Whether it's the successful lawyer Joan Clayton on Girlfriends or Dr. Rainbow Johnson on Black-ish, her characters always share a common thread of being confident, successful, and self-aware women unashamed of the personal empires they've built for themselves. That theme of personal independence rings true again in Ross's latest role as Grace Davis in The High Note.
She plays an internationally adored pop star who fights for her worth within a music industry notorious for displacing female artists once they hit the age of 40. Her real name is Tracee Joy Silberstein. Speaking fluently English and French, she also has some urban Spanish in her repertoire. Extremely close with her mom, she grew up in Los Angeles, went to Dalton in New York, and graduated from Brown University in 1994. In 2015, Brown gave her an honorary doctorate. Via Zoom, we had the opportunity to chat with the actress of the moment
P: Seem you drop your last name
R: I really felt strongly that I wanted my father’s name in my name, because everyone knows I’m my mom’s daughter, but I’m also very much my dad’s daughter. And I wanted him, when my name hit a screen, to know that I was also part of him. And so Tracee Ellis Ross it is. I am a woman, I am a black woman, my dad’s Jewish — all of these different things. But I’m a human first and foremost. And I’m a child of the world. I don’t have an issue with labels.
P: A child of the world should know languages
R: It should be open to other cultures. I am, I do love to learn from other cultures to develop in a personal level. I find enrichment in every book, in every food, in every nuance that is different. If you ask me about Spain, I remember being there, enjoying with my family. Can’t remember where we had it but the tortilla Española is one of my most favorite memories from Spain
P: Do you have a favorite Spanish author
R: I did read years ago La Casa de los Espiritus from Isabel Allende, she is being a big influence in my writing
P: You write, act and now you sing in a movie
R: Yes, is my first time. Of the things that was so interesting to me about this part is that Grace Davis is sort of this larger-than-life woman that allows us to see her insecurities, her vulnerabilities, her fears, her heart. And that in and of itself, I thought, was really identifiable and special. But this idea that she's at a place in her life where she wants to try something different, keep growing, and keep being, and people are telling her, 'No. No one's ever done that before. You're too old. That's not the way this works, and you should just play it safe.' And she stretches beyond that. I felt a personal connection to that, obviously, around the singing and trying something new, that it's never too late, no matter the age, the stage, the phase that you're at in your life, to go after what you want. Singing is something I've always wanted to do. So I was waiting for a script for a movie that felt that special, and this felt that special. And I loved the story of this character and this movie, the message that it's never too late to go for your dreams, that anyone listening to or taking into account other people's opinion of staying in your lane is not worth it," Ross says. "The combination of those things just felt worth me fighting through my fear to try something I've always wanted to do.
P: Why this movie?
R: What was really interesting to me about this story is how universally identifiable it is. I'm not, and most people are not, international icons. So not that part of the story, but the fact that so often we get to this place where we have a dream, a passion, a fire that we want to explore or experience and we either hear the naysayers, the societal pull to stay in your lane, or the personal fear of what it would mean to take a risk and possibly fail. And I really connected to that personally, with the singing. I've always wanted to sing since I was a little girl, and somewhere along the way I hid that part of me away.
P: This movie shows a big star confronted by her assistant… maybe is too close to home
R: One of the things I love so much is that this is a movie about two women and they're not pitted against each other. They're definitely in their roles and in the positions that they're in with each other, but there's a safety between them and they're both fighting against the same thing: the world's idea of who they should be. There's not many female music producers. And Maggie is trying to do something in a world that thinks she should be bringing them coffee. That's the appropriate place for an attractive young girl in the music world, is to be the one that's servicing the people that are at the board. And Grace, we know what her journey is. So I love that dynamic in the movie because the truth is, it so much mirrors and reflects the life that I live and the people that I'm around.
P: People would compare the character with your mother Diana Ross
R: My mom is an international treasure and has had great influence on my life and many people's and has touched us deeply. I think the thing that was really interesting about how this role was written, which was one of the many things that drew me to it, is that so often in our culture we forget that those people that do incredible things, that touch us deeply and have such a big impact on our lives, are real people. That they're human beings with hearts and fears and insecurities. And Grace was so beautifully written in that she wasn't a caricature of that quote-unquote diva.