Prior to her acting debut in 1996’s Set It Off, Kimberly Elise arrived in L.A. as a writer/director. At that time, thanks to a short film she helmed, Elise was admitted to the Graduate Director’s Program at The American Film Institute. “I made 3 films and had the most educational year of my life up to that point,” says the four time NAACP Award winner, who switched gears to full-time actress after she was offered the role of a single mom set to execute a bank robbery alongside three other women in F. Gary Gray’s action crime thriller.
The talented beauty went on to star in several prominent roles in films such as John Q, Woman Thou Art Loosed, Diary of A Mad Black Woman, The Manchurian Candidate, The Great Debaters, For Colored Girls and a string of acclaimed TV roles in movies and shows.
In her 16-year career, Elise has shown great dramatic arc in intensely emotive roles. For her latest turn on the big screen, Elise connected with Ghanaian filmmaker Leila Djansi for her second feature film Ties That Bind. In Ties, Elise plays Theresa, a marriage counselor who forms a bond with three other women grieving a loss of a child in some form, including her own. “I loved the premise and I also love the idea of working with Leila Djansi, a talented woman of color who was charting her own course and making her own movies her own way,” says Elise regarding her motivations to join the project, set in Ghana.
Elise, who describes herself as creatively driven, didn’t want to lose the opportunity to work in her Motherland, and would love the chance to work with other African filmmakers, “I love Africa tremendously, the people, the cultures, the depth of the whole continent – to be able to be a part of African storytelling is a gift and an honor. And there are some great directors from there contributing beautiful work – I'm a great fan of Darrell Roodt and would love to make a film with him,” says Elise, further stating that she definitely plans to work with director Djansi once again.
In one the few projects in her horizon, Highland Park, Elise got the opportunity to play a lighter comedic role. Highland, helmed by Andrew Meiran, centers on a school faculty lotto pool taking their chances with their regular lucky numbers after hearing of budget cuts and lay-offs. “I read the script and loved it so I came on board. It's funny and dramatic not to mention an amazingly talented ensemble,” says Elise of the dramedy, which co-stars Danny Glover and Naturi Naughton.
While a release date for Highland Park hasn’t been set as of yet, it was recently announced that the VH1’s scripted series Bounce, about the world of professional sports dancers, in which Elise stars, has been picked up by the network. “It's a music, dance, drama show that goes into the world and lives of professional sports dancers and all the characters in this controversial industry to explore relationships, competition, aspirations, dreams, secrets,” says Elise of the series, written by James LaRosa and directed by Sanaa Hamri.
In Bounce, Elise plays one of leads named Sloane, an ex-dancer who left industry for undisclosed reasons; 20 years later, she discovers that her daughter, also a gifted dancer, is now part of this industry. “This leads to a Pandora's box opening full of a lot of drama both from the past and the present,” says Elise, who says she was “hooked” after reading the script, “I was so hooked into my character and the plot James created in this intriguing facet of the sports world combined with the fact that I have extraordinary respect and trust in Sanaa that I agreed to join in.”
First revelations about the show’s synopsis paved the way to comparisons to current reality shows like Basketball Wives; however, the scripted Bounce is altogether distinctively compelling and creative, “I was really looking for something out of the box and different for myself allowing me to utilize some of my other creative dimensions,” says the actress, who adds that she’s “beyond excited” to get started on the project, “I love that VH1 is going back to it's musical roots as music and dance will be major components of the show and we have the best dancers in the country showcasing their talents but with our talented cast of actors the drama (and some comedy) and compelling storytelling will be the heart.”
VH1’s Bounce is not the only project Elise is currently excited about. In the past month, we also announced her involvement in the UK-produced thriller Event 15, directed by Matthew Thompson. The psychological thriller, also starring Jennifer Morrison, James Frain and Josh Stewart, centers on three soldiers who get trapped in an elevator when terrorists set off a dirty bomb. “As it goes with these types of films the less told the better for the audience. Suffice it to say, it's a piece that was sent to me I read it, couldn't put it down and immediately agreed to join the cast. It's a very interesting piece and again, it was something that allowed me to go in some other directions,” says Elise, who can’t provide further details on the project at this time.
And although she continues her successful foray in acting, and while we eagerly anticipate her upcoming roles, Elise may soon find herself behind the scenes again, “To my alma mater's [AFI] pleasure I'm sure, the writer/director in me is very, very anxious to take the wheel again so stay tuned!”