One of the most underrated, yet one of the greatest black American actresses of all time is Lynn Whitfield (pictured).
Her illustrious career in film has an allure about it that is quite intriguing. Whitfield, 63, comes from a well-to-do family and is a third-generation BFA graduate from Howard University. She’s won an Emmy Award and was also nominated for a Golden Globe. Whitfield is a cultured woman of black and native descent and she’s very versatile in her movie roles. In a recent interview with Black Enterprise Magazine, Whitfield talked about her experiences as one of the few A-list black actresses who have successfully maintained relevance and longevity.
“If my characters are not complicated, I make them complicated,” Whitfield told Gwendolyn Quinn, a Black Enterprise correspondent. “Complex people are far more interesting to play,” she continued.
Whitfield has played her fair share of complex personalities. She starred as the legendary Josephine Baker in the 1991 HBO biopic The Josephine Baker Story. In this role (which she won her Emmy for), Whitfield showed her creative versatility and the depth of her work ethic in full force.
In the biopic, Whitfield played Baker from the time she was 18 to 68-years-old. The film makers didn’t even need a separate actress to play an older Baker. Whitfield had it in her to play a multi-generational role masterfully. Whitfield is still very relevant due to the role she plays on Greenleaf, the critically acclaimed original drama series produced by Oprah Winfrey’s OWN TV .
Winfrey, 63, personally chose Whitfield for Lady Mae Greenleaf ‘s role on the popular cable television show, which is now available on Netflix. “Winfrey recalled that when she read the script, she heard Whitfield’s voice and, at the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival, said that Whitfield was the only person she thought of for the role,” Quinn wrote in her Black Enterprise column.
Winfrey has worked with Whitfield in the past extensively. She made a contribution in a starring role on Winfrey’s ABC miniseries The Wedding, which was based on the novel by Dorothy West. It took Whitfield some time to get adjusted to the role of Lady Mae Greenleaf, however. In her interview with Black Enterprise, Whitfield discussed the adjustment process she went through to learn the Greenleaf role.
“Lady Mae was described in the original script as the stern matriarch of the Greenleaf family. I was like, wait a minute; I don’t know, who is that? I don’t recognize her. We just started building this woman,” Whitfield said.
You can catch Whitfield starring in Greenleaf on OWN at 8/7 EST every Wednesday.