When I went to the set of ABC’s black-ish last month, I was SUPER excited. Angeline and I are big fans of the show and I couldn’t wait to meet THE Tracee Ellis Ross in person! We were supposed to do an interview with her and then tour the set, but she had other plans! She met us in the parking lot and gave us a tour of the set HERSELF. I’ve done a few set visits while on Disney press trips, but this was the first time an actor had taken it upon herself to show us around and conduct the interview on the fly. She was an absolute delight and you know what? She made a fan for life out of me that day. She’s basically my favorite person ever.
We had a million questions that day, and Tracee walked us through the entire set, so if I shared every single question – well, we’d be here for weeks talking about the interview. I’ll just share some of my favorite parts, okay?
We began with the basics, like “OMG this set is HUGE!!” and “I want to hire the set designer to come make over my own house.” You’ve seen the show – the house is friggin’ gorgeous!
We asked/stated: Every room is bigger than my house.
Tracee: Well, the nice part about the big rooms is it’s easy for shooting, I mean, on Girlfriends, it was smaller but they were all open, like there was always a wall missing because we shot on multi-cam, which means you shoot more like for an audience, you know. So these, they all close, but like this wall is usually off, um, ’cause they mostly shoot from this side for this room or through the door.’
But it does make it easy. It makes it really, and a lot, it allows us to do less set ups, which takes less time, which is fantastic ’cause people don’t real–, a friend of mine was like, she’s like so what, like it’s a 22 minute show, so like what, like how long does it take to shoot an episode, like four hours? And I was like no, five days. She was like, well, like four hours every, every… I was like no. It’s a long week, you know, which is kind of amazing to think of how long it takes and how many angles and all that different stuff, how long it takes to shoot 22 minutes.
We asked: How long are the kids allowed to work?
Tracee: I don’t know legally what the things are, but there are real hard outs and they have to do, there’s blocks of school that they have to get in throughout the day. There’s a big calendar. There’s a tent where Donna, our Base Camp A.D., she literally marks out the blocks of time that they do for school. So they have hard outs on lunch, like Anthony and I can do Grace, like after lunch we can, you know, push lunch later. The kids can’t.
I think when they turn 16, there’s like an extra hour we get, but they’re really protective and they, they all have great teachers and they have a great school in a trailer that is half for the younger kids, half for the older kids. It’s kind of amazing, and, and their teachers are fantastic. It’s really kind of special, yeah.
We asked: How great is it to work with such talented actors?
Tracee: Honestly, talent aside, yes they’re talented, but they’re wonderful people. I mean, it’s really joyful, I have to say. You know, there’s that myth, don’t work with kids who are animals. [LAUGHING.] I can’t understand that. I had such a good experience. I find it, I mean, you can say it this way, but like they’re, they’ve been on the planet for less time than us and they’re not jaded, like they just have a pure joy that you can’t, I mean, when you see Miles and Marsai in the morning, they run towards you for a huddle up.
It’s magic. I mean, there’s only so bad that they can be, right? So, and usually between takes, there’s a lot of giggling and laughing and videos being taken and pictures and everything, so I really enjoy it. And they’re extremely talented. So, but like for example Miles, who loves sports. He loves basketball. He loves LeBron James. And I kept everyone, you know, they’re kids so you say something like focus, like get focused like everybody’s doing their other, you know, you’re doing someone else coverage so you’re like focus.
And I realize, I was going to bed one night and I was like maybe he doesn’t know what that means. I was like I need to explain that a little bit more because maybe that’s why we, you know, everybody keeps saying focus, but maybe he has no idea what that means. So I thought about it, you know, a really good metaphor that I was really happy about, because he loves basketball, I was like well it’s like who had the ball. And so now that’s what I say, I’m like who has the ball, but even if he doesn’t have the ball, even if you’re not the one with the ball, who has the ball? So who is, you know, who, so that you stay in the scene and you stay in the game, right?
So I was really proud of myself. [LAUGHING.] They’re so young and they have such a grown-up job on their shoulders and they’re kids. They’re great kids, so it’s really fun.
We asked: As a biracial woman, how important is it to you to get that story out there?
Tracee: Honestly, they have not explored that story that much, on the show, and I will say that I have been very clear, I’m not playing myself. I think it’s really exciting that she’s mixed. I’ve actually never got to play a mixed character on TV. I usually play a black girl. But I think it’s exciting that she is mixed but the truth is we haven’t really been exploring that story line, and I have a real clarity that this is a role that I’m playing.
So although I try and keep it honest if I don’t believe that sort of that’s the trajectory of what my character would do from truth, like that wouldn’t feel honest, but in terms of what my character’s doing, I leave that to the writers and it’s like kind of like magic when you get the new script because you’re like this is crazy or hilarious, but it’s not me. It’s not my story. So Bow doesn’t really, it’s not a matched experience for what my experience has been. I’m not married. I don’t have four kids, you know, so, yeah.
We asked: Do you have any input on your wardrobe? Any designers you love to wear?
Tracee: I do have a lot of input on my wardrobe. We have incredible costume designer…We have a wonderful costume department, um, led by Michelle Cole, who’s a very incredible, and been doing this for, this is so funny, been doing this forever…and I do have input but they do the shopping. I don’t really specify any designers.
My style is a little bit different than Bow, which I kind of love. Bow doesn’t wear heels ever. I wear heels all the time. Um, Bow like rarely wears a heel, which I find liberatingly wonderful. It’s so great to not put heels on, you know, one of the things that was very clear to me that I really wanted to bring to Bow is that she dressed hair and makeup wise really like a woman that had authentically, like I don’t know a mother of four with a career and a husband and like all of that that can spend a ton of time putting together looks and like, you know, doing the whole thing.
So I usually, I don’t wear mascara, I mean, I don’t wear eye shadow and stuff like that. It’s sort of like the mascara and the lipstick is kind of it, which I feel like is sort of her sort of regimen and routine. There’s usually not a lot of jewelry. I feel like the way she pulls from her closet is the way people pull from their closet, so it’s usually like a dress and sneakers or jeans and a cute top. So it’s usually kind of, it’s not like styled, you know. Like I wear a lot more stuff, than she does, but I like to keep it really authentic.
If you aren’t watching ABC’s black-ish yet, why the heck not?! It’s an awesome show and it’s SO FUNNY! It has humor that every family can relate to; there are crazy in laws, weird coworkers, the usual parenting story lines and the actors are just talented like crazy!
black-ish is on ABC Television on Wednesday nights, so tune in at 9:30 PM EST – tonight’s episode is called Man at Work and I saw a sneak peek, and it’s pretty funny!
About tonight’s episode:
Dre has always looked out for the crew he grew up with, but when his childhood friend Sha (guest star Faizon Love) comes to stay at the house for a few days, Bow thinks he is taking advantage of Dre’s generosity. Meanwhile, Daphne Lido (played by Wanda Sykes), the now ex-wife of Stevens & Lido’s founding partner, gains control of half of the company and wants to start inserting herself in company business. When Daphne starts to question Charlie’s work ethic, Dre must decide who he remains loyal to.