Aunjanue Ellis doesn’t believe in playing it safe. From playing Soul Sister No. 1 in “Undercover Brother,” a heartbroken wife in “Cover,” and a pregnant crack addict in the Biggie biopic “Notorious,” the rising actress continues to spread her wings. Now Ellis brings the grace and talent of Candy Carson, the wife of groundbreaking doctor Ben Carson, to the small screen in “Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story.” The spirited actress chats with ESSENCE.com about the importance of the Carsons’ story, the joy of reuniting with Cuba Gooding, Jr. on screen and the power of using her personal pains to sharpen her craft.
ESSENCE.COM: Once again you are part of an important story to Black America. What appealed to you about the Carsons movie?
AUNJANUE ELLIS: This is a story that needed to be told and I’m always interested in telling stories that are valuable and life changing. This story has the potential to have people reconsider their paths and I would love to be a part of that. I was also able to work with Cuba again.
ESSENCE.COM: You guys are husband and wife again in this film, after being a couple in “Man of Honor.” How was it different this time around?
ELLIS: I have the utmost respect for him as an actor. It’s different this time because that was kind of my first job working with Cuba in “Man of Honor.” I was very nervous at the time and afraid to talk to him and ask questions. This time it was more relaxed. He was very helpful. Because I was less nervous we took more chances as an onscreen couple.
ESSENCE.COM: So were you able to speak with Candy Carson, an accomplished musician, who has been married to Dr.Carson for 28 years?
ELLIS: I spoke to her and she was incredibly gracious. What remains with me from the story and what I took away was Black love that thrives when a man and woman are in a relationship and are equally as brilliant and gifted. There is a prevailing notion that these kind of love stories don’t survive. Ben and Candy Carson’s testimony proves [otherwise]. She absolutely survived and thrived, as a strong woman with a strong man.
ESSENCE.COM: Your year is off to a full start. First you played a pregnant drug addict in the Biggie biopic “Notorious.” Was it a challenge to convey her complex situation and what made you take the role?
ELLIS: It can be challenging already to be pregnant so to add a terrible addiction to that I can’t imagine, but I had to. She was symbolic of Brooklyn then and how it has changed. Being part of the Biggie story was great and it was a pleasure to work with the director George Tillman, Jr. again. I love playing different characters and things that are challenging. I’m not interested in safety at all. That’s what makes me get up in the morning.
ESSENCE.COM: You have played such a range of characters from a supportive and strong wife in this film to a devastated one in “Cover." Have you learned lessons for you own love life?
ELLIS: Well, I’m not married nor do I want to be. I’m the loving kind but not the marrying kind, though I am romantic. We all go through that pain like “Cover” in our own unique way. As an actor it’s not how I would react, but feel it as it happens for the character. I’ve definitely gone through that pain, recently actually. While you leave the pain behind, it gives you something to pull from as an actor and a little more emotion.
“Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story” premieres on TNT on February 7 at 8pm.