I’d say get used to seeing Renée Elise Goldsberry’s face, but you likely already have. The actress, singer, and songwriter rose to national fame after originating the role of Angelica Schuyler in the Broadway musical Hamilton — and snagging a Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Musical for the part. That critically acclaimed role was followed by portraying Henrietta Lacks in the TV film, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, last year, and now Goldsberry can be seen in the new Netflix series Altered Carbon, further diversifying the images we get to see of Black women on the small screen and stage.
Altered Carbon takes viewers into a world 300 years in the future where, as a news release put it, “immortality is readily obtainable and the physical body is as interchangeable as a weave.” Goldsberry’s character Quellcrist Falconer is at the center of the narrative in a role where art very much imitates life for Black women in that everyone is expecting her to save the world. We had a chance to chat with the actress about what this role means to her, particularly in the current #MeToo/#TimesUp climate, and what she hopes audiences take away from the show.
MadameNoire (MN): Tell us about Altered Carbon and your role
Renée Elise Goldsberry (REG): Altered Carbon is a dream come true for me as a sci-fi geek. It is an action-packed thriller, futuristic cyber-punk adventure that has love and mystery and it covers a lot of philosophical and moral and ethical questions. It’s entertaining and engaging and Quellcrist Falconer is a powerful leader, revolutionary — a just really amazing character that makes me want to live in the world especially because she’s a woman of color. One of the things that’s really awesome about the world is that bodies become interchangeable. Sleeves are what we call them and I love the idea that we’re free from gender and age and race and all of these things. I love the idea that she wasn’t born a woman and she’s great anyway or born Black and she’s great anyway. She chose to be those things because she’s great and she has something major to do and I think that flips on its ear our idea of who we are.
MN: How does it feel to be chosen to play such a novel portrayal of a Black woman, particularly when it comes to the sci-fi genre?
REG: I really didn’t know anything about the story or the script. I had just had a skype conversation with the showrunner Laeta Kalogridis who told me it was her mission in life to create positive role models and powerful images of women of color. She felt like that was her mission in life and that was pretty much it for me. I just said ‘sign me up.’ So I was pretty excited that she lives in the world and that she is working and is talented and as prolific as she is and grateful to have an opportunity to play a part in making her vision come to life.
MN: Have you always been so intentional about the parts you take?
REG: I feel like my whole career has been a blessing. In particular, the opportunity to be a part of Hamilton was life-changing. The responsibility that I feel to choose wisely — I’ve always felt that way — but I feel even greater that responsibility now because of the profile that it afforded me. I’m aware of the fact that people that are watching to see what I do next. It’s challenging to make the best decisions and I don’t always get it right. I’m always trying to figure it out, but it’s a good challenge to have. It’s been a very exciting career in general and the last couple of years have been particularly blessed.
MN: As an actress in this time of #MeToo, are you hopeful about real change coming to the entertainment industry?
REG: This #MeToo world, it’s not new. None of us believe it’s new. It’s exciting that we find ourselves with a hashtag and a movement, but in general none of these stories are new; it’s just there’s an audience now and everybody’s interested in trying to be responsible about this. The world changes so fast right now, you don’t know when you start telling your story what’s going to have happened and if your story is going to no longer be relevant. But I think when you have women in positions of power, you don’t have to worry about a movement coming up because we’re already aware of those things. I love the fact that my show, I don’t feel like it’s not relevant right now because I know that the woman who is calling the shots on this particular show is a feminist and she always had an agenda to empower women and give them a voice and that kind of protects us. If you keep women in positions of power, then this movement can happen and have a life and you’ll still have relevance in it as the movement continues to evolve.
MN: What do you want viewers to take away from Altered Carbon?
REG: One of the greatest things we address in the show is access. If you have access to this new technology, that really isn’t the end of the story because like everything else in our world it doesn’t matter if you don’t have access to it. Economics really pervert every possible good thing that comes, whether it’s food or a cure or a new technological advancement; anything like that is always stopped by who has access to it. We really have to ask ourselves, it’s not just what we create but how responsibly we create, how responsible we are with the content we create and how we police people profiting because of something or actually making sure everyone has access to it. At the end of the day, even if we make something great, if we don’t give everyone equal access to it we haven’t done anything. I think that’s really kind of an important question to ask ourselves about what we’re doing right now and how we don’t end up in the world of the show. This show presents a world that’s kind of cool to look at, but we don’t want to live there so what can we do to make sure that world doesn’t happen?
Altered Carbon is currently available for streaming on Netflix. Check out the show’s official trailer below.