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5 Questions with Tracie Thoms on Broadway, 'Stick Fly,' and the Joys of Natural Hair

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Tracie Thoms
When it comes to breadth of performance, Tracie Thoms has quite an impressive resume. The Julliard-trained actress appeared in both the stage and film adaptations of “Rent,” exerted physical prowess in Quentin Tarantino’s “Grindhouse,” solved crimes as a detective on “Cold Case,” and played Anne Hathaway’s best friend in “The Devil Wears Prada.”

Now, Thoms is back for more, in Lydia R. Diamond’s play “Stick Fly,” an emotional rollercoaster that explores race, gender, loyalty and betrayal, during a three-day weekend of tense revelations under one roof.

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Thoms plays Taylor, a postdoctoral student who travels with her fiancé to Martha’s Vineyard to meet his family for the first time. The actress chatted with Essence.com about her return to Broadway, the passion behind her craft, and a few valuable lessons she’s learned along the way.

ESSENCE.com: What drew you to “Stick Fly?”
TRACIE THOMS: A lot of things. I’ve been circling this play for a few years. I met Lydia Diamond a few years ago, and she said “You’re perfect the role [of Taylor].” I was doing a reading of a play in Jersey and her play was just starting to cast its second production. I’d heard about it but I was doing “Cold Case” at the time. I read the breakdown and was like “Oh my God, I’m so right for this”. If I read things I can’t do, I get depressed. So, I hoped the play would do well and be around for a while. I found out earlier this year that it was coming to Broadway, “Cold Case” was over, so I said let’s do it.

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ESSENCE.com: You play an extremely passionate, often misunderstood, and highly outspoken woman in "Stick Fly." Do you see yourself a little in this character?
THOMS: I do, but not in the obvious ways. I’m an opinionated woman, but I’m not as outspoken as she is. Taylor does not have the ability to hold her tongue. She is a completely open person. I will bite my tongue. She doesn’t have that skill because she’s been “the raisin in the oatmeal,” to quote her. Another difference is Taylor’s father issues, her abandonment issues. I have my father in my life and we are extremely close. He’s like my best friend; both my parents are my best friends, so playing a character that does not have that requires a shift internally. Just the idea of not having my father, terrifies and fills me with such sadness, that in playing this character, I started to understand the other extreme of it.

ESSENCE.com: You’ve played so many versatile roles on both stage and screen. Is there a favorite character you’ve played out of all them?
THOMS: I love them all. Taylor is really near and dear to me. And she’s definitely the most complicated and the most layered that I’ve played. Joanne [Rent] is also very near and dear to me. I like characters who are often overlooked because you’re able to get in there and see what makes those characters tick. I loved playing Kim in “Grindhouse” because she’s so not like me, such a bad ass, and it was so far away from myself.

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ESSENCE.com: What upcoming projects are you working on?
THOMS: I just wrapped “Meeting Evil” with Samuel L. Jackson and Luke Wilson, and “Safe House” with Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds. I was also in South Africa filming “Looper” with Jason Ritter and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. It’s been a lot of fun.

ESSENCE.com: You were candid and honest in “Good Hair,” and are known and praised in many circles for your hair, which is as versatile as some of the roles, you’ve played. How has Hollywood embraced your natural hair?
THOMS: The conversations that happen behind closed doors I’ll never be privy too. I don’t know if I get roles or don’t get roles based on my hair. If I were to straighten my hair would I get roles? I don’t know. The roles that come my way are tough girl roles like cops and lawyers. Not really a lot of love interests. I’ve never been asked to change my hair and if I was asked, I quickly talked them out of it. I’m not stubborn about it, but there has to be a reason. Don’t just say this role is suburban. I’m suburban and this is my hair.  Or if they say, “this is a sexy role.” Are you saying straight is sexy and kinky is not? Wrong. Next.  

“Stick Fly,” produced by Alicia Keys, is currently on Broadway.
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