- Category: Must Reads
- Published: 22 January 2016
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Adina Porter has carved a niche for herself as a guest star and character actress on many of the most beloved TV series’ of the last two decades. From guest appearances on House M.D., to channelling booker Kendra James on The Newsroom, playing Lettie Mae Thornton on HBO’s True Blood, to returning as warrior Indra in the third season of the post-apocalyptic TV drama The 100, Porter has mastered the transition between characters seamlessly.
Born and raised in New York, Porter, whose father is from Sierra Leone and mother from Bermuda, exhibited an artistic streak from an early age. Her riveting portrayal of Venus Hotterntot in Suzan-Lori Parks’s 1996 play Venus earned her an Obie Award and she made her Broadway debut in 2001 with Scott Elliott’s The Women, which was also broadcast on PBS.
Having commanded both the screen and theatre, Porter has humbly observed what she describes as incredible luck. But her success has also exacted hard work, dedication and sacrifice, qualities that she will be displaying on our screens as the strong-willed mother and wife, Pearly Mae, in the highly anticipated slavery-themed series Underground.
Photographer: Diana Ragland
Tell us about your journey into the entertainment industry.
My journey into the entertainment business was pretty simple because I grew up in New York City. I attended St. Mark's AME church in Harlem. The woman who ran our holiday programs was the legendary actress Miss Butterfly McQueen. She was my very first acting teacher. Because of where I grew up, artists of her caliber surrounded me. I auditioned and got into the High School of Performing Arts. From there I auditioned and got into SUNY Purchase. I met my agent because of going to that school with the League Auditions. And I am basically still with the same agent. I just keep following the path that was laid out.
Coming from New York City – with all of the competition and cutthroat nature - was it difficult making it as an actor?
I didn't experience a ‘cutthroat nature’ in New York. I guess I have been lucky to work with confident, established professionals, who don't have to prove anything and therefore are very kind and generous. If everyone is good then the project succeeds. I certainly suffered disappointments, but that is because 'the play’s the thing'. You aren't going to book every job for which you audition. I have never even experienced a “casting couch.” I also believe we, New Yorkers, are very nice and fast. We have to be; we live on top of each other. It’s also good to collaborate with artists who challenge you. “Steel sharpens steel.”
A number of your recurring roles have seen you in either a post-apocalyptic setting, The 100 or fantastical worlds full of vampires, True Blood. What draws you to these type of projects?
I am a working actor. I audition for roles and accept what is offered, in most cases. I hate saying “no” to work and will do multiple shows simultaneously if the schedule and producers allow it.
You’ve played a plethora of roles over the years, how do you go about preparing for each one?
It depends on the role. For example, for Lettie Mae of True Blood, I remember reading the book, “A Boy Named It”, in order to get into the head of a child abuser. On the other hand, for Indra on The 100, I make sure to stretch and work out. That’s a more physically demanding role.
What was it like to play Kendra on The Newsroom ? Are you personally very interested in news and politics?
Yes, I am a political junkie. I was thrilled to be part of The Newsroom. I made lifelong friends on that show. Creatively, it was very exciting to witness that series unfold.
Aaron Sorkin is one of the most respected writers in television today. Was he very involved on a day-to-day basis on-set?
Mr. Sorkin was very involved with the day-to-day operations of creating and running The Newsroom. He was at every rehearsal. It was quite the luxury to have so much rehearsal time on a television show.
Photographer: Diana Ragland
You are starring in Underground; what can we expect to see from you in that show?
The topic of overcoming insurmountable odds and the power of the human spirit to achieve one's objectives is very important to me. Underground is not like any slave narrative you have ever experienced. We liken it to The Great Escape. The cast went to Comic-Con because these characters are like superheroes. I surprised myself portraying Pearly Mae. I'm excited for the world to see Underground.
Your father hails from Sierra Leone (West Africa). How much did your father’s cultural identity impact how you were raised?
My father was a quiet man. [He] passed away almost two years ago. We didn't talk about my acting much at all. But I was always surprised, and then thrilled when I would visit him with his Masonic brothers; they all knew every detail of my career.
We were raised as New Yorkers. It was mostly with food during holiday celebrations that my father's Sierra Leonean culture came out.
Have you visited Africa?
I have travelled extensively throughout West Africa. I have travelled there in style among the diplomats and I have travelled there with backpackers. I'm proud of being a world traveller. I feel as if I am following in my parents’ footsteps. I guess I stand taller too - because - I am in touch with my roots.
You have 2 adopted children, a 7 and 4 year old. You must have enormous energy!
I am the mother to two children, a boy and a girl. I do have a lot of energy. They are fun and keep me on my toes. Being a parent is hard work. I am very lucky because of my schedule; I can be both a working mom and a stay-at-home mom.
In what direction would you like to see your future in the industry head?
I produced a small theatre piece many moons ago. Maybe I'll produce again. I just wish to continue creating interesting characters as a working actor.
You actively respond to your fans on Twitter, answering tweeted questions, you don’t see that from many actors …
I am grateful for my fans. I believe there has also been a paradigm shift. As an artist, one must have and maintain a social media presence.
You began as a theatre actor. Would you like to return to the stage someday soon?
Absolutely, I would love to do more theatre! New York still calls with projects. If the play and the timing are right, I can see theatre happening.
Underground premieres on WGN America on March 9th 2016