This last week I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Lisagaye Tomlinson who has recently starred in “Good Trouble” as Nia, an attorney you fights passionately for racial injustice. Through this interview she offered depth-defying insight into her work as this character, specifically what it has meant personally and professionally. Not only that, how excited she was to join the cast and work with the creators. In addition, with an extensive career in the music industry, Lisagaye shed some light on how that industry compared to working within film and television. The full interview is below, be prepared to be blown away by Lisagaye’s passion and commitment to this latest role.
1. You play an attorney who fights passionately for racial injustice, how has it been to inhabit that role? And was there anything in particular you did to prepare for the role?
When I was younger, I actually considered pursuing law. It always seemed like a pretty respectable path to follow and one that would allow me to help others and make a good living. In my normal, non-lawyer-playing life, I’m a person who is big on principle who feels everyone should tell the truth, have integrity, and do the right things. Stepping into Nia’s shoes came naturally to me. The case was topical and true to life and the role gave me a voice and a platform to stand up publicly for all of the young men of color who were victims of similar crimes. Even though this is television, the story feels very real. There comes a point when you’re filming when you are no longer an actor on the opposite side of the camera. You’re not just repeating lines a writer chose to give you. You’ve been given this tremendous amount of trust to help tell an important story and there comes a point where you fully embody your role. My brother, Gordon, is an attorney in Atlanta. I had several conversations with him before my audition which were very helpful. You can’t try to play a role based on how you think it should be played. You have to get out there and do research. Watch and talk to real people to get a good sense of what your approach should be.
- What has it been like joining the cast of “Good Trouble”?
It’s been really exciting! I used to watch The Fosters so I was over the moon when I was chosen for the part. I am so impressed with the creative team, the actors, and the production crew. Everyone is top-notch. It’s been wonderful to be able to be part of the continuing story for well-loved characters. I’ve developed some personal relationships with people from the show who have been welcoming and exceptional. In the hair and makeup trailer no matter who you are, you’re greeted warmly by the vanities crew and series regulars alike. The stories the creatives are telling have meaning and many people can identify with them. They include stories of marginal people who have largely been left out of the spotlight. Stories other writers have not yet brought to the forefront. The show makes a wide variety of viewers feel like they are represented in life, in love, in their struggles, or points of view.
- Can you offer any insight into what we can expect from your character? If you were to use three words to describe her, what would they be?
Nia is going to fight the best fight she can. She’s going up against a huge establishment and obstacles that will make it very difficult for her. This is an important case so she’s putting everything she has into it. It’s going to be hard for her sometimes to separate her professional and personal faces to the public. This case hits home for her for some reason. Nia is many things but if I had to choose only three to describe her, I’d say steadfast, impassioned, and astute. I’m just going to go ahead and say she most likely graduated at the top of her class from a small law school. She was probably the first in her family to pursue a post-graduate degree so she worked very, very hard to get to where she is now. I would totally hire her to represent me.
- The creators of “Good Trouble” have extreme success with “The Fosters” and have always done such beautiful work bringing timely issues and conversation pieces to the forefront, how has it been to work amongst a group of creatives such as them? Has there been anything in particular you’ve learnt from this experience?
I’ve met and had the pleasure of being directed by all three creatives for the show. Each of them is very in tune with all the intimate details of community-, social-, family-, and gender-specific story points that help to make the Good Trouble experience so valid and satisfying for viewers. They write real stories of real people and it makes you feel good about the work you do on set. Because of their work, you get the chance to affect people’s lives and to help give people the courage to stand up for themselves.
- How does your experience in the music industry differ from that of your acting career?
Well, the music industry has changed a lot. It’s been a while since musicians have not had to depend upon record companies to launch their careers. I found that in music, the labels were always looking for the next big thing as long as they were young. There’s almost a time limit when dealing with music companies. If you’re over 25 they’re not really looking for people like you. Film and television is a completely different experience. There is always a role for a baby, a kid, a teenager, a mother or father, a recent retiree, a septuagenarian or octogenarian or even older, I mean, there’s a role for you, my friend, whoever you are. There are just different casting categories you fit into and it’s great to know your career still has a chance even after you turn 25. I think the music industry depends on a formula. If they get you to produce a certain suite of songs that appeal to the masses then that will make everyone some money. With acting, most times you don’t have to stay in your lane. You get so many opportunities to switch and play different people and personalities. This industry gives actors chances to grow and expand which is fulfilling.
- If you could offer one piece of advice to a young creative striving to break into the entertainment industry, what would it be?
I think training is pretty important. There are some people who have natural talent but there may still be a need to continue to hone your skills as an actor. If you’re not on set regularly, you should probably be taking actors’ training a good studio. I know this is probably embarrassing to admit but I don’t go to a traditional gym gym to workout. However, I go to an acting “gym” three times per week to work on my technique and to keep myself in a constant state of readiness for the next great role that may come along. Now that I think about it, I should probably go to the gym gym at some point.
- Do you have any rituals you participate in before a day of filming?
I just make sure that my mind is clear, that I am completely off-book, that I don’t go out or have any cocktails, that I get a lot of rest, and I set at least three alarms on my phone for early call times. I’m never late to any set. I always arrive at least 30 to 45 minutes before my call time. I never want to feel rushed or tired in any way when I know I need to focus on delivering a specific point of view for the character I’m playing. When I arrive on set I like to take a leisurely stroll to crafty and grab a coffee with cream and perhaps some oatmeal with brown sugar and raisins. This will never change.