Tracee Ellis Ross opens up about dishonest journalism, getting snubbed by Jay Leno’s Booker and Tribeca Thriller ‘Cold Copy’

This is the production of a report.

“We see it now, how a story can change the truth,” says Tracee Ellis Ross as she slips into a plush chair in her Los Angeles home. There is no particular trend story in her mind. The actress and sometimes director simply reflects on the state of clickbait journalism and America’s eroding trust in the media. The subject is central to his latest film, the Fourth Estate thriller “Cold Copy,” in which Ross plays Diane Hager, an esteemed but ruthless TV reporter who begins to mentor an ambitious wannabe (Bel Powley), eventually leading them all two down. morally bankrupt path.

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“There’s a way to tell stories, you can create a frame around a story that completely changes the identity of a human being, their humanity,” says Ross. “I think Diane Hager is really part of that system.”

As the second daughter of music icon Diana Ross and business executive Robert Ellis Silberstein, the ‘Black-ish’ star witnessed firsthand how her mother’s story was often shaped by a clumsy story that bore little resemblance to reality. She even had a front row seat when the elder Ross sat down for some of TV’s biggest personalities.

“My mother was interviewed by Barbara Walters several times,” she notes. “And Oprah repeatedly. And I was also interviewed. There are very distinct differences between what it’s like to be interviewed by Oprah and what it’s like to be interviewed by Barbara Walters. I will keep them for myself. But there was a distinct difference in sentiment.

With “Cold Copy,” Ross’ antagonist is a next-level shark, enjoying watching his subjects squirm under questioning in a loose pursuit of ratings. Written and directed by newcomer Roxine Helberg, the film sees Ross losing her own identity (“Just physically, I’m talking with my hands. I don’t know if you noticed, but Diane didn’t talk much with her hands,” Ross said, gesturing wildly. “I smile all the time. I laugh all the time. I don’t think Diane Hager smiled unless she felt like she was manipulating someone. ‘a. And it wasn’t a smile. It was a smirk.”) . Helberg says, “Tracee is just charisma incarnate, but she can really plumb those incredible emotional depths whenever she wants, and it’s so easy. And it’s so perfect for Diane because the public has to fall under her spell. So when cracks start to appear, it has a real impact.

As “Cold Copy” makes its world premiere tonight at the Tribeca Film Festival, Ross won’t be alone in the audience. “My father will be there,” she said. “Unfortunately, my mother is on tour.” As the film’s debut approached, Ross sat down to Variety to talk about finding inspiration in the memoir of Katie Couric and how “I was never okay with” the indignities endured by actresses in Hollywood leading up to #MeToo.

Have you seen any parallels between the news industry and Hollywood?

Ross: Of course. [laughs] The system created a need for this kind of cut-throat. I don’t think you have to be that [unethical] person. But I think it’s the easier way and unfortunately you lose your soul in the process. I hope in my own journey to Hollywood there have been no casualties to my success. Not that I had to make a choice that would cause me to lose my soul. i think people [choose] the other side, and their integrity has been compromised. We have seen it. We hear a lot of those stories now.

How has the #MeToo calculation changed things?

Ross: I think the change in the world we live in – if you use #MeToo as an example – for women is the revelation, “I don’t have to submit to this.” Generations of women have learned, “It’s just part of it. This is the tax you have to pay. But then the tide turns, and someone is brave enough to come forward, or someone finds a weakness in the system and is able to open it up. And then everyone can be like, “Oh, I don’t need to do this anymore. Like, I never liked that. I’ve never been okay with that. But I didn’t know how to do it [otherwise].”

What prompted you to try your luck with a first director?

Ross: Roxine is an incredibly intelligent woman, who has a very deep emotional intelligence. Her father was a therapist. She has the ability to write that [moral dilemma] in material, which I think Bel and I saw in the script and why we signed on. I also like working with new directors. One of my favorite things about being an actor, when I’m not directing, is really being in service to the director’s vision and storytelling. I find it really exciting, especially when it’s a woman. Being able to say, “What do you want it to be? And how can I contribute to this and create something with you? »

What was Roxine’s initial pitch with you?

