The Color Purple has taken many different forms over the years. The original 1982 novel by Alice Walker was adapted into a 1985 movie starring Whoopi Goldberg and Oprah Winfrey, then re-imagined into a Tony-winning musical and finally, just recently, that show was transformed into a new movie musical. Whether as an audience member or as a performer, Danielle Brooks has been there for most of that journey.

Shortly after getting her big break as Taystee in Netflix’s Orange is the New Black, Brooks played the iconic character of Sofia in the Broadway revival of The Color Purple, a role which earned her a Tony nomination in 2016. Most recently, Brooks returned to play Sofia in the new movie version of The Color Purple musical, which was released this Christmas to critical acclaim. That powerhouse performance earned her nominations for a Golden Globe, a Critics Choice Award, a SAG Award, and her first Oscar nomination, for Best Supporting Actress.

We caught up with her all the way from New Zealand, where she’s currently filming the her new movie Minecraft. In this conversation, Brooks explores the connection between faith and performance, how she works to upend stereotypes, and why The Color Purple continues to resonate with audiences of different generations.

Tune in every Thursday, and join us as we continue to explore the minds that shape our world. You can listen to the full episode here, but here are a handful of excerpts from our conversation, which have been condensed and edited for clarity.

On how seeing The Color Purple on Broadway as a teenager changed her life:

I was 15. I had won an internship. And they were taking about 15 to 20 people from around the U.S., teenagers, to learn how to make their own short films. And so I went and got a free trip with my dad. And the reason we went to The Color Purple, because once again, as we know, representation matters, and that was the only Black show, unless you include Lion King. And so we went to The Color Purple and I remember sitting all the way in the mezzanine section and being blown away.

I just was like: Oh my gosh, there’s a path. Because the bug for me wasn’t in necessarily TV and film only because I didn’t know how to get there. But the theater… I was like, Oh my gosh, I love theater. There has to be a way that I can do this. When I look at an August Wilson play and I look at the names of the actors, like a Epatha Merkerson or, you know, Samuel L. Jackson. I’m like, Oh, well, they started out in the play, you know, I can start out in the play.

And so when I saw that musical, it became this direct spark that said: this is a path. I can do this. They look like me. They’re singing about God. There’s acting and dancing, all these things that I love. And then 10 years later, crazy enough, how like just this full circle moment, that’s the first Broadway show that I star in.

On how she played Sofia in The Color Purple on Broadway at the same time as she played Taystee in Orange is the New Black:

So the way that my schedule worked was: I would get up in the morning at 4 or 5 in the morning. Go to set for Orange is the New Black. Get in hair and makeup. Start shooting. Shoot until about 12. Go get in a car. Go shoot over to 42nd Street. Start rehearsals between 1 to 5 or 6 p.m. Have a one hour dinner break and from there go do a show during previews. Starting at 8, that would not wrap until 10:30pm at night. Go greet all of the fans for another 30 minutes once you get out of costume. And then, now we’re at what, 11 o’clock? And then I lived in Brooklyn, so I didn’t get home until 11:45 pm. And do it all over the next day.

It was insane. I remember doing for Orange is the New Black, the Poussey death scene in the cafeteria. Doing that and then running over to the theater in Color Purple and then playing Sofia.

So we’re doing eight shows a week on top of shooting Orange is the New Black. Which I feel like I can only do in my twenties. Like I can only do as a single woman with no kids. It’s kind of impossible to do now.

On why she wants this Oscar so badly:

I feel a huge responsibility, you know, I felt a huge one before stepping into the shoes of Sofia that Miss O [Oprah Winfrey] had originated. But now, being the only one Oscar nominated from the film has really added to that.

I feel like I am standing as one, but coming as a thousand. There’s so many people that have been a part of this incredible piece of work, even from 1985 when this movie was nominated for 11 Oscars and didn’t win one.

It’s just like, man, I just, I want it for everybody. I want it for Whoopi [Goldberg,] and Oprah [Winfrey,] and Danny Glover, and Margaret Avery, and all the people that’ve been a part of the Broadway productions, and the tours, and the regional theater, and the Africa version of this. I just know what this story has been for so many people that have been on the inside of it and who have witnessed it and had the impact of change within their heart and their spirit…

So I just want that win for the multiverse that is The Color Purple.

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