ABOVE PHOTO: Amirah Vann as Ernestine, in a scene from “Underground”.
Interview with Kam Williams
An actress and singer – songwriter from Far Rockaway, Queens, Amirah Vann began performing at a young age. Pursuing her passion for performing, she completed her undergraduate study in acting at Fordham University at Lincoln Center before entering a graduate acting program at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts.
Soon thereafter, Vann began working with The Continuum Company under the direction of Jim Calder. She traveled with the company to Florence, Italy, performing in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” while collaborating as a vocalist with Jonathan Batiste (“The Late Show”) to develop original music for the production. She also performed in the company’s popular production of “Pericles.”
Upon graduation, Vann participated in a variety of developmental musical workshops, including “Kingdom,” “Holler If You Hear Me,” “Sweethearts of Swing,” “The Lady Killers Love Story” and “Cubamor.” She made her off-Broadway debut in “Laughing Pictures” at the Flea Theatre, and continued her stage career in “Trouble In Mind,” “The Mountaintop,” “Vanya and Sonya and Masha and Spike,” “Wax Wings” and “Blueprint.”
She began her television career in roles on “Girls” (HBO), “Believe” (NBC) and “Mozart in the Jungle” (Amazon). Her film credits include “Tracers,” “And So It Goes,” “Don’t Worry Baby,” “Once More with Feeling,” and “Three and a Half Thoughts.”
Vann was recently nominated for a NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series for her work in “Underground,” WGN America’s critically acclaimed hit series. Here, she talks about her role on the show as “Ernestine.”
Kam Williams: Hi Amirah, thanks for the interview.
Amirah Vann: It’s my pleasure, Kam. Thank you.
KW: What interested you in “Underground?”
AV: Misha Green and Joe Pokaski’s writing. It’s smart, dynamic, and bold!
KW: Congratulations on your character’s expanded role during the second season.
AV: Thank you. Ms. Ernestine is such an amazing, complex woman that I was thrilled to get the opportunity to go deeper into her story.
KW: How would you describe her in 25 words or less?
AV: She’s like so many women I know: strong, resilient, wise and beautifully flawed.
KW: Has her plight ever struck an emotional chord in you?
AV: Most definitely! These are our ancestors, and what they had to endure is almost unimaginable. But the fact remains that Ms. Ernestine found the courage to get up and face another day. So, it is my duty to share her courage and her humanity.
KW: What message do you want people to take away from the series?
AV: Let’s all be soldiers! Join me on the front lines. I am arming myself with a voice that speaks for equality and justice, a spirit of love, and a walk with God.
KW: AALBC.com founder Troy Johnson asks: What was the last book you read?
AV: “God, Dr. Buzzard, and the Bolito Man,” by Cornelia Bailey. It beautifully reflects both the Gullah Geechee Nation, my African-American father’s history, and my mother’s stories of Puerto Rico.
KW: What is your favorite dish to cook?
AV: My favorite meal is pollo guisado with arroz con habichuelas and a side salad with avocado, and stewed chicken with rice and beans.
KW: Sherry Gillam would like to know what is the most important life lesson you’ve learned so far?
AV: Live honoring your truth, not in response to others.
KW: What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done?
AV: Daring to pursue my dreams. It’s not such a crazy idea y’all!
KW: If you could have one wish instantly granted, what would that be for?
AV: Leadership that reflects the diverse citizens they represent.
KW: The Uduak Oduok question: Who is your favorite clothes designer?
AV: Hmmm… That’s tough. I can say I love baggy jeans and a hoodie as much as I do an elegant dress.
KW: The Anthony Mackie question: Is there anything that you promised yourself you’d do if you became famous, that you still haven’t done yet?
AV: Give back! Love doing that and will continue.
KW: Harriet Pakula-Teweles asks: With so many classic films being redone, is there a remake you’d like to star in?
AV: I would love to be in a remake of Set it Off.
KW: Judyth Piazza asks: What key quality do you believe all successful people share?
AV: They pressed on through the storm.
KW: Finally, what’s in your wallet?
AV: A Metro card. Always ready to jump on the train.
KW: Thanks again for the time, Amirah, and good luck with “Underground.”
AV: Thank you, Kam.
To see a scene from “Underground,” featuring Amirah singing “Move, Daniel,” visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mhvVxVF0JIk