Tracee Ellis Ross is dishing on life as a black actress in Hollywood for The Hollywood Reporter’s latest cover story. The “black•ish” star got candid on filming sex scenes for network television, racism still being prevalent in the industry and her most humiliating experience on a casting call. More inside….
“black•ish” actress Tracee Ellis Ross joined an uncensored discussion at the Comedy Actress Roundtable for The Hollywood Reporter’s gathering of Emmy-contending comedy actresses. Six of television’s most provocative female comedians, including the “black•ish” mom, Gina Rodriguez ("Jane the Virgin"); Lena Dunham ("Girls"); Ellie Kemper ("Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt"); and Kate McKinnon ("Saturday Night Live") gathered for a no-holds-barred roundtable conversation on a couple of interesting topics, including sex scenes, racism, colorism and more.
Tracee held nothing back and was very candid when talking about her experiences as a black woman in Hollywood. She touched on going after roles even if they aren’t written for a woman of color, her most humiliating experience testing for a network show, how calculated sex scenes are for network television and more.
Below are the highlights:
On filming sex scenes:ROSS: On network shows, there are a lot of instructions: Close the mouth. You can move, make the sounds, but no tongue. I had some incidences on "Girlfriends." This guy’s tongue jammed in like a lizard out of nowhere.
On the most overtly sexist thing that's happened to you working in Hollywood:
ROSS: I think racism trumps everything. [It all] happens behind the scenes.
DUNHAM: So many shows wouldn't exist if you and Mara [Brock Akil] hadn't made Girlfriends and pushed it as far as you did.
ROSS: We did 176 episodes.
ROSS: Being on a show run by a woman with four women leads gives you a template that when you walk out into the world, you don't see it. It changed my expectations.
Tracee, Chris Rock wrote an essay for The Hollywood Reporter in which he talked about how you can go to the movies once a week for months and never see a black woman in a substantial role.
RODRIGUEZ: I think that also goes for Latinos as well.
ROSS: There aren’t many [roles in film]. That’s why I say no to all the offers! (Laughs.) Working on a film is one job where you look at a casting breakdown and I’ll think, “That’s me!” But she’s not supposed to be black.
RODRIGUEZ: One hundred percent.
ROSS: But I go for them anyway....
On how much self-deprecation figures into how you connect with your audience:ROSS: I tested once for a network show to play a lawyer. A Harvard-educated motherf—in' lawyer, OK? I wore a skirt suit and heels. Seemed appropriate. Then there were many discussions about my hair. They'd printed up all these pictures of me from 15 f—in' years ago and had me in and out of the bathroom trying on clothes. They finally pick a skirt — the shortest I brought. Then got a T-shirt from one of the people in the office. The woman says, "Hmmm, your boobs." I was like, "I didn't bring a bra for this T-shirt." She screams down the hall, "Who wears a 34B?" I put on someone else's bra, a size too small, and somehow auditioned. I remember wondering, "What did I just allow myself to do?" The other actress [who auditioned] was dressed like she was going to a club and got the role. It was one of those moments where you're so confused and humiliated. But that's part of the biz.
On asking for what you think you deserve:
ROSS: I was raised by a woman [singer Diana Ross] who has high standards for what she's worth, which has been called "diva behavior." I have witnessed flagrant, disgusting behavior, and that is not my mother. There is a way to be a woman, ask for what we deserve and be able to negotiate.