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It’s been three years since Emayatzy Corinealdi stole our hearts as the lovelorn yet committed Ruby in the 2012 indie film Middle of Nowhere. Now, the 35-year-old is set to star in the highly-anticipated Amazon original series Hand of God (due out on September 4). In it, Corinealdi portrays Tessie—a high-priced call girl and confidante to a troubled judge.
Ahead of the series debut, ESSENCE spoke with the New Jersey native about the challenges of her new role, sustaining a fruitful career and finally finding God-ordained love in Hollywood.
Tell us what’s most exciting about Hand of God?
The show really dives into deciphering religion; power, politics and sex through the world of this [law-bending] judge named Pernell Harris, played by Ron Perlman. His character decides to give his life to God and so he now believes he is saved. You get to see his walk and how it does or does not line up with his faith. There are some characters on the show that believe he is saved while others think he is just plain crazy.
You play a very interesting character by the name of Tessie. Tell us about her.
Tessie really represents someone who stands very firm in who she is and what she wants and why she’s made the choices that she’s made. She plays Judge Pernell’s high-priced call girl and they have a relationship that goes much deeper than just a call girl. She isn’t expecting anything back from the Judge and as a result it has allowed him to really develop a friendship with her outside of the business relationship that they have.
Your character Tessie has some very steamy love scenes with the judge! How awkward or nervous are those types of scenes for you?
I was completely nervous, completely! The nudity scared me. It’s not a comfortable thing, that’s something I’ve never done. I’ve never done a love or a nude scene. So, when my agency sent me the script, they were like, ‘Listen Emayatzy, we know how you feel about nudity, but just read the script.’ So I read the script and it was so good that by the time I got to the end of the script, I completely forgot about the nudity. That’s how good it was. When accepting this role, I knew I would have to fully commit to the character of Tessie because that’s her world; she’s not a woman that’s insecure or shy about her body. So I knew I couldn’t be Emayatzy, I had to be Tessie.
Over dinner, I did express my concerns to the creator of the series and the producer—we had a conversation about not just having Tessie be nude for the sake of it but that she would have a story and we would be able to explore her world and who she is. So they were very clear that that’s exactly what it would be and they gave me comfort. After that conversation I said to myself, ‘OK, well, Emayatzy you have to commit,’ and once I walked on set I made sure to [bring in Tessie] and leave Emayatzy at the door.
What’s the common thread between you and Tessie, could you relate to her at all?
I believe, in every character that I portray, there’s a little piece of me in them. With Tessie, I relate to her perseverance and fortitude. The certain amount of strength that she has, I respect any person that makes a decision and then stands by it, especially when you know someone will judge you for that decision. By virtue of her job a lot of people are going to judge her for it.
What’s the secret for sustaining a fruitful career in Hollywood?
It’s really tough, especially if you’re an actress who is more interested in portraying diverse multi-dimensional characters because there’s not that many of them. So it’s either waiting it out or doing things just [for the money.] So you’ll have to learn how to be strategic as well as making sure everyone on your team is on that same page. Remind yourself of the bigger picture and remain steadfast. That’s always been me, keeping my eyes focused on the bigger picture.
What was your journey to Hollywood like?
I moved here from New Jersey, I packed up into my Nissan Sentra and drove out to LA by myself. I had been studying acting between New Jersey and New York, and after performing in off-Broadway plays and taking classes I said ‘OK I think I’m ready to move to LA now.’
At the time I had a boyfriend and he was supposed to come with me but he couldn’t come so I was like ‘I’m out!’ I called my parents and of course they were like, ‘What are you doing?” My mom wanted to ride with me, but I told her, ‘No I have to do this by myself.’ My dad was worried about his baby girl driving across country, but I made sure to call them at every stop. It took me four or five days to get to LA. And then the journey began.
Have you found love in LA yet?
I did! I was blessed to find an amazing husband since I’ve been here. We are having our second anniversary on August 31st. We met at the Macy’s parking lot in Sherman Oaks. He was coming out of the store and I was just parking and I noticed him and I was like, ‘Wow, he’s handsome.’ We sparked a conversation and he asked me to dinner that night. I remember, I had to leave town the next day for a week and I remember when I got back in town, I asked him to pick me up from the airport and he did. We had an amazing first date and we have been together ever since. God ordained the whole thing!
What else are you working on?
I’ll be in the film Miles Ahead, a biopic about Miles Davis. I can’t wait to see it, it will be in theaters soon but I don’t have the date yet.
The series ‘Hand of God’ will begin streaming via Amazon Prime Instant Video on September 4.