Danielle Brooks continues to stun audiences with her electrifying performances. But also, no one would expect anything less from the SAG and Grammy Award-winner. Since last year's announcement that the 31-year-old would portray gospel legend Mahalia Jackson in Lifetime's Robin Roberts Presents: Mahalia, we've been eagerly awaiting in anticipation for the film's premiere.
The wait is finally over and let's just say Danielle Brooks owned the moment. Sis deserves all of her flowers. The purpose, the passion, and the gift that uniquely defined Mahalia Jackson, the Tony Award nominee, nailed it with her transformative ability to showcase the many facets of the Queen of Gospel.
She also fueled our souls with her mesmerizing vocals! Not to mention, the parallels between these women as trailblazing forces within their own right are undeniable.
In between the production schedule for her upcoming television series Peacemaker, 21Ninety had a chance to speak with the South Carolina native about what brings her the greatest joy, finding time for self-care, and the most valuable lessons she learned about herself while playing the iconic singer.
Dontaira Terrell: In tackling this role, what would you say playing Mahalia Jackson taught you about yourself?
Danielle Brooks: I think one of the biggest lessons I've learned playing Mahalia Jackson is to continue letting your dreams and gifts make room for you. For the longest, believe it or not, I have been very shy by my singing voice. And that's something that I have to continue to try to push through all the time. If I held on to that fear of sharing myself in that way, there's no way I could play the Queen of Gospel music. So the one thing I will continue to take with me now and live boldly in is to let your gift make room for you and the dreams you have for yourself.
DT: It's so crazy because Mahalia Jackson was such a confident woman and was very sure of herself. But when it was time to perform at Carnegie Hall, she filled her head with so much negative talk. With you being a working actress in Hollywood and a singer in this industry, which is essentially the business of rejection. What advice can you offer to others to move beyond being your own worst critic when things may or may not go your way?
DB: You're right Mahalia Jackson had her fears too. That's what made her human. I've felt the same way multiple times in this industry. I've heard so many no's, and if I would have stopped at the first no or the 18th no, I would not be where I am. I would definitely say, 'Continue to keep thriving and continue to keep pushing anyway,' because someone said to me, 'You always will have a no, but you'll never know if you'll get that yes unless you try.'
Some of us always like to assume that whatever we want is going to be a no, but you never know until you ask, try and put it out there. That's what I will continue to do. Fear is something that will get you, but it's so much greater when you can defeat that beast, so you can just say, 'You know what? I'm not going to let whatever I feel I can't do overtake me.' Continuing to push through that leads to a door of more opportunities that will always be so much fun to live than if you just decided not to try.
DT: Mahalia [Jackson] had a strong trust in God. However, there were a few moments throughout the movie where she had doubts and questioned her faith. Has there ever been a time when your faith was tested? If so, how were you able to overcome it?
DB: I think there were so many moments of Mahalia Jackson being tested in her faith, as you mentioned. There was a lot of stuff, but she had to continue to stand firm on her belief that God would see her through. When it comes to me, I have had this dream to play Mahalia since 2015 and to see it come to light that ain't nobody but God!
I'm so grateful that I get to play her. There's been a lot of moments of not feeling enough, not feeling like I got it, but I'm just grateful to know that my purpose is much greater than my self-doubt and fear. I'm learning that I'm worth it, and I'm worth standing in this moment and being proud to play Mahalia Jackson.
DT: What do you want or hope viewers take away from this film in five words or less?
DB: Hope, faith, joy, remembrance, and resilience.
DT: Aside from Danielle Brooks, the artist, award-winning actress, and executive producer, can you tell us something people wouldn't know about you from a quick Google search?
DB: That's a really good question. I love to collect playbills, and I love pictures. Pictures say a thousand words, and there's so much you can find within a picture.
I'm also very active. I like to do rock climbing and hiking, and I've done a Spartan Race. You can Google that (laughs)! But I love to challenge myself to do things that people wouldn't expect me to do.
DT: I know your schedule is jam-packed. How do you practice self-care when time is hard to find in your day-to-day?
DB: Yes, ma'am! I have been walking obsessively, even when I don't want to walk. I love walking a little over three miles. I think it's also a good way to release endorphins. And it allows you to walk off whatever's been brewing in your mind, so that's been helpful to me. I'm not always good at it, but I try to call at least three times out of the week somebody I haven't talked to in a while just to check in on them. That's always been a healthy thing, and it's a reminder for both parties that you are loved.
DT: Outside of the limelight and your professional accomplishments, what brings you the greatest joy?
DB: My daughter, family, fiancé, and friends. Especially when they're doing well mentally, physically, and spiritually. It's been a very isolating time, and I think being an actor can be very lonely because you travel a lot. You meet this group of people, and then you leave them, and you meet another group of people, and you leave them too. So it can be difficult, but whenever my friends and family are together, and everybody's doing well, that brings me a lot of joy.