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September 2, 2014

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20 Questions: Theater & Film Ingenue Nicole Beharie

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In a day and age when nearly every pop star and rapper has added the word "actor" to his or her resume, Nicole Beharie is a rarity in the acting world.

The Florida native trained at Juilliard before earning critical acclaim for her star turn opposite Alfre Woodard in the 2009 indie flick 'American Violet.' Starring in a Lifetime movie based on Carleen Brice's acclaimed novel 'Orange Mint and Honey' alongside Jill Scott followed, and now the bronze beauty is starring in her first Broadway show just steps from her alma mater and alongside an enormously talented cast that includes Jeffrey Wright and Mos Def.

Beharie fills BlackVoices.com in on why she's not writing that Oscar acceptance speech just yet with this week's 20 Questions.

BlackVoices.com: This is your first Broadway role. Were you nervous about making this transition from film?
Nicole Beharie:
Extremely nervous and honored, and like everyday, I thought, "They're gonna fire me" (laughs). Just playing. I'd think, "I can't believe I'm in this room," but, Broadway is a big thing. It's like your dream, and I went to Juilliard right across the street from Lincoln Center and every day I go to work, I also pass my alma mater and it just brings me back.

BV: Is there any downside to this hectic schedule?
NB:
You're on Broadway with cool people. It's like, yeah we do eight shows a week. We're doing a show on Christmas day, but we're telling a great story and audiences will be there and I just wouldn't fit in at a desk.

BV: If you weren't acting what would you be doing?
NB
: I'd have a farm. I am into herbs and growing things and the cycles of the moon and maybe it's just a kick I'm on. I have my little windowpane herb garden and in the summer, I have my rooftop to make tomato and basil and make it happen. It all dies in the winter, honey.

BV: What have you learned doing 'A Free Man of Color?'
NB:
Generosity and vulnerability, comedy and wit from of all these people. I've learned things from George, our director. There are so many things that I've learned. It's just an experience that will forever be with me. The history of the play itself is a really important story to be told beyond my career. I think it is important it's being told right now and at this time with the political climate and [President] Barack Obama.

BV: How's it been working with Jeffrey Wright and Mos Def?
NB:
They have incredible skill and craftsmanship and they are extremely generous and there's no ego. They make it easy to jump in and play with them, and Jeffrey in the beginning could see I was nervous and would tell me to relax, especially because we have a scene where we roll around in the bed, and I was really nervous about it. But he was totally professional like, 'Child, this is easy, we can do it.' And he made it a lot of fun.

BV: Did Juilliard prepare you for your career as an actress?
NB:
I think they prepare you to an extent. Everyone's path is different; they give you skill, endurance and teach you how to work with people and by yourself, but thereafter all the business stuff is all you. That's like any school. They say this is how it's done and then you have to do it your way.

BV: Do you think your critically acclaimed role in 'American Violet' prepared you for 'A Free Man of Color?'
NB:
I shot 'American Violet' in 2007 and that was my first year out of school, and now in 2010, it feels like a distant dream, a fond dream. Having the responsibility of telling another type of historic and important story just sent me on my path for knowing what type of material I wanted to be a part of.

BV: And you were fortunate enough to costar alongside the legendary Alfre Woodard?
NB:
I think that's the first time I was star stuck. I was like, "I'm working with Alfre Woodard?" I'd be sitting behind her in the truck going to work and thinking, "I'm sitting behind Alfre Woodard," but all of these people are fabulous and they are humble and generous and helping me build and grow.

BV: After 'American Violet' came out there was a big scandal with the African American Film Critics Awards (AAFCA) and who really won the best actress award. Did that put a hamper on the work for you?
NB:
No, I was so blessed. I had just gotten out of school and just getting to explore that type of character was a gift. I was blown away to be considered for an award.

BV: Were you annoyed with how it happened though?
NB:
When they told me I got it, I was like "Oh, great," but then when they said, "Well, we're not sure" (laughs). I said, "If you're not sure, then I'm not sure. Actually, I'm good." I don't want to be a part of anything that is the slightest bit shady, so I removed myself from the situation. It's kind of funny. It wasn't the most positive press, but it got people talking about the film again, which was kind of cool.

BV: How was it working with Grammy Award-winning singer and actress Jill Scott?
NB:
Jill Scott is quadruple threat. She's amazing, and I really feel like I lucked up on that one. It was a rough part because we had to sort of be at each other's throats, but she brought light to the home every day and got us going. She was really just someone easy to get to close to quickly. I really enjoyed working with her.

BV: Were you surprised with the movie's success?
NB:
I don't follow a lot of that stuff. I kind of heard from my manager and was like, "Cool. Great. So, when's my next audition?" It's wonderful, but I'm glad people watched it because I thought the script was powerful and the book was great. It was just a wonderful story with black female characters at the forefront going through some complex issues. So, I said, "Hey, if people are watching that. I have a chance." But, I don't follow the write-ups and things. That will allow for more to happen on those types of networks.

BV: Are there any actors that you'd choose to model your career after?
NB:
It's always hard to answer that because it changes. One of the people I'd like to model my career after is Jeffrey Wright and Alfre. These people that I've gotten to work with have the blueprint and I got a little peek at it.

BV: You have another film coming up called 'My Last Day Without You.' Talk about that.
NB:
I did a film this summer where I play an up-and-coming singer who falls in love with a German businessman, and we go about this crazy day. That's all I can say about it without telling the entire story. I got to work and come home to my place at night because it was a Brooklyn film. It was kind of fabulous.

BV: What career advice did you not receive that you'd give to an up-and-coming actress?
NB:
I'm a little uptight, and I would say have a good time. If you aren't having a good time, don't do it. Follow what feels right for you.

BV: Do you have a dream role?
NB:
I would love to do it so bad that I can't say it out loud, but hopefully it happens.

BV: Do you want to star in it or produce that dream role though?
NB:
That's something I think everyone that I'm friends is interested in doing now because I think they realize that in order to have any power over what you're doing, you have to have your hands in the pot behind the scenes. It's definitely something I am interested in, but right now I have to understand what I'm doing now to get the full perspective.

BV: Do you have any one movie you think should be nominated for an Oscar?
NB:
I haven't really seen that many movies this year. I'm going to look through this interview and say, "What did I say?" There were a lot of great performances, but I'm going to be kicking myself in 20 minutes.

BV: Have you written your own Oscar speech?
NB:
An Oscar speech? Are you crazy? I'm just trying to get a job. No! No!

BV: It doesn't seem like you've had trouble with that though. Has it been hard getting a job?
NB:
It hasn't been and, knock on wood, I thank my creator and hope that I can keep it going. I actually have a job coming up in February with an interesting director, Steve McQueen, that we're shooting in the city. I can't talk about it until it's official. Things are happening, and I'm happy about that, but I'm not writing Oscar speeches.

'A Free Man of Color,' starring Nicole Beharie, is now playing through Jan. 9 at Lincoln Center in New York City.

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