For the past two years, Cleopatra Coleman has starred on FOX’s post-apocalyptic comedy Last Man on Earth. She’s consistently kept us laughing with her role as Erica, one of a few humans to survive a deadly virus that wiped out most of the population. While you can still see Coleman flexing her comedic chops on the show, which airs on Sundays, she’s signed on for yet another TV gig—and this one is allowing her to take a turn for the dramatic.
She stars as a songwriter named Sadie in the new Showtime series White Famous, which premieres tonight, Oct. 15, at 10 p.m. ET. Her character is the ex-girlfriend of the series’ lead, Floyd Mooney (played by Jay Pharaoh), a young black comedian looking for his big break. The show is loosely based on the early Hollywood experiences of Jamie Foxx, who stars as himself in addition to serving as executive producer.
“Jamie's dope,” Coleman recently told InStyle. “He's such a well-rounded actor. He started in comedy, but he’s crossed all the way over to play so many different characters in films and he's just such a massive talent. I’d never met him before this, but I grew up watching In Living Color and all of his skits and films. I’m a big fan.”
Coleman became an even bigger fan of Foxx after working together on White Famous. “I have a lot of respect for his ability to play himself—especially because he’s playing a hyped-up version of himself on the show,” she said. “I didn't have any scenes with him, so I didn't get to work with him in that capacity. But he couldn't be more lovely.”
While Foxx’s involvement in the series was one major draw for Coleman, the script itself was another. “I particularly like the refreshing quality of the relationship between my character and Jay's character, Floyd,” she said. “They're exes, but they're friends. They don't hate each other, which is what we see a lot. It's actually kind of similar to my parents—when they broke up, they worked together raising me and they were always able to see eye-to-eye, at least on how they wanted to raise their kid. So that was really attractive to me.”
She was also attracted to the idea of switching gears, acting-wise. “I've been doing a lot of comedy over the past few years, but I have a drama background,” she said. “What I love about White Famous is that it’s very funny, but I get the opportunity to really sink my teeth into some drama, as well. It kind melds both of those worlds together.” Scroll down for our full chat with Coleman, and catch the series premiere of White Famous tonight.
Are you anything like your character?
What I like most about Sadie is that she's a singer-songwriter, but she's not necessarily trying to be in the spotlight. We've seen that a million times, the girl that's trying to make it as a pop star and be in the public eye. But Sadie is more interested in writing and being behind the scenes and, to me, that was really refreshing. I can't really relate to that because I'm an actress, but I do relate to her love of her art.
Jay Pharaoh plays your ex-boyfriend. What was it like to work with him?
Jay's so great—he's super talented. I was already a fan from SNL, obviously, and he just kept us laughing all day with his impressions. He's also genuinely a really nice person, and he always has his family around. They're all such lovely people and he was a joy to work with. He's the lead in almost every scene, but he brought his A-game everyday. That was really impressive.
The show follows entertainers trying to catch their big break. Has your Hollywood experience been at all similar?
It’s a show about identity, and I’ve been working my whole life. I was on television in Australia, and then work just kind of dried up. There's not as much to be made there—especially for a person of color. Coming over [to the U.S.] has been very interesting. I can definitely relate to the show’s identity issues in not knowing what lies beyond what you're familiar with, because that's essentially what happened to me when I moved to America. Hollywood is a much bigger version of an industry that I was already familiar with. But I think I've hung on to who I am pretty strongly, so that's good.
How has your heritage played a part in terms of the roles you’ve played?
My mom's from Jamaica, my dad's Scottish-Australian. But my whole career, I've always been attracted to characters that could be played by anyone—and I'm quite proud of that. I believe in color-blind casting, if you want to call it that, and I just love playing characters. Where they're from doesn't have much to do with the person that they are.
What’s been the biggest hurdle you’ve faced in your own career?
In Australia, I was very lucky to be working a lot throughout my teens, for the most part. But I had to change people's minds, because they weren’t looking for a half-Jamaican, half-Scottish girl. They didn't know that existed. Australia's very multicultural, but if you watched television, you wouldn't really see that. So I had to work twice as hard as everyone else to change people's minds about what they had envisioned for the role. I'm both very proud of that and keen to change that in Australia, and I want to work there again in the future. I want people who look like me—and who look like all different kinds of people—to see themselves represented onscreen.
If you had to choose your ultimate dream co-star, who would it be?
David Bowie would be my number one. He was an incredible actor, as well as an amazing singer-songwriter and fashionista. Just a global phenomenon. I recently watched a short film he did when he was very young, before his music career took off. It was a very abstract, black-and-white horror short film from the '60s. He was incredible.
Who's your all time biggest style icon?
I grew up obsessed with Prince—and the Sign o' the Times concert he directed and his drummer, Sheila E., was probably my earliest memory of someone stylish that I wanted to emulate. Bianca Jagger is also a huge fashion icon for me. My mother. Diane Keaton. David Bowie, again. There are so many people that influence the way I dress.
Do you have a current style crush?
Everyone's killing it right now, but Solange is really giving me some incredible silhouettes. I went to her show and thought it was just so beautiful. I’m a really big fan of hers.
Who are some of the women in Hollywood that you look up to, career-wise?
Cate Blanchett, obviously, being an Australian. She’s such a chameleon. I love her so much. Julia Louis-Dreyfus—I’m a massive Seinfeld fan. I grew up watching her, and I absolutely adore her. I watch Seinfeld every single day—that’s what I watch in my trailer and put on when I come home. It's like a comfort food for me. I'm also really blown away by a lot of the actresses that are writing right now. Issa Rae's show Insecure is great. It's an exciting time to be in television.
You recently wrote something that's coming up for sci-fi yourself. What was that like?
I'm a sci-fi nerd, and I wrote a feature film called Hover for SyFy films. I wrote it, produced it, and played the lead. It was a great experience and very surreal. I've been in this industry 15 years now, but I've never walked onto a set to see the characters in costumes I made up in my head or seen a house that I envisioned the location that looks like something that I imagined. That was a very, very surreal and incredible feeling and I learned a lot. We shot it in Baton Rouge for a month in March, right after I wrapped Last Man and it's been a big year. I've been working kind of nonstop. I'm looking forward to taking a little break and writing some more.
What was the hardest part about the writing process?
Honestly, the hardest part was just getting up and doing it everyday—and doing it on my own. I wrote it on my hiatus from Last Man. I spent a few months writing it, and every morning I had to get up, make coffee, sit down at my desk and bang it out. There was no one to say, “Keep working!" or “Alright, that's lunch. Take five!" It was all up to me. The actual writing was also difficult. It's very tedious, and you get to the point where you've read it too many times and have to take a break so you can read it with fresh eyes before editing. It's challenging, but it felt natural.