“There’s so much that may go into who get’s the job, that sometimes it has nothing to do with you being the best actor.”
We had the pleasure to interview Elisa Perry. Elisa can be seen opposite Denzel Washington in Sony Pictures Roman J. Israel, Esq. and in the Netflix special series “Godless” which has been named one of the 10 Best New series of 2017. She has a small role in Ready Player One by director Steven Spielberg and a role opposite Brad Pitt in Ad Astra for director James Gray.
Elisa studied at the prestigious Lee Strasbrug Theatre and Film Institute in New York and later spent several years performing on stage as well as appearing in several independent films and television commercials. Elisa even lent her talents to the world of comedy for a time, performing stand up to US troops in Kuwait, Iraq, and Kosovo. But acting remains Elisa’s true passion and the African soap opera, Her Majesty’s Visit, was her first televised role. Elisa and her best friend Oscar winning actress Viola Davis have appeared in four projects together over the years including episodes of “How to Get Away With Murder.’’
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
My backstory is one of loss and determination. I lost everyone in my immediate family except for my younger sister by age 30. From that, I lived my life preparing for death, and once I beat breast cancer I started planning to live. When you lose your mom at six from breast cancer, and your brother at 28 and father a month later from pulmonary embolisms, I became afraid to hope for anything in the future. I think it spilled over into my acting. There was something in me sub-consciously holding me back, and it was fear. The fear of losing another loved one, or fear of getting breast cancer. Over time, both happened and I overcame them. Once I started living my life without caring that backpack of fear, life opened up for me. Though I still have those moments of the “ball of awful” dropping, at least now I hear it, but I don’t allow it to take over.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your acting career?
Hmm the funniest and most interesting thing that occurred to me in the course of my acting career, would be very recent. I auditioned for two different roles in a movie with Brad Pitt, one had no name, you know one of those roles with one line and no name (many of which I’ve auditioned for), and the other had a name, but would be a personality on a tv that he would be watching in the scene. When I auditioned for the director, (who I love), James Gray, he wanted me to read for both roles, I told him that if I’m only going to be in one scene, then I would like for it to be with Brad (at least I would get to see Brad Pitt all day). James not only cast me in a scene with Brad, but I got to talk and touch him throughout the scene. Now, I didn’t get either role, I ended up with a better one. I got to talk to Brad (yes, I can say Brad now), and in between scenes we talked about everything from my cancer, to the deaths of my family. He said I was inspiring, and I thought, WTH! Your wife was my inspiration for the BRCA test, and you have done so much for the world with your talent, and charity. What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
Well, two of them are have already been released, Godless on Netflix in which I play June Hobbs the matriarch of the family. June will pick up a gun and shoot just as quick as she will pick up her bible. Then there’s Felicity Ellerbee, in Roman J. Israel Esquire. I got to spend a few days, telling Roman (Mr. Denzel Washington) off. Everything that she tells him is coming from the love that she has for her nephew. I’m looking forward to 2018, because there are a few great opportunities in the pipeline.
Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?
Well I spent this year acting with or for some of the most famous men in Hollywood, Denzel Washington, Brad Pitt, Colin Farrell, Steven Spielberg, and Jeff Daniels. I get to interact with Viola Davis all the time because she’s my bff. I plead the fifth on stories of trips to Target and the spa. Then there’s my very funny friend Regina Hall, which I have a bunch of Ethel and Lucy stories to tell. Like the time we got lost hiking and flagged down a pizza delivery guy and jumped in his car, then convinced him to take us to our car.
Which people in history inspire you the most? Why?
Fannie Lou Hamer is one of my most inspirational heroines. She was voting rights activist and leader in the Civil Rights Movement. Though much of her work was in Mississippi it had a tremendous affect on the entire movement. She was beaten, jailed, tortured, but she never gave up. When I think of her determination and strength, it gives me the motivation to keep going. We need an army of Fannie Lou Hamer’s today.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I don’t know if I’m at a point of celebrity success to bring goodness, but I definitely use my commitment as a citizen and human being to bring goodness and change however I can. Ive had the opportunity to work for and with several charities, I’ve worked in underserved communities with youth, and now my focus is prison reform and breast cancer. Being famous helps to bring the attention (not that I am), but its the boots on the ground that will institute the change. It’s a wonderful thing to see so many celebrities doing both. My fiancé’ actor, David Raibon calls me a “actorvist” and I’m fine with that.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started,” and why?
- The first would be, that, you will not work professionally as an actor right away. When I lived in NY I worked all the time, but made very little money. I was always doing a play or an independent film. My first gig was playing the African wife in a public access African soap opera.
- The second, just because your a good actor does not mean you will get the job. There’s so much that may go into who get’s the job, that sometimes it has nothing to do with you being the best actor.
- The third, don’t try to fit into the same box with everyone else. When I first came to LA an agent suggested that I lose the weave and wear a short Afro. I didn’t and spent the next few years trying to look like everyone else.
- The fourth, make the strongest choice in your audition and not the obvious one. It wasn’t until I sat in on a casting that I learned that and the value of it. Also, realizing that each audition would not be my last.
- The fifth would be, define your own idea of what success is for you. It’s easy to get caught up in what success in this business looks like, and sometimes it gets muddy with social media followers, magazine covers, and talk show interviews. I recently lost a dear friend who never left Philly and was the most amazing actor I ever worked with. Most importantly he was successful as an actor. He was always in an amazing play, and he was happy with that.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?
Absolutely, and that person would be Mellody Hobson, she is a successful businesswoman and philanthropist. She is the president of the board for DreamWorks Animation. I saw her Ted Talk and she get’s it! I would love to converse with her.