Aunjanue Ellis, who plays Oracene “Brandy” Price, mother of Venus and Serena Williams, said in Warner Bros. ” King Richard. “Multiple sclerosis. Oracene’s is definitely one of those stories told to me through the lens of patriarchy.”
And in a movie titled King Richard, it is important for Ellis to fight for the woman who easily gets lost in her mate’s shadow. In the award contender, the industry veteran plays a woman often overshadowed by her bold and charismatic husband, Richard Williams (Will Smith), though also plays an important role. important in mentoring and coaching their daughters to get them into the highest levels of tennis. Super star.
Ellis, a two-time Emmy Award nominee who recently won a best supporting actress award from the National Board of Review for her role in King Richard, frankly with CHEAP about the work has avoided on-screen introductions of the “long-suffering woman”.
How do you choose your role?
I wish I had some elegant response to that. I wish there was some kind of personal science that I had. A lot of it is what I honestly represent. I will be transparent and honest and say I don’t get hundreds of scripts sent to me. However, in terms of what I get, I just want to do things that I will wake up to in the morning and be excited to do during the day. What makes me personally happy. What I feel is going to make Black women feel seen and heard. That’s not possible in every role I play, but it’s the projects that I try my best to be a part of and come true.
How does Oracene fit the mold you expect in a role?
I don’t know who she is. I know what I see when I watch the tournaments her daughters participate in, and I see this pretty woman in the sunshades in the stands, always there to cheer for her daughters. hers. When I started researching her, preparing to audition, I found her, on Wikipedia, identified as a trainer. I had a really skeptical answer to this, like, “Why does she imagine herself as a coach?” She is a mother, for sure. But why does she imagine herself as a coach? That is reaching out to her. And then when I was cast in the movie and really started to take my work seriously, that’s exactly what she is, is what I found out. She’s even more so [a coach] about actually being on the pitch and teaching them how to play better than Mr. Richard. Mr. Richard is a visionary. He has the idea to make this happen, but Miss Oracene is on the field teaching and sculpting their play. I have said this a lot, and I will go on to say that Mr. Richard was the architect of that dream, but Mrs. Oracene was the builder of that dream. Architects can sketch something and they can walk away, and then the builders there every day put in sweat and hard work.
I know that there will be hundreds – possibly in our lifetime – more stories to be told about Venus and Serena Williams. But how many more times will we have a chance to tell the truth about their mother?
You talked about feeling protective of Oracene and fighting for how she would be portrayed. How did that happen when you were on set?
There are a lot of female actors who will read this and know what I’m talking about. They’re playing roles that don’t have much interest in them on the part of the men making the movies. But the gift that I got in this production that I don’t necessarily have in other jobs I’ve done is that I get to work with people like my director, Reinaldo Marcus Green; Zach Baylin, our writer; and Will, our leader in every way, who wanted to tell the truth about this woman. [They] I don’t want her to be a mute. When I learned the truth about Miss Oracene, when I found out who she was, it made people uncomfortable sometimes, but I just felt compelled to. Rei Green will tell you, I tried until my scene, which was the last scene shot in the movie.
Before production, do you have time to rehearse?
I went to Los Angeles in January 2020. We rehearsed maybe three to four weeks, and that broke the script a lot. Will really took the lead with that. I was walking on my first day of rehearsals and we were rehearsing in an office building. This room is great, my god you can see the whole Valley from the office. On this visual window, Will has colored the Post-it notes of each beat in the film. I was like, OK, I see what world I’m in. First of all, I’m very reassured because it shows me that he has assessed how serious he is for this role, how serious he is with this story. A lot of the work that we did was initially turned into the script with Zach, Rei and Will. We practiced a little bit but not all because we wanted the words to be there. And Rei tried to give us time before we actually shot for the day. Then we shoot for a while, and then it’s over. But I really believe that the work that we did on the script helped us bring out the character.
And people ask about the kitchen scene a lot [a pivotal scene in which Oracene confronts Richard about his not taking Venus’ and other family members’ wants into consideration]. And, you know, we didn’t rehearse that scene. We just showed up. Because we’ve lived in it for so long, since January it’s really in our skin and we’re ready. Like, I have something to tell you. I’ve been thinking about this for 11 months.
