In Adrienne Warren’s portrayal of Mamie Till-Mobley in Women of the Movement—ABC’s masterful limited series that tells the story of the mother of Emmett Till and her ascent into public life following the gruesome death of her son—the actor flawlessly captures the dignity of Till-Mobley in both demeanor and attire.
“She was so unbelievably well-dressed and put together, from head to toe—because she knew that represented something, especially in media in the 1950s,” Warren says on a Zoom call from her home in Manhattan. Warren herself is wearing a New Yorker’s favorite color: all black. “She knew everything she said was going to be judged, every move she made was going to be judged,” Warren continues. “It’s not very different today, but we have a bit more ownership now than I think our ancestors did.”
Warren points out that such meticulous presentation of self was a part of Till-Mobley’s upbringing. It was also in keeping with cultural expectations of the period—especially for Black people, who often projected respectability as an act of self-preservation. “You go out in the street, you couldn’t just go out any kind of way. Everybody was dressed,” she says.
Warren, born in 1987 in the city of Chesapeake, Virginia, recalls her own childhood style as characterized by gym shorts and jeans. With two sports coaches as parents, she grew up playing basketball and running track. Today she remembers fondly that it was her mother who would periodically force her out of her self-described “tomboy” gear and into more feminine garb. “She would pick out a dress a week, and I had to wear that dress to school,” Warren says.
The actor’s athleticism has also been a feature of her acting. After graduating from Marymount Manhattan College in 2009 with a major in Theatre Arts, she made her Broadway debut three years later as Danielle in the musical Bring It On. In 2016, when Warren performed as both Gertrude Saunders and Florence Mills in Shuffle Along, or, the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed, she earned a Tony Award nomination for Best Featured Actress in a Musical.
The role cemented her status on the stage— and according to Warren, her characters’ styling in that production was also impeccable. “I think about those dresses today—they were so expensive, they were incredible,” she says. “They have texture and fringe and material. Some of the most beautiful dresses I wore were designed by the incomparable Ann Roth.”
When Warren took on the role of Tina Turner in 2018, in the West End production Tina: The Tina Turner Musical, her sporting background came in handy once again as she prepared to embody the icon’s famous vigor and strength. “Because I’m an athlete, I like to approach things physically first, because I think it matters,” she says. “Silhouette matters, shape matters, time matters. And when you look at Tina Turner’s back, it’s ripped. When you look at her arms, they’re ripped. But there was also a lot of tension in her life. You need to see life on someone. You need to see that.”
For the Broadway production of Tina, Warren won the Tony Award for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical in 2020. Although that’s a role she feels very close to, having performed it for quite some time, she was looking forward to playing Till-Mobley, in order to reconstruct aspects of her sense of self. Unlike previous roles for which Warren had to prioritize fitness, as Till-Mobley, she purposely let herself gain weight—confronting societal beauty standards within her own body. “I discovered that I felt even more beautiful 30 pounds heavier, and I needed to know that about myself,” she reflects now. “I’m grateful for that experience, because at some point, I will be, like: Let’s be real.”
In playing Till-Mobley, Warren says she also felt softer—allowing the viewer to get lost in the vulnerability and humanity of her character, whose style of dress served as a form of armor while she was in the spotlight. “I think it is really important to understand just how elegant
she was during this tragic moment, and what strength that takes, to wake up every morning and put yourself together,” she says.
As for personal choices, Warren remains unafraid to rock basketball shorts and sneakers. The Tina-inspired leather-jacket look is also not far from her taste—though her presentation of self changes day by day, reflecting the energy she wants to project. By playing parts that represent important figures in Black history, Warren has become ever more conscious of the politics of beauty and fashion, seeing them as central to the responsibility of getting into character.
“I don’t take it lightly,” she says. “And I do whatever I can to get lost in that journey, because it means so much to me. At the core of my work is the love I have for these women.”
Women of the Movement airs January 6 on ABC at 8 p.m. EST.
Photography | the tyler twins
Styling | shameelah Hicks
Makeup | Camille Thompson/The Wall Group
Hair | Geo Brian Hennings/The Wall Group
Manicurist | Sunshine Outing
Adrienne Wearing (In Order Of Appearance):
Christian Siriano Pear Moire cape, Pear Moire bra top and Pear Moire wide-leg trousers, $550-$3,800, christiansiriano.com. Alexis Bittar jewelry, $175-$395 alexisbittar.com.
Greta Constantine Befani gown, $1,995, district5boutique.com. Wing & Weft gloves, $200, wingweftgloves.com. Nickho Rey yder button earrings, $250, nickhorey.com.
Oscar de la Renta palm leaf–embroidered silk caftan, price upon request, Oscar de la Renta boutiques. Stuart Weitzman Anny X Heel 100 pumps, $475, stuartweitzman.com. Yun Yun Sun “Uranii” necklace, $716, and “Cerus” ear cuffs, $252, both yun-yun-sun.com.
Valentino gown, price upon request, Valentino boutiques. Yun Yun Sun Pluto earrings, $248, yun-yun-sun.com.