For eight years, Tracee Ellis Ross lit up the television screen as Joan Clayton on Girlfriends. The role earned her a slew of awards, including two NAACP Awards for Outstanding Actress in a Comedy Series. Now, Ross, 37, is ready to take center stage again. Earlier this year she fulfilled a dream of performing on stage in New York in Love, Loss, and What I Wore, a play by Nora and Delia Ephron. In a series of vignettes about purses, bathrobes, bras, and even mothers, Ross had the opportunity to let her comedic timing and wit shine. The theater community, as well as the Ephrons, took notice of Ross's abilities and she's slated to be a part of the opening cast in the Los Angeles production.
It's not surprising that Ross would be a natural on stage. Not only did she graduate from Brown University with a degree in theater, she is also the daughter of the legendary singer and actress Diana Ross.
We caught up with Ross to chat about her mother, her thoughts on Betty White's Saturday Night Live performance, and her five or six dream projects.
Out: This is your second time around in Love, Loss, and What I Wore. What are you feeling?
Tracee Ellis Ross: This honestly is a fantastic cast. I'm madly in love with Rita [Wilson] and Natasha [Lyonne]. I mean, I'm madly in love with everybody. It's great. You just have to come see it.
Why did you want to do this show again?
I love theater, and I love being on stage. I was on Girlfriends for eight years, and it was one of the most amazing experiences of my life and career. I loved the woman I played, but I was the same person for eight years. I'm an actor and part of the fun of being an actor is you get to be different people. I did theater all through college, and I've always loved the stage. I grew up around the stage because of my mom. The ideal thing about this play is that it's a short run. It just works with an actor's schedule because you get to come in for a month and have the most delicious and hardcore experience and then move on to something else. The fact that it's a series of monologues where I get to play many different people is so fun.
What about the clothing aspect of it?
Clearly, fashion, clothing, and style has always been a huge part of my life, so you add that layer in, and I'm like a pig in shit here!
One of your dreams is to have your own one-woman show. What would that show be like?
I'll leave that to the mystery of letting it reveal itself. The more I say it out loud, the more it makes me want to do it. It's a process and a journey. It's getting there.
Would you sing in it?
I hope so. I love musical theater. Glee is like my favorite show on the planet!
You've done modeling. You've done TV, movies, and now the stage. What's your favorite?
I love them all. That's part of the joy of the career. I'll never give up any of it. I feel like I'm a woman with many layers.
Carol Burnett and Lucille Ball are two of your idols. What did you think of Betty White on Saturday Night Live?
OMFG. No, OMFFFFFG! That was one of the best episodes they've had in forever. I almost pissed my pants that it was the all-star cast. Betty White was just second to none. She's the most wonderful thing. She's 88! I hope to God that I'm anywhere close to her at 88. Then, with the all-star cast, I just couldn't take it! Mya (Rudolph) coming back! She just kills me. That 'My Muffin' (skit), I thought I was going to die.
Would you like to do SNL?
It has always been my dream. I can think of nothing better.
Should people start a Facebook campaign?
Please. I wouldn't even begin to think that I could do anything like Betty White, but it would be my joy given the chance.
Another thing you've always wanted to do was portray Lena Horne in her life story.
Yes, it was my dream to play Lena Horne. I have all these dreams. Get on stage in New York. Get on Saturday Night Live. And play Lena Horne.
A lot of gay men love you.
I love gay men. I mean, what's not to love?
But maybe it's because they just want to hang out in your closet.
I understand. I do. And tell them they cannot. It's a sacred space! It's invitation only!
What is this closet like?
My closet is not so big. It's not some sweeping, never-ending closet. But the truth is, there is clothing hidden all over my house. There's an archived closet downstairs that holds a lot of my mother's old stuff. I made a rule in college that no clothing of my mother's was to leave the house unless it was run by me first.
Do you have a sign out sheet?
No, but I had issues with the fact that my mom doesn't think things are important. She would just give them to aunts and uncles or whomever, and I was like, 'What are you doing? No! No! That's an original Norma Kamali!'
One of your favorite piece of clothing of your mother's is the white mink coat she wore to open her concerts in 1979. What else do you love?
