Chicago-native Karimah Westbrook talks about starring in George Clooney’s upcoming feature film Suburbicon and her role in the TV pilot Beyond the Badge.
RESPECT.: Has it always been a dream of yours to be an actress?
Yes, growing up as a kid, I really admired Whoopi Goldberg. I loved all of her films; The Color Purple, Fatal Beauty, Burgular, Jump n Jack Flash, Ghost, etc…She was so entertaining and fun to watch. As a kid, I didn’t really know that acting was something I could do as a career. I hadn’t fully connected those dots. I participated in school plays and was a background player in musicals in elementary school. As I transitioned into high school, I concentrated more on athletics. I played basketball, volleyball and I was also in gymnastics for a few years. Being a gymnast was short lived after I broke my ankle tumbling.
In the mist of my high school years, I was kicked out for various reasons and was sent to military school. Military school was great and after I graduated my passion for acting came back full circle. At that point, I knew for sure what I wanted to do with my life and I understood that acting was something I could pursue as a career and I did.
RESPECT.: According to IMDB your first project as a cast member on City of Angels in 2000. Can you tell us about your prior training before landing the role?
Although IMDB listed my first project as City of Angels in 2000, Save the Last Dance was actually my first professional paying union job. After military school, I went to a junior college for a year and later auditioned for the Academy of Dramatic Arts-West which was located in Pasadena at the time. I was accepted into the program and happily attended.
RESPECT.: With Save The Last Dance, you worked alongside Julia Stiles and Kerry Washington; you’ve even worked alongside Brandy on Moesha. What was it was like working with those talented individuals at the beginning of their respective careers?
Being able to be part of the film Save The Last Dance was a dream come true for me and it allowed me to earn enough money to relocate to Los Angeles. I crashed my audition and snagged a role in the film. Kerry Washington and Julia Stiles were super sweet. They both made everyone feel welcomed. I remember we were filming Save the Last Dance during the time of Kerry’s birthday and we celebrated with her. It was a fun time. I’m not surprised to see how far they’ve gone with their careers.
During my time on Moesha, Brandy was such a sweetheart. I got that job on Moesha from auditioning of course but I remember writing letters to the casting director for the series before I had even moved to LA. When I relocated to Los Angeles, I continued to write casting and it was a blessing that I finally got called in by the VP of casting during that time. She auditioned me and later I auditioned again and soon enough I obtained a recurring role on the show.
RESPECT.: In your latest project Beyond the Badge, you play Melanie Lopez. Can you tell us about your character and what intrigued you about this project?
Melanie is an undercover narcotics officer, a bit of a tomboy, a hard ass, that has a love-hate relationship with her job. It’s a challenge for Melanie to deal with her emotions, to overcome a lot of things that she experiences in the field and finding a balance in her life. I’ve always wanted to play a police officer. Overall, I like gritty characters and TV shows. As an actor, you never know how or when the opportunity will come, but when I read the pilot for Beyond the Badge, I was excited to portray the role of Melanie. When Don Wallace presented me with the part, I reflected on how I could bring the role of Officer Lopez to life, that in combination with wanting to play a cop and knowing the director Ryan, I immediately came on board.
RESPECT.: How is this role different from all the other characters you have played in the past?
This role is different from the others because Melanie is very torn inside and as an actor, I really worked to live that duality versus being one dimensional which is something that I can easily fall into doing.
RESPECT.: How warranted is this project especially with what is going into today’s society in minority communities?
I feel this show is warranted because law enforcement catches a lot of criticism, especially because all of the videos of police brutality that we see. In this day and age, a lot of people see most cops as being inhuman and heartless. Although it’s clear there are some very bad apples working in law enforcement, there are also some good ones. In Beyond the Badge we get a chance to see who these people truly are at home, the battles they face and how their job affects their lives outside of work, mentally, emotionally and physically. The show humanizes cop on a lot of levels while revealing the real dangers and situations they face while working on the job. An interesting twist with this series is how the audience learns that kids are just as capable and comfortable with committing serious crimes as adults.
RESPECT.: Are there any other projects that we should be aware of “headed” in the fall of 2017?
I have a film entitled Suburbicon coming to theaters October 27th and it’s directed by George Clooney, starring Matt Damon and Julianne Moore. I’m very excited about it.
RESPECT.: You are credited as a writer on your project Best Kept Secret. Have you thought about creating more of your own content and partnering with some of the streaming platforms like Amazon Prime, or Netflix?
Yes, I started taking my writing more seriously back in 2012. I was in a network development program for a few years and I have produced several award-winning shorts as well as written a couple TV shows that I’ve pitched around town over the years. I haven’t sold anything yet but I do have a couple of projects in development and I would love to partner with one of those platforms in the future. It’s an exciting time for creators.
RESPECT.: Who are some of the artists that get your creative juices going throughout the day?
Donald Glover, Tyler Perry, Oprah, Issa Rae, Jordan Peele, and Ava DuVernay are all inspirations to me. They reconfirm to me the possibilities in creating my own content and getting it made moving forward.
RESPECT.: When you watch television what are some of your favorite programs to watch?
Queen Sugar, Greenleaf, Black Mirror, Power, Star, I’m sure there’s more. I’m off and on with television. I do watch some reality television as well.
RESPECT.: What was it like working with Ryan Miningham, Dr. Anita M. Cal, and Cheryl Jenkins?
They were great, felt like family. It was a great experience for me. I’m looking forward to seeing the pilot and the show getting picked up.
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