Legendary: Ruby Dee

Photo Credit Via thunderbird37.com

Photo Credit Via thunderbird37.com

Please forgive the lateness of this post, but it has taken me a bit of time to comprehend this tragic loss.  Having met Miss Ruby Dee back in 2007, I can say first hand what a formidable, warm and spirited woman she was.  The way she looked at me and called me sister was one of the greatest moments of my life; and during our conversation, her advice to me to follow my dreams and persevere no matter what, has become my guiding truth.  One does not easily forget a woman like this, nor does one not grieve her loss.  Having just said good-bye to Maya Angelou, we are reminded once again that our legends, our great ones, are passing on and leaving us to pick up the baton; to carry on what they worked so incredibly hard for their entire lives.  Were it not for Ruby Dee, Maya Angelou, Lena Horne, Dorothy Dandridge, Louise Beavers, Hattie McDaniel, Butterfly McQueen, Juanita Moore, Diahann Carroll and hundreds of others that paved the way, I would not be the woman I am today with my position and success.  So forgive me if I feel this loss perhaps slightly deeper than others.

Ruby Dee, born Ruby Ann Wallace on October 27, 1922 in Cleveland, OH, and raised in Harlem, NY where she graduated from Hunter College, was a civil rights activist, actress, poet, playwright, humanitarian, journalist and breast cancer survivor of more than three decades.  While she had well over 100 film and television (and 34 theatre, including the debut performance of A Raisin in the Sun costarring Sidney Poitier, and that was nominated for four Tony awards) credits to her name, spanning back to 1946, she is probably most well known for The Jackie Robinson Story (1950), her groundbreaking role in A Raisin in the Sun (1961), Roots: The Next Generations (1979),  Do The Right Thing (1989) and American Gangster (2007) for which she was nominated (and  should have won) an Academy Award.  Her many accolades and awards include a Primetime Emmy, AAFC Award, Jury Award, ACE Award, a Grammy, four Image Awards, a Screen Actors Guild Award and several lifetime achievement awards, as well as the National Medal of Arts and the Kennedy Center Honors.

Her acting career, like many Black artists of the time, began at the American Negro Theatre where her peers were Harry Belafonte, Hilda Sims and Sidney Poitier.  After her time at ANT, which closed in 1949, Ms. Dee made several appearances on Broadway and at numerous theatre festivals including becoming the first Black Actress to play Kate in The Taming of the Shrew and Cordelia in King Lear at the American Shakespeare Festival.

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Ruby Dee, who took the middle name of her first husband, blues singer Frankie Dee Brown (whom she divorced in 1945), as her stage name, married Ossie Davis in 1948 having met while costarring in the 1946 Broadway play Jeb.  They soon became one of, if not the, most respected and fiercest acting couples not just in the African American community, but in Hollywood (Their infamous saying of “In This Thing Together” still rings true as Ruby Dee will be cremated, and her ashes placed in the same urn as her husbands and sealed forever).

While most knew Miss Dee as the magnificent actress she was, some fail to realize that, besides her outstanding contribution to the arts, she was also a civil rights activist. A member of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), the NAACP, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, Delta Sigma Theta sorority and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Ruby made it her life’s work to champion for equal rights. Dee, who with her husband Davis, associated with such influential and significant figures like Malcolm X, Black Panther Party co-founder Huey P Newton, and numerous others, emceed the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1963 March on Washington, organized a boycott of Christmas shopping, urging Americans to support civil rights groups instead in the wake of the 1963 Birmingham, Ala., church bombing that killed four young black girls; in 1965

Photo Credit Via newsnyork.com

Photo Credit Via newsnyork.com

she and Davis marched for civil rights in Selma, Ala, and in 1999 they were both arrested as they protested the fatal shooting of unarmed African immigrant Amadou Diallo by New York City police officers.  During this time Dee also appeared in such politically charged films as Gone Are the Days and The Incident, which is recognized as helping pave the way for young African-American actors and filmmakers.

Sadly, in 2005, Dee lost her life partner of 56 years, Ossie Davis, but despite her grief, she passionately continued her work in both civil rights and the arts. She developed a one woman show, authored two children’s books and, like many Hollywood personalities, stood firmly against the war in Iraq.

No stranger to recognition and awards, in 2007 Ruby was inducted into the Weschester County Women’s Hall of Fame joining such other honorees as Hillary Rodham Clinton and Nita Lowey, and in 2009, she received an Honorary Degree from Princeton University.  Her powerful 2007 appearance in the film American Gangster, alongside Denzel Washington, saw her receive her first and only Oscar nomination, even though she was only on screen for a total of ten minutes; a testament to her great talent.