Isha Price, Oracene’s daughter and the film’s executive producer, has provided you with recordings of Oracene, where she talks about her life. How have they affected your performance?
Those recordings are my raw material. The beauty of those recordings is that I don’t need to get any information about Miss Oracene directly. I was able to hear Miss Oracene testify about herself from herself. She talks about how she was an athlete as a child and how incredible she is as a baseball player. When she comes to hit the ball, they take a break because she’s so good she always hits the ball the way, the way, the way, the way, the way, the way, the distance. And they will have to chase this ball. The great thing about that is that this is her estimate of herself. This is no one’s account of her. This is how she sees herself. And so that’s what makes me honest. This woman is an athlete. She became a good athlete, and her athleticism blew and designed the game she created for her girls. For her, it was a lineage.
When King Richard stopped working because of COVID-19, do you continue to research your character?
To be honest with you, I don’t know if we’ll ever go back. For a very long time, I didn’t think we would. So I removed King Richard dream. I just said, “You know, it’s great that it lasts.” I don’t think we’ll be on set again. There were a couple of times when they said we would come back, and that didn’t happen. So when that happens, maybe once or twice, I just say, “Listen, I’m going to stop thinking about this.” But during the time we weren’t filming, I was really – like everyone else in the world – preoccupied with a lot of other things. And then when we definitely come back, I still don’t believe it. When I was on my way to California, I still didn’t believe it. Because, you have to remember, when we went back to work, which was last September, we were going back to work when no one knew. That’s a lot of uncertainty.
You won’t believe it until the camera turns.
I have to say – I don’t know how that’s going to sound – but it’s just the truth: I can’t tell you how many times when we shot, before things went crazy, I looked at Will and these wonderful young women, I look at Rei Green, and I look at the fact that I’m playing the role of a woman that I respect so much, and I just feel that this can’t be true. I just feel unbelievable. So when the lockdown happened, I said, “See, that’s why! I know it’s too good to be true!”
What is a scene that you know is important for the audience to fully understand Miss Oracene?
It’s the scene in the kitchen. All the shots are important to me, and it’s not just my shots. For Ms. Oracene, the scene wasn’t about vindication, but there was a certain fact that she was denied in the way that she had lived her whole life with her husband. And just as we have this perception of her as a mother, and what we think of mothers, especially when mothers are looked down upon in [shadow] of a father is a bright light. There are many examples of that in history. So she became this non-person, and what was important to me, and what I fought for and made people worry until the very last moment that we filmed, here is the Oracene’s prize opportunity must not be when she squandered that myth of the silent mother. She might say, “Just because no one knows my name doesn’t mean I’m unnecessary, doesn’t mean I’m insignificant, doesn’t mean I’m not a genius.”
A lot of times when these scenes happen, you have the woman saying to the man, “You can be better.” And for complete transparency, it’s one of those iterations of [this] context. We’ve seen these confrontations, they’re pretty cool. If a woman is patient, she confronts a man, right? In those scenes, you traditionally have a woman say to a man, “I deserve more from you. You are better than this”. Basically, it becomes about him. And so what I refuse to do is make this moment of truth about Richard. And what I wanted to do in our way – because I’m not alone in this – was to claim we heard Miss Oracene’s truth about ourselves. And it’s not just about empowering him. It’s about her. Hers.
Was there any feedback about your movie and performance that affected you?
What I want for the movie is that it be one of those movies that families will watch over Thanksgiving. We always have movies we watch over Thanksgiving and Christmas, so I wanted that for this, and I’m glad it timed out perfectly. And this young lady wrote to me and she said that what Miss Oracene did for her was very specific because [her] is a person no one knows, no one knows their name, but they are also necessary. But we don’t know that they are needed until we finally get a response from them. It’s a pity that it has to be. And it’s a pity that we have to [multimillion-dollar] movies to let everyone know Ms. Who is Oracene Price, but so on. And that’s what I wanted to hear. I would like to hear from black women who are reflected in Miss Oracene’s experience.
This story first appeared in a December issue of The Hollywood Reporter. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.