You may have thought you’ve seen Edwina Findley for the first time when she slapped Kevin Hart upside the head in Get Hard, but think back a bit further. The NYU-trained thespian was also a gun-toting, ride-or-die chick for Omar Little on the HBO classic, The Wire. Fast-forward 13 years, and Findley has starred in another HBO series, Treme, as well as a Sundance-heralded, Ava DuVernay-directed film Middle Of Nowhere. She is also currently taking direction from Tyler Perry for Oprah Winfrey’s OWN series, If Loving You Is Wrong.
Here, Findley chops it up with VIBE about lessons learned from her big-named collaborators and what they’ve all taught her about her prospective ascension to the top of Hollywood. And of course, she has a few tips of her own for how to “get hard.” Take notes. – Iyana Robertson
VIBE: Tell me how the role came about, because this is your first big feature film, right?
Findley: Yeah, I’ve done a few independent features prior to that, was able to do Ava DuVernay’s Middle Of Nowhere, which won big at Sundance. Actually, a lot of people don’t know this, but I filmed Red Tails, George Lucas’ film about the Tuskegee Airmen. I was in Prague with everybody for almost a month, but at end of the day it was the three African-American female characters, myself, Jazmine Sullivan and another actor, who were taken out of the movie.
Wow. I did not know that.
Yeah it was funny because prior to that, it was such a huge movie and I was so excited. Then I’m like ‘Oh my god, I can’t believe I’m not in the movie.’ But you know it’s just funny how all things happen in time.
So yeah, I’ve been pretty consistently working in television and doing different series for HBO. I started working on a comedy called Veep on HBO. The casting director from that is the same casting director from Get Hard, and she thought I would be great for this role. So I went in, met with the producers, auditioned for them and the creators and everything. Then finally, I think Will and Kevin had to sign off on it and they did and they thought I was great and here we are. So I’m definitely really excited and I feel very blessed.
We know being on set with Will and Kevin has to be fun, has to be full of jokes, but did you learn anything serious from them about the craft and about the business?
Absolutely. I actually have an organization called Abundant Life U, and we’re launching a school for artists in Hollywood right now. It actually opens on April 18. We’re launching with a boot camp called Artist CEO, and it’s really an business boot camp for artists and creators. I’m telling you, Will and Kevin modeled this so wonderfully. You know, Kevin was fully present during the scenes, and then between the takes, he was doing business. I mean, he has a production company, he has other TV shows going at the time, he was producing a pilot for ABC, and his assistant was there on set. So [I learned about] just being able to balance the artistic side of things by being a wonderful performer, as well as the business side. It’s also Will Ferrell’s company that’s producing this movie, Gary Sanchez Productions, who produces comedic films and television all over. So one thing I definitely learned from them is their enterprising prowess. It’s incredible.
Since you were in the movie Get Hard, I want your tips for women on how to man up, on how to “get hard.” Sometimes women want to be soft and demure, but sometimes women have to stand up and “get hard.” How do you do that?
I feel like it’s important for women to know their value. I feel it’s really, really really important for women to know exactly what they’re worth and not compromise that. I think our tendency is to really wait for the man to make decisions. I would say to women that they have to assertive, they have to be articulate. With me, before I was married, I would kind of always allow the man to drive the relationship. I was dating this one guy and he was standing me up. And it was crazy, because he was upstanding in the community and a public figure. Everyone looked up to him, but it took other people to help me realize: that man is just not that into you, that man just does not have integrity and that man does not have character. It does not matter what the public perception of this person is, if privately they’re not consistent, then they’re not worthy of you. So it actually took my now-husband to teach me what I was worthy of and to model that before me.
During your interview with Dish Nation, you briefly alluded to a The Wire reunion. What is that about?
Oh my god, I had no idea I was giving a spoiler right then and then it made the headline. Well it’s still being planned now, but I think a lot of the people in front of the scenes and behind the scenes have all been working on different projects. I was definitely blessed to reunite with the creators, writers, producers and some of the actors on Treme, which we just finished doing. Everyone has been all over and so now is a time where everyone just feels The Wire love like, ‘Let’s get back together everyone.’ So they’re making it a big thing for the people behind the scenes and people in front of the camera and just inviting everyone to come back together and do a little rendezvous out of the country. But it should be very, very, very exciting.
You’ve done film and you’ve done TV work as well, what are some differences between film work and television work?
