The Verge: Hope Olaide Wilson

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In Tyler Perry's I Can Do Bad All By Myself, Taraji P. Hinson's character isn't by herself for long. After some prodding from Madea, she takes in her sister's troubled children, including Jennifer, played by newcomer Hope Olaide Wilson. Wilson's own story could teach a Perry heroine a thing or two about overcoming adversity: She grew up between England and Nigeria and sold eggs to help her family stay afloat until a green card lottery gave them all the opportunity to move to the United States. Compounding the culture shock was Wilson's graduation from high school at age 15 and subsequent decision to move to California to pursue acting, but as she told Movieline last week, neither of those events seem as scary as watching herself perform on a 40-foot-high movie screen.

This is your first movie, and it's a big one. Have you gotten to see it yet?

I haven't seen it yet! I've seen clips. There was a screening in LA last week, but I was shooting Cold Case so I wasn't able to attend. I have no idea what to expect, but people who've seen it say they love it, so I'm hoping for the best.

So you'll be seeing it for the first time at the premiere?

And I am terrified of watching myself! I think I'll sit on the edge of the aisle and be ready to run to the exit. I'm not sure if I'm quite ready for that.

Can you tell me about your first meeting with Tyler Perry? You're so tiny -- he must have towered over you!

Yeah, he did! [Laughs] I wasn't expecting him to be so tall. The first day I was so excited and then he walked in, and it kind of threw me off -- I was sort of speechless for a moment. Then he broke the ice and said, "Hey, we're all here, we're going to have fun and play around and see what we can do together." He's really easygoing, so he made us all relaxed.

I've always wondered this: On the days when Tyler's playing Madea, does he have to give direction to the actors while he's still wearing that wig and costume?

Oh yeah. [Laughs] It's really, really funny, and everybody has a good time on those days. He's the most miserable one because it's basically this hideous ensemble, really heavy and hot. He's, like, giving orders and everyone's like, "Uh huh," and poking fun at him. It's really strange because he'll speak normally, then he'll go back and forth in this crazy outfit, and obviously, he's a giant in heels and a skirt.

I can get a sense of Taraji's character arc by watching the trailer, but what does your character go through?

Jennifer's had a difficult life, and she hasn't really had any role models she can count on and trust. Her mom was a drug addict and died of an overdose, so she's had to fend for herself and take on the role of raising her two little brothers. We get caught breaking into Madea's house to steal some things, and Madea decides to take us to our Aunt April, who's Taraji's character. Jennifer's really guarded and she comes off very angry all the time, but she's coming from this place where she has a lack of trust in the adults around her. Most of the people in her life have either exploited or taken advantage of her, and she has this sense that if she falls, no one's going to catch her. Ultimately, the common journey she shares with Taraji's character is learning how to assess love and feel worthy of love.

But unlike Taraji's character, she doesn't get to hang out with some hunky handyman who shaves his beard and gets a makeover, right?

[Laughs] No, she doesn't get one of those. I got to work with some very handsome actors, but Jennifer doesn't have a love interest.

Did the filming of the movie coincide with Taraji getting her Oscar nomination?

It was immediately after. I can say that it blew my mind -- I couldn't believe that it was going to be my first feature film and I'd get to work with an Academy Award-nominated actress. It was a great experience. Taraji's the life of the party, I think that's the best way to define her. She walks into the room and she's ready to have a good time and have fun. I don't think she takes herself too seriously, and I think that's an admirable trait. Whether she's on set or we're in the makeup room, she brings a lot of energy.

You had a pretty tumultuous childhood, what with skipping grades in school and moving to America.

I won't pretend that it was easy. High school and middle school was difficult because I was really, really young, and there was some culture shock. It was hard, because you don't want to lose your identity. There's this idea that if you don't meet people's preconceived notions of what you should be, then they just don't know what to do with that, you know? Me being Nigerian, I moved to America and didn't really know that much about African American culture, or at least what was cool and what wasn't. I'd grown up between England and Nigeria, and suddenly I had to find my place, which was a little hard to do. But I've been here for a while now, and over time I've been able to adjust and work things out.

When you talk about fitting this preconceived notion people have of you, it sounds like you could be talking about either high school or Hollywood.

Totally! As I speak to you, I have a slight accent, but when I'm going in for parts, I can't speak with it. Many times, when they finally hear it, the casting directors are like, "Oh my gosh!" If they had known I had an accent, they wouldn't have even considered me for [the role]. They would have been concerned, and they've told me that it's a good thing that I walked in without showing that part of myself.

How does that make you feel?

I really feel like I'm a chameleon and it's part of why I love acting so much: I'm really comfortable switching between different characters because I've lived in so many places and I can fully immerse myself in different people. Still, while I know that, I really have to prove that to others as well, so sometimes you have to hide certain parts of yourself so people will give you a shot. It happened with this film, too. The casting director was actually surprised to hear me speak [in my normal accent]. Sometimes, you go in for an interview and you try to speak a certain way that suggests the character. It just makes things simpler in the long run, I think.

It's funny -- I've always thought that in the U.S., we revere actors who have accents. We tend to think they're better than our homegrown actors, especially if they have British drama school training, like you.

It's weird, but I don't know. Some casting directors and producer have liked that, but others...it's a mixed bag. As an audience member, I totally adore actors who've come from a different country or a different culture and are totally able to transform themselves -- I have a lot of respect and admiration for that. When you're in the trenches, though, it's harder to get that shot. They want to invest in a sure thing. ♦



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