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Actor Yolonda Ross Talks 'Go For Sisters' And 'Treme'

Kevin Long

Along with Jazz Fest comes the Sync Up Conference, several days of workshops and discussions on the business of entertainment, at New Orleans Museum of Art.

This year’s Sync Up Cinema event features John Sayles newest film, Go For Sisters, screening tomorrow afternoon. It stars actor Yolanda Ross, who also appeared in HBO's Treme. She started with how she got the role in John Sayles' new movie.

Laine Kaplan-Levenson: What was your connection to John Sayles before this film?

Yolonda Ross: I had auditioned for Honeydripper and Lisa Gay Hamilton (the other lead of Go For Sisters) got it. That was our first and only meeting. Then, as we were doing PR for Go For Sisters, he said that when we had that audition he wrote in his notes that he had to work with me. So it wasn’t that project, but then he went on to write this one specifically, Lisa Gay Hamilton and I, and I’m glad it worked out that way.

Credit John Sayles
From left: LisaGay Hamilton, Edward James and Yolonda Ross shooting a scene in Mexico.

LKL: In making the film, what were, for you, some of the challenges? What was difficult about the production?

YR: For me personally the thing that got me was the singing, the singing when we were crossing the border. I got stressed over that. There were three songs that John gave me and none of them I knew the words to. So I had to learn them and it was a last minute thing, because he didn’t decide what song we were going with until we were shooting the scene. You know when you’re singing a cappella, even if it is just a little bit, it’s one of those things that’ll frazzle you. And that was the only thing I actually really stressed over!

LKL: This is really a film with two strong female leads, and that is…

YR: Unheard of? Hahaha. Black female leads? That was an amazing fact of the movie — the fact that there are two women of color in different financial backgrounds, social backgrounds, and it was nice to see that. And that they both needed something and wanted something from the other. It is about relationships, you know. That’s what I feel the film really shows, and I was happy to be one of the two. Where you’re not cat fighting or doing any of these stereotypical things that are in movies that have women of color as leads. It was really a character piece about friendship I felt.

LKL: Moving back in time to some of the other projects that you’ve participated in, you were in a bunch of episodes of HBO’s Treme — how did you get involved with that?

YR: I had worked for HBO before on several projects. And I got called in for Treme, and I had never been to New Orleans. At that time I had only watched a few episodes of the show. Going into the audition and coming out of it, I didn’t have much of a feeling for anything happening, but by the time I got home I had the part. The character was Dana Lindsey, she was a documentary filmmaker. And she was doing a film on Big Chief Lambreaux, played by Clark Peters. So it was amazing, I learned about Mardi Gras Indians, I learned about New Orleans, I learned so much stuff. Growing up in the Mid West, I’m from Nebraska, there’s so much richness that I did not know about the city itself, the customs and rituals.

Credit Paul Schiraldi
Yolonda Ross and Clarke Peters in a scene of "Treme".

LKL: Also, your character was someone in the show that was learning about certain things. So you were playing someone that was learning about New Orleans.

YR: Yeah! I was learning just as Dana Lindsey was learning. She was from New Orleans East, but from the way it was written and the background that I got on the character, she was a little guarded by her parents. And then she went to school in Pennsylvania, so she didn’t get to get into the culture of New Orleans. So she got into it, and Yolonda got into it!

Go For Sisters screens Tuesday, April 29, at 3 p.m. at the New Orleans Museum of art, followed by a Q&A with actress Yolanda Ross. This story is brought to you in partnership with NolaVie and is made possible with the assistance of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.