“I wasn’t really a Marvel person growing up. It just wasn’t my jam,” Paula Newsome confesses to ESSENCE. That, of course, has changed now that she’s starring in the highly anticipated big screen Christmas gift, Spider-Man: No Way Home, along with Zendaya and Jamie Foxx.
At the end of October, One Take News reported that Newsome will plan an M.I.T. administrator, but how many many college admins get stunt doubles? “Doing it was really fun and dangerous,” Newsome says. “I got to be part of an amazing sequence and I know people will love it.”
When it comes to her latest coup–starring as Maxine Roby, head of the Las Vegas Crime Lab, in the reboot of the CBS trailblazing series CSI: Vegas –and her journey to landing the lead role, Newsome can’t say enough. Shockingly, the Chicago native’s journey as an actress started in first grade at Dixon Elementary on the city’s South Side.
“My first-grade teacher sent me home with a note pinned to my shirt saying, ‘Put Paula in creative dramatics class,’” she recalls. “My parents sent me down to the YMCA, like good Black folks would do.”
Throughout her childhood and adolescence, Newsome acted in local and regional plays before earning a degree in musical theater from Webster University in St. Louis. “It was one of those things that chose me. I didn’t choose it,” she explains.
Naturally, she pursued theater in New York City, even appearing as Arminy Livermore in Carousel on Broadway in the mid-1990s, and traveling regionally as Marian Anderson in First Lady Suite in the early 2000s. And that was where she intended to stay until friend and fellow Chicago actor Denis O’Hare, whose many credits include Big Little Lies, This Is Us and The Good Wife, opened her eyes to the financial joys of television over dinner.
“Theater was always a thing. I had no intentions to do anything but theater,” she shares. “And he told me how much money he was making doing television. And I was like, ‘I need to do me some damn television.’ So, four months later, I booked a television show and came out to Los Angeles and that was it.”
Films she’s appeared in include Little Miss Sunshine, Things We Lost in the Fire, and Reign Over Me. On TV she’s starred in NCIS, Chicago Med and Barry, which proved to be her breakout role. Even though Newsome had a role on the long-running CBS show, NCIS, as wife Jackie Nance to Rocky Carroll’s (Leon) Vance, landing CSI: Vegas was a big surprise.
“It kind of came out of nowhere,” she says. “I wasn’t really a big watcher back then. I was doing other things probably rehearsing for I don’t know what. My sister told me about [the show’s history] when I booked this.”
To prep for Max, Newsome worked with one of the leading criminalists in Los Angeles for months before the show taped. “We sat down and we talked. She told me what she put in her trunk. She told me what she carried to the crime scene. She told me how she prepped her day. She told me how long she was going to be at a crime scene. She treated my home like a crime scene. . . She went across the threshold from the door, and she told me how she bent over and looked at the floor. She mentioned that she was always looking at the at the ceiling for blood spatter . . . she told me just so many things.”
Who Max is as a person entails a great deal of Newsome’s character, however. “Because I’m an actress who really works from the inside, they all feel like me,” she says of her many roles. “What I like about Max is she actually moves with kindness. There’s a passion she has about the work, about her lab, and a strength and a backbone and a fun that’s very specific to her.”
As a workaholic who runs her lab like a “mother hen,” Newsome says not to expect much work-life balance from Max. On a larger scale, however, having a Max and other women in STEM matters greatly. “What we found out in the process of researching this is in the beginning, before CSI, the majority of criminalists were men. Today to this day, the majority of the criminalists are women.”
“Perspective is everything,” she adds. “When you’re looking through the lens of someone who has experienced something or if you’re looking at a crime of people that look like you, you’re going to look at it differently. . . I imagine a woman of color meeting people on the worst day of their life has more empathy.”
As for the good fortune she’s found at this stage of her career, Newsome knows it defies all the rules. Luckily, however, she plays by her own. “So many times, people want to talk about more of the future,” she philosophizes. “And I’ve discovered about my career is: as I do the small consistent actions in the present, the future becomes now.”
Spider-Man: No Way Home drops December 17.