This is a great week to be Tracee Ellis Ross. Monday she plays a soccer Mom who finds herself in the midst of a family feud when her Type A sister is diagnosed with breast cancer in Lifetime’s original movie “Five,” a series of interconnected vignettes about the disease. Ross’s segment of the film is directed by music superstar Alicia Keys. Tuesday, Ross’s new sitcom, “Reed Between The Lines,” debuts on BET. Ross explained why she loved working with Keys and Rosario Dawson, how her new series compares to “The Cosby Show” and whether there will ever be a”Girlfriends” finale.
How did you get involved with ‘Five’?
I guess I was suggested. I didn’t audition. But they were looking for someone who could play Rosario Dawson’s sister, and it was perfect and magical. She and I have a very similar temperament. I think we came across very well as sisters and the people involved were so amazing. The subject matter was so important and I thought the way that the subject matter was handled in these five scripts was so different and interesting and not that sort of melodramatic thing but just a different way of looking at this story and getting people different and new information.
What was it like working with Alicia Keys?
We are good friends. It’s always wonderful to work with friends. She is a natural director, very clear in her vision and very loving and supportive in her direction and way of speaking to actors and other artists. I just really enjoyed it. We had a lot to accomplish in a very short period of time and under her direction it was seamless and effortless.
How did you find the humor in such a serious subject matter?
I think the heaviest moments of life still have humor in them. I think when you play the reality and how heavy things are it’s just natural that it becomes kind of absurd. It’s like a way to let all that air out of the balloon.
Were there any funny behind the scenes moments, any bloopers?
We had a ball. Jennifer Lewis is hysterical and Rosario is hysterical and we laughed most of the time. We also had Jeffrey Tambor. It was chockablock full of comedic talent.
How is “Five” different from other movies about breast cancer?
“Five” is different in many ways. When you think about Marta Kauffman as the producer and what she’s done, the energy of her work and Jennifer Aniston. I think what they tried to do is take a subject matter that people think has to be handled a certain way and tell the stories differently in terms of it’s five different directors all with a different point-of-view. It’s not like two hours of one heavy story. It’s five different stories at different times and different vantage points, so it keeps you interested. I think it’s something you can tune into for many different reasons, even if it’s just the talent of the people involved. Patricia Clarkson is enough to get me to watch anything.
What do you hope people who watch this film will take away from it?
I think the message of this piece is the hope and the survival, [the importance of] early detection and fighting it. I think that comes across through each of the pieces in many different ways. Pretending it’s not there or something to look for is not the answer. Being proactive and ahead of the game is key.
The day after ‘Five’ airs, your new comedy “Reed Between the Lines” premieres on BET. What is the premise of the show?
“Reed Between the Lines” is a half hour comedy. I play a happily married therapist. Malcolm Jamal Warner is playing my husband. It is a half hour that will launch BET’s original scripted programming that they are working toward as they reinvent themselves as a network. Malcolm and I are also producers. It’s a show that I am excited about and proud of. I’m happy it’s going to be on television whether I’m on it or not.
It sounds sort of like “The Cosby Show”.
It is in that it’s about a family that loves each other and works things through it is similar to Cosby, and in our hope that we are making great television that will be around for a long time. But we are not attempting to recreate the Cosby show in any way shape or form. It’s really just a show about a couple that lives their lives and cares for the children and balances it all while being supportive and accepting and respectful of each other.
People are still upset about the way “Girlfriends” ended without a proper finale. Now that you’re working with BET and “The Game” is on BET, is there any chance the network will make a “Girlfriends” movie?
I can just say that I would love to do a “Girlfriends” movie. It is not up to me. It is up to the fans. If the fans could get “The Game” back on the air, maybe they can get a “Girlfriends” movie. People need to speak up and be vocal.