When Felicia Pearson joined HBO’s The Wire in the show’s third season, she became an immediate standout among the already established cast—an incredible feat especially since she had no prior acting experience.
The Wire’s gritty, realistic subject matter was familiar territory for Pearson, whose real life growing up on the streets of Baltimore, in many ways, mirrored her character Snoop’s (her actual nickname). Now, the diminutive Maryland native is back onscreen in another kind of urban realism via her role as Dania in Spike Lee’s controversial film Chi-Raq, which draws some parallels to The Wire in that it addresses the violence and other social ills that plague America’s inner cities.
SoulTrain.com spoke with Pearson about her career, working with Spike Lee again, the LGBT entertainment community, and her upcoming reality show.
SoulTrain.com: You were introduced to the world by actor and fellow alum from The Wire, Michael K. Williams, and you credit him a lot with helping you navigate your way in the entertainment industry. What’s the most valuable thing you’ve learned from him as you continue to move forward with your acting career?
Felicia Pearson: Determination. I’m determined to be great just like him. He’s wonderful.
SoulTrain.com: How did you meet him?
Felicia Pearson: I met Michael K. Williams in a club in Baltimore. He was looking at me real crazy in that club and then he came up to me and said, “Are you a girl or a boy?” I said, “I don’t get down like that.” He said, “No, no, no, it’s not like that. I think you should come to the set of The Wire. I just want you to meet me on the set.” I met him on the set, which was actually only three blocks away from my grandmother’s house where I was living at the time. I walked to the set and met the writers and producers and they asked me to just speak. I did and they were like, “Oh yeah, we need her.” They didn’t even have a role for me. They just wrote me in.
SoulTrain.com: You’ve mentioned how you’ve begun to take acting very seriously and that you want to stretch as an actress. You’ve even taken some diction and speech classes and worked with an acting coach. Talk about this approach to your career.
Felicia Pearson: When I was going through a deep depression as far as my career goes, Michael K. Williams called me and said, “Listen, you gotta get outta [playing] the thug characters. Everybody knows you can play a gangster. Are you willing or do you want to put on some women’s clothing? Because you gotta show people that you’re versatile.” I said, “I don’t know about all that!” He beat me over the head with that for about a week and then, my [foster] mother passed away, so I just forgot everything else and I took him up on his offer.
SoulTrain.com: What was the first step towards show your acting versatility?
Felicia Pearson: Michael told me to come to New York to do a photo shoot. I wound up moving to New York and then a year and a half in, Spike Lee was looking for me. Michael was at an event that Spike Lee was throwing and Spike asked him, “Where is Felicia? Is she home yet?” (She mentions she “got in trouble.”) Mike told him I was living in New York and he told him to call me and tell me to get to that event right then. I was on my way to a different event but then I saw that Spike Lee was calling me. I got to his event and he told me he wanted me to audition for a role. I just looked at him because I was just so surprised and honored to meet him. He then said, “It’s not a gangster role—I want you to play a prostitute.” I got the script [it was for his movie Da Sweet Blood of Jesus] and I told him, “Nah, Spike—I can’t, man.” So Spike and Michael and a few other people whose advice I take talked to me and convinced me. But like Michael said, I had to start showing my versatility. Da Sweet Blood of Jesus was a major film. I did my thing.
SoulTrain.com: Although The Wire was a drama, you and other cast members provided quite a few comedic moments; after the show ended, you showed a little more of your funny bone in a hilarious Funny or Die skit. Is a sitcom role something you’d consider?
Felicia Pearson: I forgot all about that skit! [laughs] But I’d love to do a comedy—that and a horror film. Like I said, I’ve already done the gangsta stuff. But with Stephen King saying I was the scariest [female] villain on TV? Man, I’d love to play in one of his movies.
SoulTrain.com: Your 2007 memoir, Grace After Midnight, is still receiving critical acclaim. Are there any plans for adaptation of it to the big screen?
Felicia Pearson: I’m actually writing the screenplay for that right now. And for everyone that loved the book, I’m writing part two of it, so be on the lookout for that.
SoulTrain.com: You appeared in VH1’s LHH: Out in Hip Hop, where one area of the special discussed LGBT images in media. When it comes to television roles, there has been an upswing in coverage about the black LGBT community in particular, specifically, that in many instances, some of the characters or storylines seem trendy or bandwagon in nature. What are your thoughts?
Felicia Pearson: It’s 2015! Once I hit the screen, people saw that I was actually gay and that it’s not a façade. But I just tell everybody if you’re gay or whatever your sexuality is, as long as your talent speaks for itself, they can’t deny it. They’re gonna have to love it.
SoulTrain.com: Getting even more specific, is the industry landscape tougher or more challenging for roles for black gay women on television?
Felicia Pearson: [There are] a lot of gay [women] out here doing their thing. They probably don’t have the right publicist or whatever to help their brand out and promote them more, but as far as rapping and acting, I do see a lot of gay females coming up. And I come across a few of them sometimes and they ask me for advice and I give it to them to the best of my ability. We just gotta push more. But in Out in Hip Hop, they cut my part out of what they aired; they were so focused on the men that they only had one little segment for the women. I think we need an Out in Hip Hop for the girls.
SoulTrain.com: You’re now working again with Spike Lee in his upcoming, much talked about film, Chi-Raq. What was it like working with him this time around?
Felicia Pearson: This experience doing this film with Spike was totally amazing. We had a star-studded cast with Samuel [L. Jackson], Wesley [Snipes], and a few other people who’ve been in the industry as long as he. They are such good friends that it was just so amazing to be on set with those legends. Spike Lee—you know—he always does movies that always have messages in them. Probably, sometimes, people have a problem with how he delivers it but at the end of it, you’ll see why “this” or “that” happened. Chi-Raq is just a powerful movie and that’s why he got so many legendary people to be in it so he can grab the audience’s attention.
SoulTrain.com: As you are aware, there is lots of media spotlight on Chi-Raq—some good, some not so good—with many Chicagoans particularly being reluctant to embrace the film and in some cases, Spike Lee himself. How would you address this scrutiny?
Felicia Pearson: They just have a problem with the title. A lot of people are mad about that. What they were thinking is that because of that trailer that he put out for it that had a little humor in it that he was shining light on the negativity thing and also trying to make fun of the crime that’s going on out here. But the movie was based on a Greek play [Aristophanes’ Lysistrata] and Spike put his spin on it. But I would say to the young and older people out here: Give Spike a chance because it’s a real powerful message in the movie. It’s not shining a light on Chicago in a bad or negative way. Give him a chance—I promise you—you’re gonna love it.
SoulTrain.com: Would you work with Spike Lee again? As you know, he is known for re-using actors like Denzel Washington, Bill Nunn, Wesley Snipes, etc. in his films. Is this something you’d look forward to?
Felicia Pearson: That would be cool. As long as he doesn’t want me to play no more prostitutes…
SoulTrain.com: What’s next for you? Is it true that you have a reality show in the works?
Felicia Pearson: My reality show is based on me and my fiancée. She was straight until she met me. [laughs] It’s about our trials and tribulations of us getting to know each other and then show that we’re just regular people. It’s hilarious at times. It’s gonna be amazing. I don’t wanna give too much away but I think I can say she’s gonna take my seed and put it in her because I’m not doing none of that! But I do wanna see what a “Lil’ Felicia” would look like, though!
Chi-Raq is in theaters December 4; for more information, visit the film’s website.
LaShawn Williams is a freelance writer and editor from Chicago, Illinois. She is an arts and entertainment enthusiast who has a serious thing for stand-up comedy, music and dance. Follow her on Twitter: @MsWilliamsWorld.