Photo Credit Via madamenoire.com

Photo Credit Via madamenoire.com

Ruby Dee has clearly left her legacy, not only through her family (three children: son, blues musician Guy Davis, two daughters, Nora Day and Hasna Muhammad, and seven grandchildren), but through all of the lives she has touched with her work as an artist and humanitarian.  Her humor, wit, beautiful mind, glorious talent and fierce sense of fashion (!!!) will be greatly missed.  They don’t make them like this anymore; she was in a class reserved for a very select few.  And we should consider ourselves lucky we had the opportunity to learn from such a prodigious and marvelously fascinating woman.







Recently, I had the honor of sitting down with actress Francesca De Luca.  Born and raised in Hammersmith, London, England, Francesca, who is also a musician and dancer, has played such classic characters as Shakespeare’s Titania, to playing a decapitated ghost and working opposite Joan Collins on television.  Quite a varied career indeed.  And one filled with much excitement and fun; we should all be so lucky.  I am happy, and very lucky indeed, that we met last year while I was in New York City on business, and that we are finally able to sit down for a long, and entertaining, chat. So, go ahead, make your nice hot cuppa. Grab a few choccy biscuits, and read along.


Photo by Matt Harquail - © Matt Harquail

Photo by Matt Harquail – © Matt Harquail

Tell me a bit about the work you do, both film and otherwise. What sort of projects do you work on?
I  started out doing more theatre in London where I have been based my whole life. I love to play a wide variety of roles whether theatre, film,  tv or voice-over. A challenge is what I love. I have done Shakespeare playing Titania in A Midsummer Night’s Dream which toured the UK, and played roles in modern plays like Carla, a Texan in Kennedy’s Children which was on for a month to packed out audiences in Camden’s well known Etcetera Theatre.
I have worked with Joan Collins on a tv program shown on mainstream UK TV called “Strange But True” where I played a ghost who was a countess in Venice and had her head chopped off by her husband because she was unfaithful! This was based on a true story!
I am very good at accents and character work so always like to stretch myself. Also, I love comedy as much as drama. The main thing is, I like to move an audience to make them feel something, make them cry or laugh or enlighten them in a powerful way. I love a great script that lifts off the page and has layers and a great character arc. That’s why I love productions from HBO like The Sopranos or The Wire or AMC like Breaking Bad. Inspirational!

When did you know you wanted to be an actress?  What was your first role?

In my teens I always watched theatre and I remember going to the RSC and seeing productions with my mother. I remember seeing a production of Richard II with Jeremy Irons and I criede watching it. Afterwards, I went to the stage door to speak to Jeremy and he came out in his dressing gown! I told him how moved I had been and thanked him for his wonderful performance. I wrote to him again and told him it made me want to be an actor and that I wanted to move people too. He was so lovely and invited me to his next production and gave me some advice. I will never forget that.

In my sixth form at school, when I was 17, I was offered the role in a play of a flirty nurse or a 50 year old German, hunchback, owner of a lunatic asylum who goes mad at the end of the play! I decided I would definitely play the hunchback and take the amazing challenge. (Even though the nurse would have made me a lot more attractive to the boys in the school!) My best friend saw me on stage and didn’t recognize it was me, and asked my mum when I was going to come on stage after I had been on for a while. After playing this role, I was one hundred percent certain that acting was going to be my life.

Francesca, you are most well known for being in the cult film Orpheus and Eurydice playing a lead role opposite Oliver Reed. What was it like working with him?
Amazing! I couldn’t believe that I would be acting opposite him, an actor I had admired hugely as I was growing up. He was a very lovely genuine man, very humble and passionate about his role. He was so accomplished that in filming he was able to do perfect first takes.

You played the sorceress Algeoniki in this film, In both this and The Voice, which we will get to a bit later, you kill people! You seem to be quite the chameleon, from sorceress to secret agent… I won’t say anymore because that would be spoilers, but what do you find enjoyable about those roles? What do you feel they give women?  Do you enjoy playing baddies?
Ha ha! Yes, I love playing baddies! Much more fun. I see it that I am so nice in real life and have a chance to play at being bad in films and explore a part of myself that I wouldn’t otherwise! Although I like contrasts in characters, so they are not one dimensional. I like it when you don’t expect the character to do what they do, like killing someone and what drives them to do that; how they feel after and so on. I like strong, interesting women in film and especially baddies, for instance Kill Bill and Monster, both films I love with strong female leads.

Joseph Gatt, also an English actor, who played Charon in the film has gone on to major stardom starring in Star Trek Into Darkness and The Game Of Thrones. Perhaps you are Hollywood bound?

I hope I am! I love the States. Yes, it was great working with Joseph on the film and he was a genuine and talented guy then too. It’s wonderful to see his success. Hollywood can definitely give me a call too!

How do you feel about the international film community? Do you find it easy to access? Inclusive?  It seems to be changing a bit; how do you feel about that?
Yes it is much easier to access now especially with twitter. I was seen on twitter by the director Magda Olchawska who saw my show-reel and cast me as a lead in her feature film which was shooting in Poland fairly recently.  It is easier to interact with directors, producers, casting, actors etc and it really feels like a huge global community of sharing and helping and supporting. So many films are made now because of Indiegogo and Kickstarter crowd funding platforms and it is the filmmaking community on twitter that are often the people who support each other in these projects.

