Desiree Ross will be starring as Sophia Greenleaf in the highly anticipated series by Oprah Winfrey, Greenleaf. The show follows the life of the Greenleaf family and the secrets and lies the family hides especially about the mysterious death of Faith Greenleaf, all the while leading a Memphis Mega-Church. Desiree has appeared in the hit show Falling Skies and the Lifetime movie, A Country Christmas Story alongside Dolly Parton.
TNWU recently chatted with Desiree about her audition process for Greenleaf, working with Oprah Winfrey, and how the power of faith has influenced her.
Tell us about your audition process for Greenleaf?
I’ve booked all of my roles from video auditions I filmed at home, including “Greenleaf”. Normally I make a cup of Earl Gray, burn a Yankee candle and then my mom films my audition in the corner of my bedroom. This audition though was crazy, because they booked me off of my first audition tape. Normally you have to audition several times and even go through a screen test. But Oprah liked my tape, and when she heard that I was about to sign another screen test deal for a comedy show, she introduced me to the people at Lionsgate. So within three days I was offered the job!
Can you describe Sophia and how she gets caught in the drama of her family? Where has she and her mother been living for the past 20 years?
I play the bi-racial daughter of Grace Greenleaf, played by Merle Dandridge. Sophia and Grace were living in Phoenix, Arizona before they went to Memphis. Sophia has never met any of her family and has lived life as a middle class kid in a mostly white suburb. So, she is enjoying living among all her family in a rich mansion. At the same time, she is being introduced to the church, something that is new and that she actually begins to like regardless of her family’s crazy drama that comes with it.
Did you have any hesitations in playing this role?
No. I’m very fortunate to have this job and be able to work with such an experienced cast and crew. I have already learned so much and there is no doubt that I will keep on learning. This is a big step in my career!
The show has a huge emphasis on faith. Does faith play a huge role in your life?
Yes. I was raised in church and I don’t see how I would be able to do acting and keep up with everything if I didn’t have faith. There is a lot of rejection when you try to be in the acting profession, so you have to prepare yourself mentally and have faith that things will work towards your favor. I think having such strong faith, and people to remind me of my faith, has pushed me and kept me from giving up.
The show gets a lot of comparisons to Empire only instead of the music industry, the show focuses more on the Memphis Mega-Church. Have you heard those comparisons and do you agree?
Well, Empire is very popular, so I hope they have that in common (laughs). They are both shows about wealthy families, with family issues and problems with running a business.
Do you know what caused Faith’s death? Will that be answered during the first season? (If not, what are some of your theories?)
Hmmm… You will just have to watch. That is part of the fun and suspense of the show as everything unfolds. I can’t be a spoiler alert (laughs).
Has portraying Sophia taught you anything about yourself as a person?
It reminded me of something that I already knew which is that we shouldn’t judge because we don’t know what struggles other people may be dealing with.
What is your favorite part about playing Sophia?
I love playing a rich kid! When they asked what type of clothes I wanted to wear, I named stores I only wished I could shop in, you know the store you go in, talk big and pretend you might buy something, and then sneak out empty-handed (laughs). So when I saw they actually bought these clothes I was excited, wardrobe did a great job. Also, my on set bedroom is sooo much nicer than my real bedroom (laughs). When I saw Sophia’s room, I was jealous of myself. Next season I’ll post a picture of both them side by side on Facebook so you can see the difference.
Obviously there a lot of big name actors in this series including Oprah Winfrey and Keith David, were you eager to work with everyone? What have they taught you while on set?
What haven’t they taught me? They have taught me everything. I was eager to work with every single one of them. Oprah is of course motivational. She is just as motivational in person as she is on TV. But each of the other actors motivates and inspires me as well. When I work with them they are so incredibly skilled and believable, we all just get sucked into the scene and everything just becomes real.
Describe the pilot in five words?
Scandalous, Suspenseful, Lavish, Riveting and “Dang”!
What makes this series different from what we see on television now?
It has realism that people can relate to. I think it will make people think about today’s problems and situations. Oprah is great with bringing up situations and turning them into some self-help message. I think this show goes along with this train of thought.
In this show it is clear that no one is perfect, does this motto relate to your character and to you personally?
Everybody is a work in progress. That includes Sophia and myself.
Do you think this show can appeal to a young adult audience and capture their attention?
Most definitely. I’m young and I’d watch it. So yes.
Do you have any other projects in the works or anything that you are looking forward to in the future?
Lionsgate and Oprah have already given the go ahead for Season 2. So now I’m just looking forward to going to LA for the premiere, promoting the show, and trying to enjoy my summer.
You were just at the Tribeca Film Festival! What was that like? Any fun stories you can share? (Did you meet Abbi and Ilana?)
Tribeca was amazing. I actually missed walking the red carpet with the cast because two of my GPS systems took us 50 miles out of the way (laughs). So, even though I managed to make it all the way to New York from South Carolina, and even though we left over two hours in advance to be early, we missed what would have been my first red carpet event. Then on top of that, once I got there, my seats had been taken (laughs). But now I have a great story to tell. Plus Twitter gave me some delicious cupcakes, and the show turned out unbelievably amazing. Then afterwards there was a dinner where Oprah announced that there would be a second season. So the entire day was high adrenaline. Sadly, I didn’t get to meet Abbi and Ilana (of “Broad City”), I can only hope and pray that one day I will. I’m completely obsessed with them.
Greenleaf premieres on June 21st on the Oprah Winfrey Network
You can find Desiree on: