Oprah Win­frey

TV leg­end oprah Win­frey on how Hen­ri­etta Lacks’ death changed medicine and in­spired her new drama…

TV Times - - News -

NEW drama The Im­mor­tal Life of Hen­ri­etta Lacks thurs­day / sky at­lantic / 9.00Pm

In 1951, in the US city of Bal­ti­more, cells were taken from hos­pi­tal pa­tient Hen­ri­etta Lacks, a 31-yearold woman dy­ing from cer­vi­cal cancer. Those cells would play a cru­cial part in creat­ing the po­lio vac­cine, but Hen­ri­etta was un­aware of her role in the med­i­cal re­search, and her con­tri­bu­tion re­mained un­recog­nised for decades.

That’s the story of Sky At­lantic’s The Im­mor­tal Life Of Hen­ri­etta Lacks, adapted from the best­seller by writer Re­becca Sk­loot (Dam­ages star Rose Byrne in the drama) and told through the eyes of Hen­ri­etta’s daugh­ter, Deb­o­rah, played by Oprah Win­frey.

Here, Oprah, 63, re­veals why the story is so im­por­tant and re­veals her fears about re­turn­ing to act­ing…

When did you first hear about the story of Hen­ri­etta Lacks? The story came to me through some­one in my of­fice. I read the book and I thought, ‘How is it that I am a black woman and I don’t know this story?’ I could not be­lieve that I, as an African-amer­i­can stu­dent of this cul­ture, had never heard of her. And if I hadn’t heard about her, I was sure there would be many other peo­ple who hadn’t ei­ther. How could that be?

What rel­e­vance does it have for a con­tem­po­rary au­di­ence? I think it would be an im­por­tant story to tell if we were telling it in 1961, 1991 or now. The fact that Hen­ri­etta Lacks is an African-amer­i­can woman who most peo­ple had never even heard of un­til the book was pub­lished is in­cred­i­ble – and I count my­self among those peo­ple. I lived in Bal­ti­more from 1976 to 1983. I was an ac­tive mem­ber of the com­mu­nity. I worked on the streets of Bal­ti­more, where I was a gen­eral as­sign­ment re­porter on the news every day. I’ve been to Johns Hop­kins Hos­pi­tal many times cov­er­ing sto­ries, but I never once saw a sign or even heard the name. How did the drama come about? It’s been quite a jour­ney to get the story told. The di­rec­tor, Ge­orge Wolfe, helped me do it. When I read the book, my cu­rios­ity was spurred – but it’s only be­cause Ge­orge cre­ated a script that worked for me that I could see my way in. There had been pre­vi­ous scripts that fo­cused too much on the science. But then Ge­orge came along and said, ‘I know how to turn this into the story that you’re look­ing for’. This story is about a daugh­ter who yearns to find her mother’s iden­tity. She fig­ures out who she is through the mother.

How does it feel to re­turn to act­ing? I was re­ally afraid to do this role, but Ge­orge said to me, ‘What are you scared of ?’ He goes, ‘You need to trust me and sur­ren­der’. I trusted and sur­ren­dered to him. I told him from day one, ‘Ge­orge, I just don’t want to make a fool of my­self ’.

Why were you so wor­ried?

I’ve only done five movies that I can think of. When you ask Rose Byrne how many movies she’s been in, she’s done hun­dreds since she was about five years old. I was like, ‘Oh God, please don’t ask me’. Usu­ally, I don’t put my­self in sit­u­a­tions where I’m out of con­trol and I don’t know what I’m do­ing. I did it for The Color Pur­ple be­cause I loved that book so much. I was afraid with this project be­cause it’s a very chal­leng­ing role.

What else in­flu­enced your de­ci­sion to act in the movie?

I had other ideas and sugges­tions about who I thought should play the role, but it was only af­ter I heard Deb­o­rah’s voice on tape say­ing that she wanted me to do it that I thought, ‘Well, maybe I am sup­posed to do it’.

Hen­ri­etta Lacks, who died aged only 31 in 1951

I was re­ally afraid to do this role

Oprah as deb­o­rah Lacks, with rose Byrne as jour­nal­ist re­becca Sk­loot

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.