How does one become and remain active in the acting community?

I think it is important to continually train and go to acting classes, film acting classes, sight reading etc. Through that you meet like minded actors and can share information and support each other. I have been a member of London’s The Actor’s Centre for many years now, and they also hold events which I have been part of. And I was recently on a panel there to help advise younger actors just out of drama school. I have also been training the past year and a half at Anthony Meindl’s acting studio in London and when when he has been in London for masterclasses, which has been wonderful and an important part of my life.

let’s talk about your film The Voice, which was part of the 48 hour Film Festival and shown at The Prince Charles Cinema Leicester Square on the 6th of October of 2012. It was directed by Verster de Plessis and produced by Nic Holman. 
Tell me about that. Sounds fascinating.
Ah! It was lovely to see the film at The Prince Charles Cinema. It is one of my favorite cinemas in London. I enjoyed  working with Verster and Nic and my co star Jason Wing. And yes I was pretty creepy in this if I do say so myself! Not a happy ending! The organizer of the festival complimented me on my acting which was nice.

What do you think of today’s entertainment trends?
I see now that tv is becoming better quality than many films. With HBO and AMC and so on producing such high quality shows people are watching more tv and A list actors are wanting to be acting in them like Matthew McConnaughey and Woody Harrelson in True Detective.
The writing in these types of shows is so high and the acting, directing and cinematography is top level too. I love how HBO has often taken risks on casting  and newer actors are given chances to show what they can bring to a role.  Web series are a newer trend which is starting to take off and gives many actors work they wouldn’t otherwise have.
Netflix is proving that most people don’t want to wait a week to watch the next episode of a series and prefer to binge-watch episodes like The House Of Cards.

Tell me about the best part of your work

I love creating true characters who live and breath moment to moment, and delve into aspects of myself. To play a role truthfully I must face myself and let my emotions release freely whether it is drama or comedy. I love people and working with talented people as a team to create something magical that will captivate audiences around the world. I love to be a mirror to people and help them understand themselves or people they know better, through film or tv and to expand their consciousness in some way. I love the live aspect of theatre, however I love that tv and film can reach more people of all cultures.  I also love to entertain and give people respite or escapism from their lives or simply lift their spirits.

If you could meet anyone in the world dead, or alive, who would it be, and what would you say to them?

Wow. Where do I start?! It has to be these two! Forgive me for wanting two!
To meet my favorite filmmaker Martin Scorsese and ask him to audition me for a role in his next film.  I would want to earn the chance of working with him and all I ask is a chance to show what I can do!

To meet myself at the age of two and hug me and tell me that, despite my father abandoning me, that it is not my fault and that my grandfather will be the best ‘father’ I could ever have. (That’s why I changed my acting name from Agati to De Luca, after my grandfather’s name, as I felt he was more of a father to me and I feel proud to have his surname)

Who is your inspiration/role model?
Charlize Theron, especially for her role in Monster.

What are your passions?
I love listening to all types of music and I play electric guitar and some bass and drums. But I need to practice more! I love nature and the ocean. I love dancing and I love laughing with my friends!

Photo by Matt Harquail - © Matt Harquail

Photo by Matt Harquail – © Matt Harquail

How would you describe yourself in three words?
Passionate. Determined. Fun.

What are your next projects?

I will be playing a quirky lead role in a fun comedy film called Perfect directed by John Trigonis. We will be filming in the States, in New Jersey, in September of this year, and before that, working on the final script and rehearsing. I am really looking forward to that as love New York too and look forward to seeing my American cousins who live there.

Also, a film called “Anna and Modern Day Slavery” directed by Magda Olchawska is soon going to be sent to many film festivals around the world, so I am keen to see the reaction to the film. It is about human trafficking, so is an important subject. I play a lead role, the Russian secret agent in the film.

There are other productions in the pipeline too, including a film to be directed by Anthony Meindl who saw me act at his London masterclasses over the last year and a half. He is an inspiration to me, so it will be an honor to work with him. And I will be playing a French woman in a WW2 drama in another film directed by Rebecca Mac for Charmed Life films.


Actors Studio Redux

What is your favorite word?

What is your least favorite word?

What turns you on?
Happiness in someone’s eyes

What turns you off?

What sound or noise do you love?
Gentle waves on an ocean

What sound or noise do you hate?

What is your favorite curse word?

What profession other than your own, would you like to attempt?

What profession would you not like to do?
A soldier

If Heaven exists, and there is a God, what would you like to hear Him say to you, when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?
Fancy seeing you here!!


Francesca, it has been both an honor and pleasure speaking with you. 

I wish you the very best.