Arts

Actor Tracee Ellis Ross on her new film The High Note and why she's not worried about being compared to her famous mother

Actress Tracee Ellis Ross, daughter of Diana Ross, plays a chart-topping diva in new film The High Note. She tells Laura Harding why she waited so long to let people hear her sing, how she feels about comparisons to her megastar mum and why she wants to represent single women on film.

Tracee Ellis Ross as Grace Davis in The High Note
Laura Harding

TRACEE Ellis Ross is showing off her bare feet. More than two months into lockdown and the actress is still enjoying the novelty of conducting interviews over Zoom from the comfort of her living room, complete with fresh cut white flowers and comfy-looking sofas.

"I don't have shoes on!" she says gleefully as she yanks her foot up towards her face so it's visible to the webcam. "Look!"

She is remarkably relaxed and enthusiastic for a woman who has just faced her biggest fear.

After a decades-long successful acting career, as the star of comedies Girlfriends and Black-ish, the daughter of megastar Diana Ross is finally ready to let people hear her sing.

She plays the chart-topping diva Grace Davis in new comedy The High Note, who is grappling with the choice between cashing in and signing up for a Las Vegas residency, or releasing a new album that might land like a lead balloon.

Ross shows off her impressive voice in the film, and has even released a song from the soundtrack, Love Myself, as a single, but admits that while she was excited to finally show what she can do, she was nervous about inviting comparisons to her famous parent.

"I think it was a combination of both," she says thoughtfully.

"It was my biggest dream as a child [to sing] and somehow with waiting as long as I did, it became my biggest fear. Being my mom's child, of course, duh, that's some big shoes to step into. She's just an international icon and beloved by the world and broke barriers and opened up roads etc.

"But I don't think I had or have any concern, particularly after people see the film, that people will think I'm playing her. The story has nothing to do with my mother.

"I think it was my own personal fear of having to face what had grown into this big fear of 'Am I going to be compared to my mom? Or to anyone else? And the same as Grace, at this point in my career is it really worth me trying something new? Is that really worth it?

"And yes it has been worth it. In every way. I have opened up a freedom within myself that I am so grateful for and I faced my biggest fear and now my voice is out the bag."

The film also gave 47-year-old Ross the chance to explore the character of an unmarried woman who was not in pursuit of a man, providing an example of a female character she felt was missing from culture when she was younger.

Instead, the key relationship in the film is between Grace and her personal assistant Maggie, played by Dakota Johnson, who dreams of producing Grace's music.

"I wish growing up I had had more ideas of what it was like to curate your own life and curate your own happiness because it's so personal. And that was another thing that drew me to the film, that the story of this was not the knight in shining armour, it was not about this woman in context of a man, it was two women in the context of themselves, in the world, going after who they want to be and I loved that.

"I chased this script for like eight months because there were so many parts of it that I found exciting and unexpected. I loved this character, I felt like right on the page you could feel her, she was larger than life but at the same time she had this big heart that was kind of locked away and you wondered why as you were turning the pages and then there is this journey that she goes on and that she shares.

"But I also loved that this was a story about two women who were not against each other but were both on that same journey of pursuing their own dreams and not allowing other people's idea of them to determine what they went after."

Johnson, herself the child of famous parents – actors Don Johnson and Melanie Griffith – and who is currently pursuing her own dreams of producing and directing, agrees.

"I think it's really important for young women but also for any human to know that if they have drive and ambition and discipline and focus on really working hard and evolving their skill and their talent, you can really get anywhere," the 30-year-old says.

"For Maggie, she really believes in herself even when nobody believes in her and though there are times when that is really heartbreaking and it's difficult to keep going, if you just keep going then you get at least somewhere."

Johnson's newly-launched company Teatime Pictures, represents her own drive to achieve her dreams.

"I think that I've just found that I really love making movies and I want to make more of them and I want to make ones that I find to be great.

"For me producing just means that I have more of a hand in how something turns out. There are a lot of times when you sign up to make a movie and then it comes out as a completely different thing and you just have no say over that and it's hard as an actress, as an artist, to be like 'Oh that is not what I wanted to do,' and then you're stuck with it, so that is the goal, to make really great content for people."

:: The High Note is available to rent at home on Sky Store, Amazon Prime Video and other digital retailers on May 29

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