Aunjanue Ellis knew she had to nail every aspect of Dr. Mattie Moss Clark in the recent Lifetime TV movie “The Clark Sisters.” Playing the mother of the famous Clark Sisters, the most popular female gospel group in history, Ellis had a lot to live up to, having known of Clark from a young age from her friend telling stories of attending gospel workshops. “I knew of her before I knew who The Clark Sisters were,” Ellis shares in an exclusive new interview with Gold Derby. “She became this mythical figure to me.” Watch the full video interview with Ellis above.
Ellis did a deep dive into any footage she could find of Mattie, studying her mannerisms and her voice diligently. “Someone found this great audio of her actually conducting one of these choir workshops so what I did from there was play that footage, play that audio, over and over and over again,” Ellis recalls. To get Mattie’s signature raspy voice down, Ellis went so far as to scream into pillows to scratch her voice up. She also recognized the level of confidence Mattie had as an authority figure and tried to exude that in her performance. “She is constantly speaking in and with authority,” Ellis says. “When someone moves through the world in that way, there’s a certain rhythm to that, cadence, certain placement of your voice, so that’s what I tried to tap into in terms of the mechanics of playing her.”
The film smartly does not make Mattie out to be a two-dimensional pushy mother and Ellis always takes it as a compliment when people are conflicted in how they feel about her. The actress sees the gospel choir director as someone who devoted herself to the potential she saw for those around her. “She was never one thing ever and what drove her was her vision for her daughters, her vision for gospel music, her vision for the Church of God in Christ and their legacy in gospel,” Ellis observes.
“The Clark Sisters” was a major hit when it premiered on Lifetime in April, becoming the most-watched TV movie in four years for the network. This is the second year in a row for Ellis to be part of a major television event following 2019’s “When They See Us.” Ellis was nominated for her first Emmy for playing Sharonne Salaam, one of the mothers of the Central Park Five. The actress was truly taken aback to receive recognition from the TV academy, but honored to have it be for such an important project as “When They See Us.” “To be nominated for something as a part of something so consequential and impactful was just tremendous for me.”
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