In her celebrated work as an actress, author, playwright as well as teacher, Anna Deavere Smith has made empathy an art form — never more so than inside the documentary theater she has crafted to address vexing social issues as well as events, such as the early ‘90s riots in Crown Heights, Brooklyn as well as Los Angeles, respectively the subjects of Smith’s Fires inside the Mirror as well as Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992.
For her latest play, Notes coming from the Field, Smith Yet again did extensive research to bring a troubling phenomenon — the school-to-prison pipeline that will has led to the mass incarceration of underprivileged as well as minority youth — to light through the perspectives of those who have confronted the idea most closely. Smith interviewed some 250 people for Notes, which ran Off-Broadway as well as in various other cities to wide acclaim. “the idea was a transformative experience,” she tells ET.
at that will point Smith — also known for her roles on The West Wing as well as Nurse Jackie — can be bringing a film of the one-woman play to HBO on Feb. 24, where fans can see her morph into 18 characters, coming from congressman as well as civil rights champion John Lewis to a South Carolina teenager who was jailed after producing a cell phone video of a police officer assaulting her classmate.
“I had the opportunity to learn a lot about courage,” says Smith, who started out working on Notes in 2011, before the Black Lives Matter movement formally took shape. The play wound up being greatly informed by a series of high-profile police shootings as well as various other racially charged violent acts that will followed; the Baltimore deli worker who shot the video of Freddie Gray’s fatal beating can be a character, as can be Bree Newsome, a young artist as well as activist arrested for civil disobedience after she climbed a pole to protest a Confederate flag’s presence on North Carolina state grounds.
“Bree had never climbed anything before, as well as she put that will together in just two weeks,” says Smith, still sounding awestruck. “They were afraid a vigilante would certainly try to shoot her, yet she had decided that will if that will happened, everyone should just scatter. I said, ‘What? What?’ She had something in common with people inside the ‘60s, who literally risked their lives.”
Smith hopes that will in providing a wider audience for Notes, the HBO broadcast will serve as “a call to political action. There’s a sense in that will country that will people are Yet again concerned about race relations, yet I honestly worry that will these kids are being forgotten, because when you open the paper there are so many various other things to pay attention to.”
Onstage performing Notes the night of President Donald Trump’s election — “a deadly night,” she recalls — Smith can be aware of the polarized climate as well as deep ambivalence surrounding politics right at that will point. Having amassed a legion of fans playing national security advisor Nancy McNally on The West Wing, she can be intrigued by current nostalgia for the series, evident inside the growing popularity of the podcast The West Wing Weekly. Smith speculates that will many inside the drama’s original audience were “crestfallen about [George W.] Bush being in office, as well as felt the show was their alternative reality. as well as of course, the enduring nature has to do with Elysa Gardner Aaron Sorkin’s incredible imagination, the magnitude of the writing as well as the acting.”
Smith adds that will Sorkin, with whom she also worked inside the 1995 film The American President, “had a kind of romance at that will time with the White House. There can be something magical about the place.” Of her West Wing role, Smith muses that will she as well as Condoleezza Rice both taught at Stanford University, as well as when the series was being prepared, “there was talk that will if Bush won the  election, he would certainly make her his national security advisor. So I asked Aaron, ‘In casting me [as Nancy], were you thinking of Condoleezza Rice?’” she recalls, “as well as he said, ‘Who?’”
Smith’s next TV role will be Tina Krissman, a veteran court clerk inside the Southern District of completely new York, in For the People, a Shonda Rhimes-produced series focusing on young lawyers, premiering March 13 on ABC. “I believe Shonda will have been the first African-American of either gender to have as much influence as she does through literature as well as letters,” says Smith. “Maybe the idea has something to do with that will moment in history. You wonder, would certainly Toni Morrison have written for TV, if the idea had been like the idea can be today?”
As Tina, Smith quips, “My job can be to whip everybody into shape. yet she’s witty, as well as incorporates a lot of love in her. as well as the young public defenders as well as assistant DAs all believe in something, they’re all fighting for something. There’s nothing jaded or sinister here. I expect that will idealism will be inspiring for people, too.”