There's so many, my God. I mean, it's not even funny. I made a top 5 list of my favorite things in the world -- and I will not give you that list -- but I will tell you that number 2 on that list is trying on pretty clothes. That started when I was a little girl. I still do it. My mom thinks I'm nuts, but in the best possible way. She knows how much I love her gowns. Every now and then I go to the storage unit -- because everything is archived -- and I just try on the old gowns.
Wait ' what do you mean everything is archived? How?
We know everything that is there and properly put away with a little picture on the box. I take things out of the box and try them on and take pictures of myself.
What is the best piece of advice your mother ever gave you?
Trust myself and have fun. She's such a good mom.
When you're at the gym or walking down the street, do you have Diana Ross on your iPod?
There is Diana Ross on my iPod. Every now and then I do get a little Diana Ross craving. I have some favorite Diana Ross songs. It's so weird saying Diana Ross. It's so ridiculous! [Laughs.]
What are your favorite songs?
I love 'Confide in Me.' I love that The Land Before Time song ('If We Hold On Together'). It's interesting because it's so much a part of my life. It's almost like the fabric I walk on as opposed to music.
Have you had overcome any obstacles over the years?
Of course! I'm a human being.
As a little girl would you say you were shy?
Oh! Very much so. I was very shy growing up. My shyness manifested as a big personality, as opposed to the wallflower personality. It's been a journey getting comfortable in my skin. I've worked on trying to find the authentic balance between the bravado of my personality that was sort of a defense and the truth within my bigness.
What is the truth?
I don't know. I'm a pretty joyful person.
Well, your middle name is Joy.
Yeah. I don't use the name anymore, I asked my mom, 'Are you mad that I dropped my name?' She was like, 'No, but I did give it to you for a reason.' She said it's OK, though, because I have embodied it, which I thought was so cute.
People probably feel like they know you, but what are you like when you're not in the public eye?
First of all, people don't know. I wish people would come and see the play. I was on the show [Girlfriends] for eight years, so a lot of people know me as Joan from Girlfriends, and they think that's who I am. I am similar to that character. She was a piece of me. But, when you see me on stage, it's different. You see different sides of me.
Besides the one-woman show, what else would you love to do?
I'd love to be on Glee. Wouldn't that be amazing? That's the campaign!
Another Facebook campaign or do you want petitions?
Yes! Start some petitions! We got the Lena Horne story. We got Saturday Night Live and we've got Glee. What else can we come up with?
That's a lot already.
Then let's keep talking because I'm sure we can find more!
OK, but let's find out what you do when you're not working.
I have amazing friends who I love to hang out. One of my favorite things to do is lay on my bed and chat on the phone. When I was on Girlfriends I never had time to do that. I'm really close to my family. I love my family, and we love hanging out together. We laugh when we're all together.
Your mother is on tour again. Are you going to see her?
Of course I am.
You'll love it. The show is all new and hot.
That's so funny. I saw the rehearsals. I'm on the inside. Don't forget! I know more than you, and you know a lot! [Laughs] She's amazing, and she's having so much fun.
There's a dog barking in the background? Is it yours?
Her name is Ladybug. We are like two peas in a pod. We've been playing all morning. She's a Lhasa Apso. I love my dog. She's the love of my life.
Speaking of love ' are you looking for it?
[Starts belting out the song 'Looking for Love' and laughs.] I'll let love look for me!
Besides Glee, what do you watch?
Damages. 30 Rock. I love all the HBO Shows. True Blood. Entourage. I still miss Sex and the City and cannot wait until the movie.
Don't you think you should be a nice addition to the cast?
Here we go! That's number 4! Or is that number 5?
After all you've done so far, what are you the most proud of?
Oh, that's interesting. I'm incredibly proud of my work on Girlfriends. Not just my work. I'm incredibly proud of that show.
Do you still keep in touch with the cast?
Clearly you can't see each other as much as when we were working together, but we do stay in touch very much so. Oh, the other campaign you need to put in is for the Girlfriends movie! So, that's number 6, I think!
Love, Loss, and What I Wore plays at the Audrey Skirball Kenis Theater at the Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Westwood. 8 P.M. Tuesdays through Fridays, 3 P.M. and 8 P.M. Saturdays, 2 P.M. and 7 P.M. Sundays. Ends July 4. $69-$74. (310) 208-5454 or GeffenPlayhouse.com.
To learn more about Tracee Ellis Ross, visit TraceeEllisRoss.com