Regina Taylor is a playwright, actor, and activist with a silent grace that has propelled her career for over two decades. BGN spoke with Ms. Taylor on Zoom about playing the First Lady’s mother and producing a play during quarantine.
You produced your play The Black Album 2020 Resistance during quarantine. What was that experience like for you?
This past year, the conversation started with, how do we continue to teach, how do we continue to create during this time of quarantine? I was talking about the subject to my alma mater Southern Methodist University and out of that conversation came the play, Black Album Resistance. What it is to be Black and 2020 was the subject. We are having shutdowns. George Floyd was happening in front of our eyes. We are quarantined in shock. All of the events of 2020, including this very incendiary election period where the whole country seems to be erupting in so many ways, in terms of race, in terms of joblessness, in terms of health care, everything is right out there in the open. We can’t avert our eyes and we have nowhere else to go, except to sit and watch and think and try to figure out what to do. What do we do? It was really amazing in this time to see people take to the streets and know social distancing and literally put their bodies on the line to shout out, to speak out loud, to have these conversations that are really necessary in this moment in time. It came out of all of that.
The women you’ve played throughout your career always have a tremendous amount of grace. How were you able to attract those roles?
I think it’s a combination of being in the right place at the right time and being ready. The first role that was offered to me was A Crisis at Central High about the first students to integrate the Arkansas school system. I played the real life character of Minnijean Brown. That kind of fell into my lap while I was still in school. I didn’t really know which direction I wanted to go in, but certainly landing that role gave me courage to think that I might possibly be an actress. Doing that role also fitted the industry to advocacy to activism in shining light on these people who again put their lives literally on the line in order to move things forward in this world. That encouraged me to think that this was a possibility that should be part of my consciousness and remains so.
And now, you’re playing another legendary Black woman, Michelle Obama’s mother Marian Shields Robinson.
Tell me about that audition process. Did they just say, “Okay, yes, Miss Taylor, we see you. You’re cast. Come on, be with Viola Davis.”
That’s what happened. I am humbled by the offer, thrilled to play this really gorgeous, amazing, iconic Earth Mother ferocious lioness of a woman Marion Robinson. I’ve admired her for a while, her stepping onto the stage, walking into the White House, and just her simple presence. One, how she would imbue intelligence, strength, you know, where Michelle came from. “When they go low, we go high.” We have an understanding of that strong lineage, which is a part of family values that continue into the next generation.
How has it been working on this limited series The First Lady?
Oh, it’s been wonderful. It’s a great group of people that are amazing. You have Viola Davis as Michelle Obama, Michelle Pfeiffer as Betty Ford, and Gillian Anderson as Eleanor Roosevelt. Incredible.
Tell me about your philanthropic work with Genesis Women’s shelter.
Genesis Women’s shelter is for women and their children not only for housing, but for mental and physical care as well as rehabbing, training for jobs, teaching, other things for survival. I come in and refurbish some of the housing units as people move out. I actually love doing this. I painted walls, chose furniture and outfitted the apartments with furniture.
Now that you have had a long career, tell me how you’ve been able to nourish and nurture yourself as an artist.
To be in the moment. To always be thankful, in the moment. I think a lot of times we’re in such a hurry to get to where it is we think we’re supposed to be, we miss the journey. And for me it is always about journey, process, and purpose, staying connected and rooted, even as things are coming at us.
What are you doing right now in your life that brings you the most joy?
I have a great appreciation of being able to connect to people in any way possible. As we have been in quarantine, I’ve loved figuring out how to still make contact. We do these health and wellness check ins. We’ve done so in the past, but it’s a deeper question these days. I get more layers in terms of the answers coming back these days. So, I’m really mindful. I find joy in connecting.
Watch for The First Lady, a new Showtime limited drama series that stars Viola Davis, Gillian Anderson, and Michelle Pfeifer coming soon.
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Jeanine is a Writer, Actor, member SAG/AFTRA, AEA, Podcast host, Producer, CEO VisAbleBlackWoman Productions, Certified Health Coach and Conscious Dance facilitator. Jeanine's mission, centering Black women's stories to preserve our legacies.