You may have seen her on your television screen or perhaps you know her for her stellar performance as Ruby/Thunder Thighs in HBO Hit series, The Deuce working alongside Golden Globe nominee, Maggie Gyllenhaal but Pernell Walker knew she wanted to be an actress since she was in junior high school. Feeling depressed and isolated, she joined a performing arts high school, where she felt at home. She hasn’t stopped performing since she made that decision. The talented, down to earth actress made her first feature film debut as Laura in the award-winning and critically acclaimed film, Pariah. She holds an MFA in acting from The Actors Studio Drama School as well as a BA in Theater from City College. Ms. Walker credits God for allowing her to do what she loves, acting.
When did you realize you wanted to be an actor?
I was a huge tomboy, thick build and I was depressed and shut down emotionally because I hated my experience in junior high school. I wanted a change so I decided to apply to Talented Unlimited High school for theater and acting. I knew I wanted to be an actor after I failed horribly at my first monologue in Mr. Abdul’s class. He had a callback system in which those who excelled got a callback -which meant they got to perform their monologue again after notes, you had to be damn good. So I did not get a callback and looking back, I didn’t deserve one. So the next time around, I rehearsed my monologue at least three hours a day. I was fully focused and prepared and got my call back. I loved every moment of performing my monologues from “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide ” to “Graduation Night” Monologue.
Your first feature role was in the acclaimed film “Pariah “ by Dee Rees. What was the process of becoming Laura ( In terms of casting, studying for the character and anything else that you want to share)
Pariah has been such a blessing in my life. It was my first film booking after coming out of graduate school. I read the notice and felt that the part of Laura spoke to me – Dee Rees described her as: grounded, knows who she is, been through a lot and wise beyond her years.
Half of my work was done because of Dee’s great writing. I also had to find the similarities between Laura and I. Then, specific character work. This means researching the world and existence of these characters. As part of character exercise, the actors went to a gay club in character to study the environments, seeing the non-conforming ways femininity and masculinity is expressed in an all women/ hip-hop party environment. Then we went to a straight/cis setting documenting people’s reactions to us and we felt ostracized.
Laura had a rough life, dropping out of high school, being kicked out of her mom’s house and also has an estranged relationship with her mom. Her aggressive hip-hop player persona was her way of covering up her vulnerability. I had to make sure the heart of the character and where her pain exists for her was real and the stakes were high. I did not and would not dare do a caricature. I wanted to play a full person with all of her humanity.
You bring a certain “Je ne sais quoi.” Well, let’s say you bring so much magic to the characters that you play, how do you go about selecting these projects?
Thank you for your kind words about my work. I am grateful to consistently bring characters to life. I feel projects/characters select me. Whatever that I may need to work on in my life or issues I need to deal with, a role will come along dealing with similar circumstances.
How do you stay motivated, inspired and aligned as a creative?
I stay motivated, inspired, and aligned as a creative via self-care, doing things that bring me joy. I love meditation, being around nature- the beach and hilarious Facebook posts, I love to laugh. Also, if I feel I can’t grow from a project or there is no new terrain to explore, I will pass. I love the challenge of character exploration.
What projects are you currently working on?
Currently filming for a show on CBS All ACCESS called $1. Also, my two episodes of DietLand recently aired on AMC. I was apart of the Jennifer vigilantes- I play Tiana. It’s a brilliant and powerful show that highlight many injustices women face.
Your favorite TV show or TV character and why?
I don’t have favorites, I just know great work. Great work is something I can watch a million times and still find something new. It’s all about quality storytelling for me.
If there’s one thing you would like to change in this industry, what will it be?
Funding for new playwrights of color. Many new playwrights of color don’t get adequate support for their first production unless they are paired with an established theater or school. The world is in need of great writing from many diverse voices and they need to be supported. Stacey Rose is a wonderful playwright who will be taking on the daunting task of self-producing her play, “The Danger” this fall via crowdfunding. I worked on this play via workshops and it is a masterpiece. This play deals with the many dangers/threats young black men face in America. Instead of waiting for a theater to produce, she will produce her own work which is amazing. Theaters need the funding to support actors and playwrights. We need great storytelling to continue.
Which role did you find most challenging? Which role did you enjoy the most?
Each role has its own demands and I don’t want to choose a favorite. They are each unique and special to me. Oh my gosh, its like choosing which child is a favorite (laughs).
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Featured Image: Paul Schiraldi/HBO