Friday 23 March 2018

Disney's new princess calls the tune

Anika Noni Rose forged her own way as an actress and her new role is a first for African-Americans, says Andrea Byrne

Andrea Byrne

'It's pretty magnificent", says actress and singer Anika Noni Rose of being the first black princess in an animated Disney movie through her role in The Princess and the Frog.

"Interestingly, it didn't really hit me at the time. Things keep hitting me in stages. Although, it was something that I knew, because, you know, we all grew up with Disney. I didn't realise how much it would mean to people outside of myself, not just people with brown faces, but there are a lot of people who aren't necessarily of the same background, but who have children who are, or husbands, nieces, nephews or neighbours. So she's a princess of our times," Rose says flashing a wholesome, pearly white American smile.

For the film's detractors, far from breaking racial boundaries, the general plotline -- of a poor black waitress who falls in love with a wealthy 'white' prince -- represented a giant leap backwards. But Rose answers every question with a smile and raves enthusiastically about the extent to which she identifies with her character, Tiana, who has a dream of opening up a famous restaurant.

"Who thinks that being an actor is a secure and safe thing to do? My family was extraordinarily supportive of me, but I came from a very small town, and it wasn't something that was expected.

"It was a matter of me figuring out how to do it on my own, forging my own path. And there were always people who would say, 'Oh, don't you want to do something more stable or something to fall back on?' I didn't want to and I wasn't going to."

Before landing the high-profile Disney gig, Rose, 37, was best known for her role as Lorrell Robinson in hit film Dreamgirls alongside Beyonce and Jennifer Hudson.

"We had a great time. Sometimes you cast people and they don't get along at all; or they get along, but it's a musical and their voices don't work together. But we were lucky, everything worked. It was fun. It was Broadway with a camera."

Not only is Rose the first African-American Disney princess, she is also one of the first to sing and voice the character.

"That's a big deal to me. I would have been very crushed if they said, 'That was great, but we don't like the singing, we have to find someone else for that'," she laughs.

Rose insists she is very sensible, and she doesn't indulge in the wild social scene that Hollywood affords. "That's one way to cut your career real short. I plan on being here for a long time. When the party ends, then where are you?"

Instead, the beautiful actress prefers reading, and admits that a love of books is a trait a partner must possess.

"Is there anyone special?" I ask. "I don't really like to talk about that," she says, cocking her head to the side and lowering her voice to an almost indecipherable level.

Born in Connecticut, later moving to San Francisco, she currently lives in New York. Her career prior to her big break in Dreamgirls was largely made up of theatre and Broadway musicals.

And while, she was relatively late to the movie world, she always knew she could make it, living by a principle her grandmother taught her: "If it's to be, it's up to me, there is no defeat unless you concede." She continues, "I had lunch with somebody over the Christmas holidays who recalled a time when she asked me if I wanted to do something as a fallback, just in case, and I said, 'No, I don't intend to fall back, I plan to go forward.'"

The Princess and the Frog is in cinemas now

Sunday Independent

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