Actress & Activist Danielle Brooks On How Seeing Others Helped Her See Herself

Photographed by Elisa Kreisinger.
At this point, Danielle Brooks’ face is probably synonymous with your Netflix Happy Place. But these days, she’s ever-present well beyond your laptop, in gorgeous ads for Lane Bryant, as well as in every outlet she can take advantage of to spread her message of activism for #VoiceOfTheCurves. It's safe to say, she’s having a moment.

One of the most notable of these moments is her Tony-nominated portrayal of Sofia in The Color Purple. The role not only catapulted Brooks’ career to another level, but also holds personal significance for the actress. In her chat with R29 global editor-in-chief and cofounder Christene Barberich, for our new podcast UnStyled, Brooks recounts seeing the Broadway play with her father at a young age: “I remember sitting in that audience in the balcony and just bawling my eyes out, seeing people that looked like me, that were so professional, that were so talented, that were sharing so much of their souls with me.” She goes on to credit the play as the reason she chose to pursue acting, “I was so moved. My mind was blown, and I was like, I gotta do that. That was the moment for me.”

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Read more of their conversation, below. And, make sure to subscribe to UnStyled to hear more from Brooks on her triumphs, motivations, and her spiritual side, too.

I remember sitting in that audience in the balcony and just bawling my eyes out.

Your schedule sounds incredibly intense, but also really exciting and exhilarating...
"It really is. It's the beauty of life, you know what I mean? It's like, I just want to eat it all [up] and enjoy it all, and I'm learning how to do that in a way that I can manage, stay healthy, and stay rested so that I can give 100% in whatever I'm doing."
How has playing the role of Sofia changed you?
"Sofia's helped me so much. There's this big number called 'Hell No' that she sings, and it's basically a women's empowerment song. When I sing that, I think about my journey. I wasn't raised in a family of abuse, but when I think about the things that I've had to fight for in my life, it's helped me to say 'hell no,' to feeling like I can't accomplish things, or 'hell no,' to feeling like I'm not enough, or that whatever I'm going through that day — whether it's a weight thing, a relationship thing — it reminded me, 'No, Danielle, you can do this, and you will do this.'"

You're in such a unique position because you are in two of the most diverse casts in theater and television right now.
"It's interesting because it kind of just fell in my lap. I've always felt like I am more than what people think I am and I'm capable of more than what you might first see when you look at me. I've always felt like I can do and play anything. When I came into Orange is the New Black, I didn't realize at the time, I just wanted a job. I felt really nervous about playing something that I thought might end up being stereotypical. I decided to take the journey because after speaking to some people, they were like, 'We promise, this is not gonna be what you think it's gonna be. You're not necessarily gonna play the sassy black woman that's always angry.' I got into this world with these women, and I am blown away at how diverse this cast is — from race, to age, to transgender, to sexual preference. I am in a position where I can be very selective of the material that I want to be a part of. It's very important to me that I align myself with projects that are inclusive. That's what my focus is about, working on material like Masters of None with Aziz [Ansari], on Girls with Lena Dunham, working with Jenji Kohan, working with John Doyle directing The Color Purple. I want to make sure I’m doing things that people look at and say, 'Damn, I never thought to cast her, but that was brilliant.'"
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