In interviewing actress, director, producer, and screenwriter, Yolonda Ross is currently holding it down, as Jada Washington, in Showtime’s “THE CHI.” On the phone, I experienced a sense that I was chatting with a woman of power and purpose. It was in the tone of her voice, and in the pauses where space hung like rain clouds over a dry and thirsty stretch of land. And then …. she spoke allowing the rain to fall and I felt myself sitting up — straighter — and engaging in that time-honored tradition (so necessary for a reporter) to listen and to hear. Yolonda Ross demands to be heard and I respect that positive Black female energy. Ross is so gifted that David Mamet, for “THE UNIT” wrote the part for her himself. Yolonda Ross is a queen, no doubt.
Now back to “THE CHI.” I choose to live my life in the light of truth as much as humanly possible. To that end, I will admit that I, in 2020, am just getting into the lives of the interesting people that populate the show. Season one and two is chilling and I admit, I watched the advance episodes of season three more than once, hell, more than four times because I was intrigued and downright entertained.
Created and executive produced by Emmy winner Lena Waithe and executive produced by Academy Award, Emmy and Golden Globe® winner Common (“Selma”), “THE CHI” is a timely coming-of-age story centering on a group of residents who become linked by coincidence but bonded by the need for connection and redemption.
From what I can tell from the aforementioned episodes of season three, they are roaring back and taking no prisoners. Joining season three is two-time Grammy® nominee Luke James (“Little”), La La Anthony (“POWER”), and Lil Rel Howery (“Get Out”). Also, writer Justin Hillian (“SNOWFALL”) has been named showrunner and executive producer. Birgundi Baker (“EMPIRE”), who plays Kiesha, has been upped to a series regular.
Along with Ross “THE CHI” also stars Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine (“Queen of Katwe”), Jacob Latimore (“Sleight”), Alex Hibbert (“Moonlight”), Shamon Brown Jr., Epps, and Baker. Produced entirely in its namesake city, “THE CHI” is produced by Fox 21 Television Studios.
Back to Omaha, Nebraska native Ross, the quadruple threat: actress/writer/director/producer has slowly been building a reputation and has has been recognized by her peers. She is a two-time Film Independent Spirit Award nominee and Gotham Award winner for her feature film debut as a leading actress in HBO’s “Stranger Inside” and John Sayles’s “Go For Sisters.”
In the film world, some of her credits include Viola Davis and Jennifer Lopez’s “Lila & Eve,” Angela Bassett’s “Whitney,” and Denzel Washington’s “Antwone Fisher Story.”
In Television, Ross has worked on “24”, “Law And Order,” and the aforementioned “The Unit” by David Mamet and the two teamed up again on HBO’s “Phil Spector.” Ross appeared as Claudia on “How To Get Away With Murder”, portrayed the memorable Ms. Green, in the Baz Luhrmann/ Netflix series, “The Get Down,” and played a documentary filmmaker in HBO’s “Treme” which inspired her to step behind the camera for her television directorial debut in “Breaking Night,” which aired on VH1 Classics. In the theater world, Yolonda is a member of New York’s famed Labyrinth Theater Company.
This year Ross appeared in the indie film “Bull” (https://lasentinel.net/film-review-rob-morgan-mudbound-plays-an-ex-bull-rider-in-bull.html_ — https://bit.ly/3fkIKk4 opposite Rob Morgan and as a director she made her feature film directorial debut with her romantic drama, “Scenes From Our Marriage”, which was chosen for Film Independent’s 2018 Fast Track Lab and the Cannes Marche’ du Film Producers Workshop.
Here is what Yolonda Ross had to share about life, working on THE CHI and sharing with the fans in her series “Talking Back” that will be live on her YouTube channel.
THE LOS ANGELES SENTINEL: Thank you for taking the time to speak with us. I understand from your public relations team that you are busy, busy, busy. YOLANDA ROSS: You are welcome.
LAS: I’ve just become a fan of “THE CHI” and I am amazed on how timely the show is, circa 2020.
YR: Yes, it is.
LAS: How has your character Jada Washington transformed from season-to-season?
YR: I think that season-to-season all the characters [in “THE CHI”] have grown. With my own, I feel that Jada she is growing into her own, into herself, learning herself. Coming out of the mother zone and coming into the Jada zone. As a single woman, she is still a mother but now she has to learn herself as a woman.
LAS: That’s a great description and I think a lot of the viewers would identify with completely.
YR: She’s been a mother so long and being young. Having him at a younger age and having her whole life be about taking care of this young life. Now it’s time for her to take care of herself.
LAS: Do the actors have conversations with the executive producers of ‘THE CHI’ to talk about the growth of your characters? Just curious.
LAS: So you are all surprised when you read the scripts?
YR: Well, we don’t know details [about the new season direction] instead of the end of the season [the talk] is at the beginning of the season when the writers’ room starts. We have conversations with them about where they see the characters going this season.
LAS: Cool. Got it. I’ve yet to step into a writer’s room. I am always curious about how that works.
YR: We really talk before they start filling the characters out. We listen to what they have to say and we share our ideas with them as well. It’s still that they are the writers and we are the actors.
LAS: And brilliant actors may I add. Sorry, please continue.
YR: When we start the whole season is not finished but as we are doing these episodes I feel that the writers view the dailies, they see things and network [executives] sees things and they decide what they want to play upon.
LAS: I feel that I was lucky because I got to binge the first two seasons of ‘THE CHI’ and a select episode from season three. I was all in.
YR: (laughing) I understand.
LAS: Listen. I feel that when the full run of ‘THE CHI’ is completed that it will have the same impact as HBO’s THE WIRE.
YR: I would hope so. I love being compared to that show. Thank you very much.
LAS: Now let’s talk about your working as a director. That’s so exciting. Walk me through this, please.
YR: (deep sigh) I was not really thinking about being a director but after doing a lot of labs with Sundance as an actor, in those labs you are helping the filmmaker work out the roughest scenes of their film and doing shorts with new filmmakers and a few feature films with first-time filmmakers, I realized that I had experiences that maybe they have not had. I was able to help and fix something and getting to a resolution of a problem that might come up. I
LAS: So that was part of your inspiration? Watching other filmmakers problem solve?
YR: I wanted to see if I, myself could communicate my vision to a crew, and to actors in make it come to fruition, and in order to do that I wanted to learn all of the things needed to make a film. A to finish [it] myself. So I knew all of the moving parts and who was moving the parts.
LAS: Yolanda, that’s what’s up.
YR: I had a great crew.
LAS: That’s the key.
YR: It is. It really is.
LAS: What’s next?
YR: Well after ‘THE CHI’ fans can go to my YouTube channel for “Talking Back” because that will be live.
LAS: And what about your directing, writing, and producing?
YR: I can’t share details about my new project … yet but it’s coming for sure.
LAS: Bet and I will be there — for sure — to share when the time is right.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
@Yolondaross_creator Facebook- https://www.facebook.com/YolondaRoss-66689121050To learn more about THE CHI, visit SHO.com and join the conversation using #TheChi.