In Ava DuVernay’s acclaimed drama Middle of Nowhere, Emayatzy Corinealdi plays Ruby, a woman whose life is thrown into chaos when her husband is sent to prison. Corinealdi recently spoke with S&A at Urbanworld Film Festival about her role in the film, and gave a glimpse of where she’s headed next.
S&A: This is a dramatic film with a complicated character at the center of it. How did you go about preparing for the role?
EC: It first came from my own experiences, one of those times when I felt like a love that I had was lost. So first I explored that, and then I also spoke to people that I knew had experienced having their boyfriends or husbands incarcerated, and then other experiences of women in my life that I knew outside of incarceration who had their own experiences of losing a loved one or feeling lost with love. I took all of that together and used it to create Ruby.
S&A: What did you learn from speaking with all those women? Was there anything that surprised you?
EC: The thing that I found so interesting was the shame, guilt, and frustration – the things that those women feel. There’s so much judgment that is sometimes placed on them, because everyone is wondering why. With Ruby, it’s easy for people to look at the outside and say, ‘She has everything going for her. She’s educated, she’s in school. Why is she waiting for this man?’ But I feel like this film was really a commentary on the lengths that your love will go to, the things that you will do when you really love someone, and the revelations that it will also bring. Just the judgment that comes with it, when you really don’t know someone’s story, is what I found to be so interesting. [In the film] her mom and even her sister, everyone, looks at her like,‘What are you doing?’ But she has her own reasons, and those reasons were the things that excited me.
S&A: So often when we see a black actress in such a strong role we hope it will become their breakthrough role, the thing that helps make their career and give them staying power. We know that you’ve changed representation since Middle of Nowhere. Have you also experienced a change in the kinds of roles that are coming your way?
EC: I have seen a change. Just with a change in representation came a change in the kinds of projects that I was being offered to audition for. So I’m really hopeful and excited, and I feel that there are lots of roles out there that are up for grabs that are the kinds of roles I’d like to continue doing, like Ruby. This is the kind of work I’ve always wanted to do. I’m aware that everything won’t be like this, but I also don’t want to stray too far from the thing that has always excited me.
S&A: The word that comes to mind is “complex,” that Ruby is a complex character that’s not one-dimensional. So you’ve seen that quality in some of the projects you’ve been offered?
EC: Yes, there have been a few that have come where I’ve said, ‘Wow, these are great roles for black women.” As Ava’s said, I feel like there is a change happening. There is a movement that’s coming and I believe that more and more great roles and opportunities are beginning to show themselves.
S&A: Oftentimes when you talk about working with Ava, you’ve refer to her as a “giving director.” Tell me what you mean by that.
EC: She has a very clear vision of what she wants and how to get it, and when someone is clear and direct like that, sometimes it’s hard for them to be open to someone else’s ideas or suggestions. But in Ava’s case, it’s not like that. She’s completely open and willing to hear someone else’s perspective on something that she may have already had her vision of. She’s open to change. I believe that’s the one thing that makes great art – when you have a plan, but you’re still willing to go left, up, down – and that’s how Ava works. So for me, I hope every experience is like this. I’ve been told that it won’t be, but I’d like to hope that it can be.
S&A: This is a drama that builds slowly, where the characters face a lot of inner conflict. When you think of the kinds of films you’re interested in doing next, would you like to explore this genre more, or what other kinds of roles are you interested in playing?
EC: I definitely want to experiment here. I just love drama. I love the idea of exploring relationships, whatever they may be. That’s fun for me. But also, action. I’m a tomboy at the end of the day, so anything that causes me to have to run around, fight people, roll in the dirt, hop a fence – I’m all for it. So I really would love to do an action film.
S&A: What can we see you in next?
EC: There’s a couple of projects that are happening now, that are still being finalized. I will say that I’m very excited.
Middle of Nowhere comes to theaters on October 12.