Uzo Aduba Interview: ‘Mrs. America’
One of the scenes that Uzo Aduba felt was particularly powerful in “Mrs. America,” which was cut for time, involved Rep. Shirley Chisholm going to the hospital to visit Gov. George Wallace (Alabama) after an assassination attempt. For Aduba the scene was incredible for a number of reasons. “It was very powerful thinking about Shirley saying in that moment, things that he had to stay there and hear. Here is an opportunity for her to speak on her truth,” explained Aduba in our recent webchat (watch the video above). But there was one specific line that Tanya Barfield had written for Shirley that Aduba found absolutely incredible. “She would say in that scene that she didn’t know there was anything wrong being black until she came back to America. My mom used to say that. It’s literally as if she sat and interviewed my mother.”
“Mrs. America” tells the story of the years long battle to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment into the U.S. Constitution, which would have banned discrimination based on person’s sex. Aduba plays Chisholm, who was the first black woman elected to Congress and the first black woman to seek a major party’s presidential nomination when she ran in 1972. This year’s nomination marks her fourth career Emmy nod. Her previous three were for playing Suzanne “Crazy Eyes” Warren on “Orange is the New Black,” which resulted in two wins: 2014 for Comedy Guest Actress and 2015 for Drama Supporting Actress.
Aduba did know about who Chisholm was prior to being cast in “Mrs. America.” “My mom was a big Shirley Chisholm fan growing up, so I had heard the name. Then, when I first moved to New York, that was when I came to know her. I had bought this book called, ‘The African-American Century,’ and there was a section devoted to Shirley Chisholm.” Once she was cast, an entirely new array of knowledge about Chisholm opened up for her. “A lot of the policies that had been lifted up and touted as major platforms for a lot of the candidates who were running were things that she was talking about way back then. She’s always been ahead of her time.”
She also had a more solemn moment last year when “Orange” came to an end after seven seasons on Netflix. It was hard for her for many reasons, including the fact that it was her first TV job and that so much of the show functioned because of the friendships that were forged during the production. But there was another aspect that she said stood out about “Orange,” that was alleviated by her being cast in “Mrs. America.” “I was also sad about the prospect of not being able to work on a show with a bunch of women that had something to say. I could be on a show with a bunch of women, but maybe it’s like, ‘Look at our purses or something.’”