Ross: The script was the first. And I was just very intrigued by the character. I sort of started to separate the character. When I first read the script, I had a lot of questions. And there were a lot of things to reconcile. It was not written for a black woman. But as a black woman, there were certain lines and certain things that didn’t fit. And I also really wanted to make sure that it wouldn’t continue [the stereotypes of female] competition in the wrong direction. So Roxine and I had a lot of conversations, back and forth. And it was the same when we were working. There wasn’t much to change in the core of the script, but I wanted to know what Roxine’s working style was and how we were going to be able to get into some of the darker stuff. It was just a really interesting story about two women that we don’t normally see.

A story of two women similar to the one you told in “The High Note” with Dakota Johnson.

Ross: It was my that was one of my concerns in the beginning, honestly it was too similar if you had to take just the skeleton of it. When you backed up, was it the same story? But it was very different for me. Obviously, the character was completely different. As I was diving with Roxine there was so much more. There was such a different layering than what we were trying to achieve. “High Note” was about how the system ranks a woman in the [music] industry, and “Cold Copy” is how a woman used the system, all the bad things and the bad parts of the system, to get to a certain place. And then his protege is the one who knocks her down, unlike the other way around. It’s really interesting to play someone who’s on the wrong side of things.

What did you do to prepare for the role?

Ross: I read Katie Couric’s book [“Going There”]. I read a fantastic book about all the great news anchors. For me, the realization is that few female reporters on camera have gotten to a place where we know their names. The book recounts all their travels. There is a common thread: they are the only [women] in the room. So I was thinking about what that trajectory must have been for Diane and what it should have been to move forward and be in the position that she was in.

What has been the highlight of your career so far?

Ross: Win the Golden Globe [for “Black-ish”]. I had never been to the Emmys. I had never been to the Golden Globes. I couldn’t get on a late night talk show. I remember when I was on “Girlfriends,” Jay Leno’s talent person saying to my publicist, “We love Tracee. Call us when she gets a role we care about. So that’s my experience in the industry The industry was much more segregated back then. So winning the Golden Globe, from an ego perspective, is like, “Blah, blah, blah, really awesome.” But winning is a marker for industry. It changes something about the way you are seen, especially as a person of color in this industry, and how you get paid. That moment at the Golden Globes really changed my career. I have always been the same person. But it changed other things.

What do you like the most in Hollywood?

Ross: I love that Hollywood is an industry meant to support creative dreams. And that there is a sense of being able to tell stories that expand humanity and our understanding of ourselves and others. And when entertainment is done right, it has the ability to open minds and hearts and truly change the course of the world. There are studies that say culture drives politics.

And what do you hate the most in Hollywood?

The hard part is that there are a lot of frustrating moments. You oppose a system that, honestly, is not made for expansive liberation. Fortunately, I come from a family where I was taught not only to know who I am, but also to grow and become who I am, to trust who I am, and to use my voice to not be afraid of authority. Not being afraid of the status quo, but rather using my own inner compass as a way to navigate through life. So Hollywood doesn’t scare me.

Who influenced you the most, your mother or your father?

Ross: I have to tell you, it’s both. I got my sense of humor from my dad. He and I are so alike. I spent more time with my mother. She was my only parent for most of my childhood. I look so much like my mother and I look so much like my father. I don’t know who influenced me the most. But I think my career was more influenced by my father.

Career regrets?

Ross: No. I had an amazing race. I did eight years on “Girlfriends” and eight years on “Black-ish”. It’s 16 years of my life. I had four months off [a year], two of those I was trying to salvage from the season. And then, if you want to make a film in there, it better be good. During “Girlfriends”, I did not receive these offers. During the “Black-ish” years, I did the things I wanted to do when they came up. Since “Black-ish”, I’ve done three movies and released a podcast and have a hair business. I stayed quite busy. And “Cold Copy” sounds really exciting to me. It is [a character] I have never seen in me. Even when Roxine sent me the photo of the poster, it took me a minute to remember it was me. I was like, “Who is this?” He doesn’t even look like me.

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