A conversation with veteran actress Yolanda Ross


By Charles Hallman
Staff writer


Third in a multi-part series


Fontayne (Yolonda Ross) in a scene from John Sayles’ GO FOR SISTERS. (Photo by John Castillo)
Fontayne (Yolonda Ross) in a scene from John Sayles’ Go For Sisters.
(Photo by John Castillo)

Yolanda Ross made her lead screen debut in Stranger Inside, a 2001 HBO feature film that premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. She made her stage debut seven years later as a member of New York’s Labyrinth Theater Company. Since then, the actress have appeared in a dozen films, and her television roles that has reached double figures as well, including five episodes of HBO’s Treme.

She also had a couple of roles specifically written for her, such as a part in David Mamet’s The Unit.

“I was shocked, thrilled, and thankful — I was really amazed,” said Ross in a recent MSR phone interview. “Knowing who he is and his body of work as a writer and director, it’s amazing that he wrote something for me. And then [he] wrote another part for me [in the Phil Spector biopic on HBO].”

Ross also has appeared in The Antwone Fisher Story and Yelling to the Sky among others, and currently co-stars in Go For Sisters, which premiered in November.

“Making people feel something” is her top priority as an actress, continued Ross. She cites her Fontayne character in Go For Sisters: “The things I focused on her dealing with regret [her character is an ex-offender], her dealing with leaving the past behind and moving forward, which I think we all can relate to. That is what I did.”

“Bringing to life characters that sometimes people don’t want to look at in their everyday lives,” continues Ross, “but making them feel something through [seeing her perform], giving the viewer an understanding of others and being able to control that as a writer, I think is super important.”

Her role as Treasure Lee in Stranger Inside earned her a couple of awards, including an IFP Gotham Award.

“My brand is quality,” states the actress, who is also a jazz and R&B singer, “so when people see me, they know it is not going to be some regular-type of thing or stereotypical.”

As much as she loves acting, Ross says she found her first writing and directing effort, the 2012 short Breaking Night maybe even more satisfying. “By writing and directing you are controlling the story,” she explains. “It’s the point of view you want to see. You don’t have that same [ability] in acting.”

Although she didn’t get the part she originally read for, director John Sayles still cast Ross in Go For Sisters. “You are thankful that people are paying attention to your work,” adds Ross. “If I keep having people like John Sayles and David Mamet write things for me, and people call me for things that I find to be quality work that is what I am going to do. All I can do is continue to do what I do.”

Finally as the New Year approaches, Ross says, “I have things in the pipeline but I know that it is going to take a minute.” This includes a feature film project she’s currently working on. “My Breaking Night short is doing festivals” and will be shown on VH-1 Classic as well.

“I don’t even have TV so I have to watch it as someone’s house,” concludes Ross.


Next: A conversation with Ross and Go For Sisters co-star LisaGay Hamilton on the state of acting today for Black actresses


Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to challman@spokesman-recorder.com