Speed. Speed is one of the main differences, meaning that in television you are moving very quickly. There have been times where I’ve shot upwards of 30 pages in one day in a TV show. Just to give you an idea, typically in television, you’re shooting around 50 pages. You normally have around 8 to 13 days to do that. In film, you could get through three pages or less in one day. You can get through a fraction of a page in one day. So you constantly have time to explore and to really flesh out different moments and fully inhabit a character or fully inhabit the nuances. And in TV, you have to do your homework in advance and be able to make strong and quick choices, because you just don’t have the luxury of time. But working on an independent film is often a lot like working in TV. When I was working on Ava Duvernay’s Middle of Nowhere, its beautiful scenes where there was only one take and that’s it. And you’re like ‘Hey, you’re moving on? What do you mean you’re moving on?’ As an artist, especially an actor, you’re always like, ‘Wait I need to do that again,’ but Ava had such a great eye. She was like ‘No that was it, that was perfect.’ And sure enough, when you see the movie cut together, that’s the scene that everyone’s talking about. I think a lot of people really look at the entertaining aspect of it, and don’t realize how much work, how much skill goes into filming both movies and television series.
You’re working with Tyler Perry now you’ve worked with Ava DuVernay, what is it like working under two very strong voices?
It’s great. I’m the type of artist, I’m very collaborative, so when it comes to my characters, I tend to have a strong point of view also. Even for Get Hard, I was emailing the director, and asking questions about my character because I’m a researcher. I like to get beneath the surface, I like to really explore dynamics and explore the character’s background and history. And so its wonderful working with other artists who really value that, and directors and writers who really value that. Whether its Ava DuVernay, or Anthony Hemingway (Red Tails, The Wire, Treme),, whether it’s David Simon, Etan Cohen or Tyler Perry. I think when you’re working with strong artists and strong directors, it helps everyone because now there’s a clear focus, there’s a clear intention, and you can find your place within that. As well as. when you as an actor have a strong opinion, it gives you somewhere to go. It gives you substance, things to play with and it always ultimately makes for a better production.
On OWN’s If Loving You Is Wrong, how is your character Kelly similar to you?
Well Kelly is, or at least starts out as, an idealist. She’s an optimist. Now there’s some naivete in her that I don’t have to the degree that she does, but I definitely am naturally a dreamer; I tend to see the world through rose-colored glasses. I tend to believe people have positive intentions. I tend to believe people can change. And I believe those are all qualities I believe Kelly possesses. But the difference between me and her is that she makes some huge life decisions based off that. She decides to prematurely purchase a house for her and would-be fiancé, only to find out he was meant to marry someone else. Which ended up being devastating for her. I’m even talking to Oprah about it, and she’s like ‘Why did she buy this house,’ and I’m like ‘I’m thinking the same thing, Oprah. Why did she buy that house, girl?’ So as an actress, it was my job to figure it out why did she buy this house? Why did she buy this house? And the answer I came to and which I chose to play is that she in need of love. That she wants love so badly, and many women that relate to that. So there’s a void happening in her. She wants love so badly that she’s willing to extenuate and compromise herself by any means necessary to get to it, and hold on to it. And unfortunately it backfires. In this season and now Kelly is learning how to live on her own two feet, and trying to learn how to be that fully independent woman and understand what she deserves and what she doesn’t. And I think that’s what fans are really going to connect with this season. How do you pick up the pieces, after you kinda lived your life for someone else and or lived your life in hopes of someone reciprocating the love you have for them?
What are some of the biggest gems that Oprah has dropped on you that you can’t ever forget? Something she said to you that’s going to stick forever.
You know what? One of the things I get from learning from people, sometimes its what they say other times its what they do. And with Oprah, it’s really what she does. For instance, unfortunately my mother passed away in the middle of shooting and it was very, very hard. But to see how she and Tyler and the presidents and vice presidents of the company, how they cared for me during that time. People watching the show they would never know that I experienced this tragedy in the middle of it, you know. And I recognize these people are truly busy. They are on top of the world, we already know that. I think it’s a beautiful thing – and I feel the same about Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart – its one thing to care about what people do for you, it’s another thing when you care about doing something for other people. And I have found that Oprah, Tyler, Kevin, Will, I can go down the list, that they are enormously generous people, they’re kind people, they are considerate people. They just affirm for me that the higher that you go, the more humble you should get. The higher you should go, the more grateful it should be. And I feel like each of them, including Oprah, has modeled that for me in a really beautiful way.
I’m sure you heard this news this week: the Deadline article saying that the upward movement of diversity on TV is basically making it hard for white actors to land roles. Have you heard about this?
I have not read the article and I’m definitely a person who wants to have read the source article in order to comment on it. One thing I can say is that I am enormously excited that there are more opportunities for African-Americans in television than there ever been before. It means those of us that paid good money to go to NYU, and Juilliard, and Yale and Harvard and Columbia and USC, now have a chance to show our craft, our skill, our purpose and we’ve been working equally as hard to get in the entertainment industry. And I think it’s about time that we have more opportunities to showcase the wonderful array of talent that we possess.