I could have talked to black-ish‘s Tracee Ellis Ross all day. The first-time Emmy nominee (Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series) has an infectious laugh that transmits over the phone, and her respect for the work is understood through her expressive speaking voice. When I chatted with her, we talked about her relationship with television husband Anthony Anderson, being back on set for Season 3, and briefly about diversity on television. And, yes, I even asked if she’d be down for a Girlfriends revival.
Congratulations on your first Emmy nomination! Everyone at the site is a big fan of yours, so we were all very excited about your nomination.
Thank you very much! I am beyond thrilled. It’s a very exciting moment in my career and in my life. The added layer of knowing the historical context in being one of five black women nominated in this category—and the first in 30 years—adds a whole other layer to it. It’s excited enough! And it adds this deeper layer of meaning to the whole thing.
When someone told me the statistics of how few black women have been nominated in this category, it’s still staggering. It’s totally insane.
It’s staggering. But it’s not just as a black woman. It’s all different ethnicities and the full spectrum of diversity (age and ethnicity and all of those things) wanting all of these categories to reflect that and wanting the work in television in general and in Hollywood to really represent the fabric of this country and the human experience in general. So it is staggering and fascinating to a certain extent. You sort of go, “Wait, what?”
How does it feel to be part of a cast that’s predominantly black when there’s so much talk about diversity in entertainment?
The truth of my experience in my work on television in my work—both on Girlfriends and black-ish (shows that I’m most known for) featured predominantly black casts. All the characters were black, so that has been my experience. My family life is extremely diverse. My actual ethnicity and ethnic makeup—my father is white and Jewish and my mother is black. My world, not just my immediate family, is completely diverse with ethnicities and all of those different mixes.
Being on a television show in this day and age that is continuing to expand the world’s understanding and narrative and identification of what a family is is really exciting. Other ethnicities, any other, for many, many years had to identify with and see how we were the same with a white family on television. And now people get to look at our family as an American family and see how we’re all the same and different all at the same time. It’s a really interesting time, and it’s been asked of me to ask myself certain questions to know how to articulate how I feel about things.
Your chemistry with Anthony Anderson is so fantastic. Whether Bow and Dre are butting heads or (like in ‘Any Given Saturday’) you’re going crazy together.
What is your favorite aspect of Bow and Dre as a married couple?
My favorite aspect of Bow and Dre is Anthony and Tracee. We just have so much fun together on and off camera, and we have a real partnership. He’s just a generous, big-hearted human being and we have a lot of respect for each other. Let me think. If I had to pick the favorite dynamic between us, I would have to say that we both have no shame. (Laughs) Let me say that’s number two! Number one is the fact that I trust Anthony comedically and in my work life in a way that I have not trusted any work partner. For example, when we do physical comedy or anything like that I know that Anthony will never let me fall. And I won’t let him fall. Even if I say his line or he says my line, we’ll just seamlessly pick it up. It’s just been there from the beginning. My favorite thing would have to be the trust we have for each other that allows us the freedom to be really stupid.
I don’t know if you watched when we hosted the BET Awards again this year, but we did this Hamilton thing. Anthony spins me around and we did it in rehearsal and I was a bit nervous. But even then, I know that even if we fall, he’s going to fall underneath me. It’s just a given. Also, Anthony is made out of rubber. Has anyone ever told you that?
I’ve heard rumors…
Anthony sometimes does physical things, and I’m like, “OH MY GOD, ARE YOU OKAY?!” And he’ll be like, “Yeah…why?” He bounces off the floor—it’s amazing. I can do something physical and love it and then I’m literally like, “Oh my God! Where’s the chiropractor!” I must have much more brittle bones than Anthony.
I loved your cameo on Broad City when you were a flight attendant with Tymberlee Hill.
You two need to have a spin off where you guys fly around and experience all this crazy stuff. Would you want to do more guest work like that? And what show would you want to be on?
Let’s think of all the shows that I watch. What’s on right now that I love? I would love to some dramatic guest starring roles.
Let’s put you on The Americans. Let’s just go totally crazy.
Yes, let’s put me on The Americans. Put me on with Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright! Let’s get me a role on House of Cards. Let’s switch the scripts completely! I would do anything in a heartbeat with Tymberlee. And I would do anything in a heartbeat with (Broad City‘s) Ilana and Abbi. I adore those women. I was so thankful that they were shooting that on a Saturday and Sunday, so I was able to do that during production. Most of the issue is that we do a really long season. We do 22 episodes, and we shoot from the end of July to March. Trying to figure out how to do anything else is difficult during the TV season. But, you know, where there’s a will there’s a way! (laughs)
Of course! I mean, you’re willing to do it, so let’s just offer you up to every streaming show out there. We can put you on EVERYTHING.
Let’s do that in this interview. Why don’t we let that be your mission to find the time to get me some great guest starring roles.
The headline of this interview is going to be “Tracee Ellis Ross is in Everything. You’re welcome.”
That’s perfect! Here’s what you should call it…”ABC: Let’s Make This Happen”
What do you think?
That’s perfect! That sells itself! To close, I wanted to ask you about something that everyone wanted to bring up. Would you sign on, right now, to do a Girlfriends revival?
This is hilarious. I have said yes every time I’m asked. It’s not up to me. It is more a Paramount/CBS issue. I have always said that I am game. I will be honest with you…I think it’s been too long since the show ended. (Laughs)
Listen…I think we’re pushing it now. (Laughs) But, not going to lie, people are going to be like, “What happened to Joan?” It’s been a LOT of years, but I’ve always said that I’m grateful for Joan and (show creator) Mara Brock Akil and Golden (Brooks), Jill (Marie Jones), and Persia (White). What a time of my life and what an extraordinary experience. I had so much fun playing that role. People still call me Joan. I don’t think I’ll ever be un-Joaned. But, you know, I am totally game. I love that people still want that.
I mean, if Gilmore Girls can do it, Girlfriends can do it.
You’re right! How long ago did Girlfriends finish? 2008? That’s a long time ago! Are you kidding? (Laughs) But, you know what? Isn’t it incredible that all these years later people still connect with Girlfriends? I think it’s a testament to the work that we did and the writing on the show and all of it. I think it really had an impact on people and that’s awesome. I am grateful for that. Well, you heard it from me, I’m happy to do it. But I’m also being honest. (Laughs) It’s been a long time.
It’s another thing I have to work on from this interview.
You’ve got things to handle, buddy!