*Since the demise of Girlfriends in 2008 “Blackish” star Tracee Ellis Ross has kept it going with a series of Joan-like roles in movies and TV and her latest gig isn’t that much of a departure either.
Starting Wednesday night, Ellis Ross trades her designer suits for some surgical scrubs playing a biracial Beverly Hills doctor and wife of a successful advertising executive (Anthony Anderson) from Compton, Calif. Much of the show’s comedy stems from the disparity in their socio-economic upbringings and the fact that their four children are having identity issues when it comes to who and what they are.
The series, which bows at 9:30 p.m. on ABC, also stars Laurence Fishburne, who along with Anderson, Larry Wilmore and Kenya Barris is an executive producer.
While it has been seemingly difficult for Ellis Ross to shed Joan Clayton, at least Joan seems to have broadened a bit. No longer is Ellis Ross playing the perpetually single lovable snob, she’s now being cast as the loving wife and mother. It’s a transition of sorts.
“You know, it doesn’t feel like an efforted transition,” Ellis Ross told reporters at the annual Television Critics Association press tour last summer. “It seems that the way that I grew up after ‘Girlfriends’ is naturally lending itself to this. I feel like I grew into a woman on ‘Girlfriends’ but I spent the time after that actually embodying that experience. And I am now able to put that into play, especially in a situation with such amazing other actors. I mean, the kids are fantastic, and I kind of naturally lean into that mother role anyway. I’m a very mothering person.”
The premise of the opening episode takes a page from Anderson’s own personal life. Apparently, his oldest son, having enjoyed the fruits of his father’s success, was having some identity issues. He came home one day and told his Compton-reared pops that he wanted to have a Bar Mitzvah. Instead, his father offered to host his “Bro Mitzvah.”
It’s in these parental moments the chemistry between Anderson and Ellis Ross is at its best. The two actors have known each other for 15 years but this is the first opportunity they’ve had to interact on screen.
“From the first moment when I walked into the audition I loved the material,” Ellis Ross said. “And I responded to the material. I was excited to come in with Anthony and knowing that it was Laurence and Larry and Kenya and all that. The moment I stepped in and you just looked at me (to Anderson). And I was like, ‘Oh. Like, everything I had planned is gone and there is something happening here that is totally out of my hands and it’s just happening.’”
This satirical look at kids with benefits somewhat mirrors Ross’s own life growing up as the daughter of superstar Diana Ross and her then Jewish husband Bob Silberstein.
“This feels very authentic but from a different point-of-view,” Ellis Ross said. “It’s not necessarily the specific perspective that I grew up in but what I really love is that there are so many different perspectives that the environment I grew up in does get addressed and expressed.”
While her privileged upbringing may have shielded her from certain insensitivities, at 41, Ellis Ross has seen the world become more accepting of people of mixed race. “I never really understood that whole what was lit like being mixed,” she said. “It was actually a really extraordinary experience for me mostly because it made me very comfortable with difference.”
It also made her appreciate good parenting. According to Ellis Ross her mom was a mom first, diva second.
“She was such a hands-on and beautiful mother that I actually look forward to the opportunity be a mother so that I can put some of that into play,” Ellis Ross said.
Recently, there were some Hollywood rumors about a planned remake of “Mahogany,” the iconic ‘70s film starring Ross and Billy Dee Williams. While Ellis Ross said she hadn’t heard anything about it, she might consider stepping into her mother’s old stilettos.
“I’ve never actually thought about it,” she said. “I don’t know what it would be like to fall into my mother’s shoes in that way. It might be really weird but I think it’s an extraordinary movie to re-do.”