It seems Nicole Beharie doesn’t believe in baby steps. The actress skipped her graduation from Julliard to appear in her first film, “The Express,” and is making her featured role debut as the lead character in “American Violet,” now in theaters. In the film, which is based on a true story, she plays Dee Roberts, a single mother of four wrongly jailed and charged in a drug bust. ESSENCE.com caught up with Beharie to discuss the film.
ESSENCE.COM: Congratulations on your first major film role. What about it caught your interest?
BEHARIE: I was drawn to this story immediately. I didn’t think they would take a risk on me as someone new for lead at first, so I would have been happy playing any smaller part. I was raised by a single mom, and I lived in South Carolina while I was growing up and saw the separation of Blacks and Whites in small towns, so all those experiences helped me. And once the producers started talking to me about the statistics and the real woman I was playing, I really felt the impact of this story, on top of the opportunity to provide positive imagery for young Black woman. We all fell in love with this story.
ESSENCE.COM: What were your best memories from shooting and seeing the finished project?
BEHARIE: It’s funny because I filmed this in 2007 and I watch myself now and see things that work and didn’t work (laughs). I was just out of Julliard and working with amazing people. The cast was really made me comfortable. Alfre is a class act. Two weeks into shooting I met Regina Kelly, who my character is based on. I was nervous about how she felt about what I was doing, and seeing her gave me confidence to keep pushing. My first time seeing the film was at a film festival. I just didn’t know how I would take seeing myself. Regina saw me heading to the back and calls me over to sit next to her. I didn’t feel comfortable at first, but, in the end, it was one of my most powerful moments in my life. This is her story and watching her relive it and feel good about the way it came out made me feel great.
ESSENCE.COM: What’s the message people can take away from seeing the film?
BEHARIE: This woman was able to stand up when she had everything against her. She managed to be a girl who was alone, raising her four kids and falsely accused, imprisoned and lost everything. And now she has a film about her. She went from waiting tables to talking to the ACLU. Seeing how someone can change when they have so much to lose and so little period is huge. We should be able to take something from that.
American Violet opens in theaters today.