Kelsey Scott embodies strength, beauty, and creativity. Interviewing Ms. Scott was a lovely experience because she has this manner of emphasizing “words of wisdom” that others have passed on to her. However, Kelsey is very much her own person, and she has shaped her unique individuality through various life experiences and as an artist. Kelsey is a two-time, Emmy-nominated actress, screenwriter, and producer, and is extremely professional in everything that she takes on. When Gemma covered the “Band of Angels” charity concert, (whose mission is to cure breast cancer) for event producer Ryan Quast, we had the fantastic opportunity to meet with Kelsey Scott (Host of the event), and we decided to keep the interview going.
Scott began her career in the theatre scene of her hometown of Atlanta. Her late mother was her biggest fan and supporter. Kelsey knew from an early age that she wanted to be in the arts. She started as a child actor (age 3) by participating in theatre, and later attended the Dekalb Center for the Performing Arts at Avondale High School. Kelsey also loves writing and received her BS in Broadcast Journalism from Florida A-&-M University and her MFA in Film, during her graduate years at Florida State University. She devoted herself to writing and directing after graduate school, then recommitted committed herself to acting some years later. She enjoys taking passionate risks that produce self-growth. Scott is continually challenging herself, and it has proven beneficial.
Scott is best known for her role as Anne Northup in the Oscar-winning 12 Years A Slave (2012), her harrowing arc as Wes Gibbins’ mother, Rose, on How to Get Away With Murder (2014), and Sierra, a formidable survivor of an undead apocalypse, in AMC’s 16-part digital series Fear the Walking Dead: Passage (2016) – for which she received a Primetime Emmy nomination. Kelsey has also received a Daytime Emmy nomination for Outstanding Guest Performer in a Digital Daytime Drama series, for her role on Giants.
When Kelsey had a moment to talk, she spoke with Gemma Magazine about her roles, aspects of her creative process, and her desire to step out of her comfort zone.
With acting, what roles are you usually attracted to? I gravitate toward roles that stretch me. I’m fairly certain the ‘public’ perception of me is relatively disciplined and structured. So, many of my auditions are for characters in authority positions – like law enforcement or lawyers — professionals who take a hard line. In reality, I’m as silly as I am cerebral. I navigate as much emotional quicksand as I enjoy psychological stamina. I appreciate any opportunity to play a character who’s just doing her best to hold it all together. The one who’s walking a tightrope toward hope and joy. That doesn’t necessarily mean tears and angst. I’m talking about the everyday struggle of getting through the ‘every day’. I think it’s far more interesting to lean into a character who’s holding back tears, than someone self-aware enough to shed them.
How does acting sustain your spirit?
Acting is my oxygen. I like to push myself to step outside the “box” of what others might assume I should be playing. It’s a different level of work, and it’s worth it. I’m always in search of artistic growth. My mother left me with many life lessons. The one I apply most to my career, is to be committed, consistent and continually evolving.
How did you like playing Rose from How to get Away with Murder? Rose is an excellent example of a character that pushed me. She hailed from a different culture, a different upbringing, and a set of life challenges incomparable to anything I’ve experienced. On top of all that, she required an accent. In answer to your question, I had a ball:) Finding Rose, breathing her… was scary and thrilling. Then to do that is the company of such accomplished actors, was a bonus. And even more unnerving. But that’s where the joy is. In ‘showing up,’ no matter what. No matter where. You figure it out, and you show up. That’s the gig. And I love every second of it.
You adapt to different accents (whether it’s southern, Haitian, etc.). seamlessly. Is this something that comes naturally to you? I appreciate you calling it seamless. That’s not how the process feels! It does not come naturally, and it’s important to me to capture organic accents. I prefer to coach with a native speaker than to approach it academically. But I’ve done both. I’ll use any tools available. The last thing I want during a performance is to be thinking about the accent. And the last thing I want for the audience, is to be distracted by one.
What inspired you to come up with the idea to write Motives and Motives 2? Motives and Motives 2 were work-for-hire scripts. So the original idea came from the producers. They’d put together a skeletal structure of the story they wanted to tell, then came to me to flesh out the characters and plot. Motives was my first, paid screenwriting job, and the lessons I learned throughout the process stay with me to this day. The producers allowed me unparalleled access to production (from casting to editing). And the directors for both installments welcomed me on set and encouraged my interaction with the actors. None of that is the industry norm. So I was careful to be a contributory, but humble, visitor. I read with some of the actors during their auditions, answered their script questions on set, and offered feedback on the Motives 2 director’s cut. It all spoiled me a bit:) But the insights from those productions supplied me excellent tools for future projects.
How do you mentally prepare for a role like Anne Northup? It’s a dominant role, and 12 Years a Slave is a powerful movie. The first step was research. And time was in scarce commodity. I found out I was cast less than a week before shooting began, while driving cross-country to do a play in Atlanta. As there’s very little information about Anne Northup on the internet, most of my information came from reading Solomon Northup’s memoir. Even there, his account rightly focused on his journey. I had to fill in the blanks for his wife. Who was Anne Hampton before she was Anne Northup? Who was Anne Northup, before the storm? At what hour do you realize your husband isn’t just late getting home, he’s not able to come back? What explanation do you give to your children, your family, your community, while dodging your fears and doubts? What resilience does it take to provide for your family, as a ‘single’ mother, in that day and age? What happened during YOUR twelve years? These are the types of questions I tackled before stepping onto the set. I’m still answering some of them. I find Anne a fascinating woman and a delicious character study.
Do you feel there are more empowering roles for women at the current moment in Hollywood? We seem to be putting one foot in front of the other. Much of that can be credited to seeing more women in content-creation. We’re telling our own stories and being vocal when others want to corral us into stereotypes. To be clear, an empowering role doesn’t necessarily mean that the female character is a hero. It means that she has room to be the hero. Or the anti-hero. Or the antagonist — As long as she’s not a boilerplate plot device for the advancement of the male narrative.
What project (s) are you currently working on at the moment? I’m recurring on HBO’s “Insecure,” I have two films scheduled for release next year, and I have a personal development slate, of which I’m very proud. Screenwriting and producing are my off-camera contributions to storytelling. The projects on my slate are a mix of my ideas, the execution of others’ ideas, and a book adaptation. I think they all feature layered women who fall into that bewitching grey between ‘good’ and ‘bad.’
Whether Kelsey Scott is acting, writing, or producing; she’s a talented storyteller. More importantly, she’s committed to the creative process and all it has to offer. She’s such an inspiration with her dedication to her craft. Kelsey steps outside of herself to bring her best self to the particular project (s) she’s working on as well as to her colleagues. Her artistry is multi-dimensional and it makes her fascinating. We are excited to see Kelsey Scott in additional exciting projects in 2020.
On behalf of Gemma Magazine, we thank Kelsey for joining us. She has so much to offer!
You can keep up with Kelsey on the following social media platforms:
Feature Photo: John Collazos – @john_collazos