckles). Not at all. I am on the sidelines with the dance. Really, the only people dancing are the kids and it’s so exciting. The choreography is so exciting. And they’re so tiny, I mean they’re little bitty, little bitty kids a lot of them. A lot of them aren’t even quite four feet tall so it’s amazing to see them do this powerful urban dance. I mean powerful with the precision of like a Nureyev, a ballet dancer, but it’s all urban. I think it’s going to be a great, great summer movie. I think every kid is going to want to make their mom take them to an urban dance class and make it happen. It’s very, very, very exciting choreography.
GMO: How was it working alongside talents like Chris Stokes, Marques Houston, Valarie Pettiford, and the young dancers?
Lynn: Well, it was wonderful. I had an opportunity to actually work with Chris on the script and from an actor’s point of view for what you call the kind of arc of the story and the heart of the story, so that was exciting for me. And he was so collaborative and really open to suggestions, and very humble and really wanted it to be good. So, we collaborated and it just turned out great. Marques is wonderful; also a producer on the movie. So, it was so impressive to see how he would go from the hard worker––because when you do an independent film a lot of it is guerrilla film making––and he would go from being a producer and solving problems to jumping onto his role and into his character. And that was great to see. Valarie Pettiford is a marvelous talent. And I told you how much I just adore the kids. They’re so sweet and so talented.
GMO: Using a short phrase, tell us why we should go see Battlefield America?
Lynn: Well, I’ll do it with little small words: Because the movie shows you how important art forms are to kids––and shorter than that––the base of the story tells you that expressing yourself can change your life.
Find out more about Battlefield America by visiting http://www.battlefieldamericamovie.com/, and see the trailer below!