Actress Emayatzy Coninealdi’s turn as Ruby in the indie film Middle of Nowhere is quickly garnering the New Jersey native Oscar buzz. In it, Coninealdi plays a newlywed who drops out of med school after her husband (played by Omari Hardwick) is incarcerated for a felony. Ahead of the film’s limited release today, Coninealdi spoke with ESSENCE.com about the buzz surrounding her performance, that now-famous tweet of support from Oprah, and why she thinks the film empowers women.
ESSENCE.com: There’s a lot of buzz surrounding the film, and your performance as Ruby is especially getting a lot of praise. How were you able to find Ruby within yourself?
Emayatzy Coninealdi: I was able to pull from my own personal experiences and then just my own loss. I lost someone extremely close to me. From an external point of view I knew two women who had significant others who have been in jail, so I was able speak to them and get their stories. Even though I had always known their stories growing up, reading this script this made me want to ask even deeper questions.
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ESSENCE.com: There's this idea that Ruby may be the quintessential "ride or die" chick. What are your thoughts on her position and how she decides to be very supportive of her man?
Coninealdi: At the beginning Ruby has no reason to think otherwise. Everything is great. Her marriage is great; everything is fine. So when everything is turned upside-down she has no choice but to stand by her man and support him. It wasn't really until he [Hardwick’s character] told her: "You know what, I don't know if I can do this." That’s when she has to wake up and realize that you can't want more for someone than they want for themselves. That's the point when she steps back and says, "I need to reassess this."
ESSENCE.com: You've toured the country with this film and met a lot of sisters who can relate to the story. What have those encounters been like?
Coninealdi: The first thing I think about is one woman at Sundance Film Festival. She was a Black woman in a predominately White audience. She stood up and said, “That's my story. Thank you guys for telling it in this way and to know that someone else has gone through this makes me feel like I'm not alone, so thank you.“ I've found that that is almost like a secret society when you are involved with someone who is locked up. One woman even said, "My mother doesn't even know that I'm going through this right now. She doesn't even know that I am still with this guy." Those kinds of stories are really amazing.
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ESSENCE.com: You got a really great shout out from Oprah this week.
Coninealdi: I know! I know, that's crazy! I told my father, "Dad, Oprah saw my movie!"
ESSENCE.com: There’s also been some Oscar buzz about it.
Coninealdi: To think that other people are even mentioning that and us in the same sentence is amazing. Whatever God has in store for us it is certainly not something I was working toward or expecting, so it's just one of those things — if it happens it would be pretty awesome, and if it doesn't it is still just as awesome.
ESSENCE.com: You've been quoted as saying that the film empowers women. What do you mean by that?
Coninealdi: Well, because by the end of the film you know Ruby is a different woman. Her choices aren't based on anyone else, only her. So I believe that any woman that can have the courage to have that kind of strength to make decisions based on what she needs — that requires a certain amount of courage. That's why I feel like it's a wonderful example of a woman standing on her own and making her own decisions.
Middle of Nowhere opens in New York, Los Angeles, Atlanta, D.C. and Philadelphia today.