Actress Khandi Alexander plays two very different women in HBO’s biopic “Bessie” and ABC’s drama series “Scandal,” but they’re both the kind of family you should get far, far away from. It can be difficult to push away your flesh and blood, but “sometimes you can,” Alexander insists. “Sometimes you better.” (Watch our complete video chat below.)
In “Bessie,” she plays Viola, the older sister of legendary blues singer Bessie Smith (Queen Latifah), whose bitter temperament comes from a lifetime of struggle. “I felt that she was frustrated and deeply resentful because their mom died and she had to take over that role at such a young age,” says Alexander. “And it was during a very hard time in this country, economically as well as racially, so I just felt she was very bitter and very angry.”
She adds, “There was such deep poverty at that time, and the things we take for granted now, they were rare and special, especially for black people. So that level of physical hunger, racism, pain, and anger, understanding that it paralyzed my character, but it actually freed the artist in Bessie.”
Her “Scandal” character is a different story altogether. She plays Maya, the homicidal mother of Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington). “Maya comes from a world of absolute materialism,” she says. “She will kill for money. Money is the only thing she loves as much as her daughter … I know she loves her daughter very much, and I know she loves money very much. I don’t think Viola had more than three or four dollars in coins in her life.”
But even though Maya is certainly manipulative, Alexander believes that “she sees Olivia very clearly. I do believe it is manipulation, but it’s manipulation from a mother’s love … a mother’s love that’s gone haywire.”
Maya spent most of season four as a prisoner, but in the season finale, she made a sinister deal to get her freedom back. So will we see a lot more of Maya in the future? “I’m not telling you anything,” says Alexander with a grin. “You will have to tune in.”
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