Actress Karimah Westbrook, co-star of the highly anticipated, and rather controversial, upcoming Coen Brothers/George Clooney drama “Suburbicon“, talks about her career, whom she most admires in Hollywood, how she prepared to portray civil rights icon Daisy Myers, and whether or not racism can be eradicated in the United States.
SPLASH STAFF– Tell us a little bit about yourself. Where are you from? What’s your background?
KARIMAH WESTBROOK– My name is Karimah Westbrook, I’m originally from Chicago but I currently reside in Los Angeles, California. I’m the youngest of two, being myself and my sister, and I have always been extremely driven. I’m an actress, who also writes and produces, and I got my first big industry break by crashing an audition for “Save the Last Dance”, starring Julia Stiles and Kerry Washington. Since then I have proceeded to appear in a number of feature films, working with the likes of Johnny Depp, Alfre Woodard, Giovanni Ribisi and Mario Van Peebles, and I’ve also worked on 25 plus TV shows including “Shameless”, “Girlfriends”, “The Fosters”, “Mad Men”, “Masters of Sex”, etc.
SS– When did you decide that you wanted to peruse acting as a career?
KW– I participated in all of my school plays as a kid, but I didn’t consider pursuing a career in acting until I was seventeen years old, post military school.
SS– As an actress, with the incredible amount of competition for great rolls, do you deem it important to create your own projects and opportunities in Hollywood?
KW– There is an incredible amount of competition as an actor but I live by the motto “What’s meant for me will be”. Creating your own opportunities is absolutely necessary if you want to facilitate your own path and work more frequently in this industry. It’s also the biggest marketing tool, a calling card if you will, that an actor can create for themselves and their careers. Don’t wait, create. The doors will open.
SS– To date, what was your favorite roll to play?
KW– My favorite role to play thus far was the role of LaShon from “Truth Hall“. “Truth Hall” is an indie film I did about college friends who reunite for their best friends’ wedding, only to discover that the lies of their past are about to collide with the truths of their present. My character LaShon is a Hollywood movie star who is best friends with the bride to be. She’s my favorite roll because she has so much freedom in how she chooses to live her life. She’s a straight shooter who doesn’t hold her tongue and always says exactly what she’s thinking, without apologies. She’s a bit of a diva, and it was fun playing her because I personally tend to hold things in and try to be as politically correct as possible, and LeShon is the polar opposite.
SS– In your career, you have worked alongside such an iconic list of actors. Is there an actor in particular whom you are dying to work with in the future?
KW– I would love to play opposite Chadwick Boseman. His work is really incredible. I would also love to work with Whoopi Goldberg, Taraji P Henson, Denzel Washington, Leonardo Dicaprio, Viola Davis, Queen Latifah, and Sterling K Brown.
SS– Who’s work do you admire the most right now and why?
KW– Right now, I’m a huge fan of Sterling K Brown from “This is Us”. He’s so present, full, alive and vulnerable…his work is so layered and honest. It’s truly inspiring.
SS– Let’s talk about “Suburbicon”. In the film, you portray Daisy Myers, the iconic author of “Sticks n’ Stones”, the real life account of her family’s experience living in Levittown, PA. How did you prepare for that roll? Have you had a chance to personally meet and speak with a member of Myers family?
KW– I prepared for the role of Daisy Meyers by reading her book, and veraciously researching anything I could possibly find out about her online. I studied our American society, leading up to the year 1957, and there’s also a great little documentary on YouTube named “Crisis in Levittown” which gave me a magnified look into the culture of the time and the mentality of the town’s residents. It was all very helpful. I did not have a chance to meet or speak with any of the family members while filming, but I did have the honor of meeting Daisy’s daughter and son at the Toronto Film Festival screening of the film.
SS– With current events as they are. IE: The NFL, Charlottesville, Ferguson, etc., as woman of color, do you feel that much has changed from the late 1950’s Levittown to today with regards to racism in the United States?
KW– I do feel that there have been significant changes since the 50’s. Today, as a culture, we RESIST… FEARLESSLY! People are much more outspoken than they were during that time, and if you attend any current protest, you will find the presence of multiple races, genders and creeds, standing up for what’s right, and unified against ignorance, intolerance and bigotry. However, that being said, racism is still very real, prevalent and toxic in our country. As a culture, we must continue to stand together and take care of one another.
SS– What steps do you think are necessary in order to help reduce, and hopefully eradicate, racism in the United States? Or is it even possible?
KW– Racism is a learned behavior. It starts in the home, and home is most crucial place where this corrosive mind set and state of being may be broken. We all have the opportunity to teach and inspire one another to think differently and respect one another, despite our perceived differences. I definitely now believe that racism can be eradicated, but at one point in my life, I didn’t think it was possible. Racism always seemed like a dark looming spirit to me. I now know that love is the key. If everyone chooses to come from a place of love, all the hatred and judgement will simply melt away. There will be no room in our hearts for it. Just as people can learn to hate, they can also learn to love. It’s a choice.
SS– If you had the chance to meet and speak with anyone from history, alive or deceased, who would it be and why?
If I had the chance to speak with anyone from history it would be Emperor Constantine. I would want to know what really happened at the Council of Nicea.
KW– If you could offer advice to an aspiring actor, what would it be?
“Darling, don’t be like the rest of them”. Let go of all of your hang-ups about what you think or wish you should be and just be yourself. Embrace all of you. It’s what separates you from everyone else. It’s what makes you, your auditions and your work solely unique. You, all of you, is the only tool you have to work with in acting. Just you.
“Suburbicon” opens in theaters nationwide on October 27th.