LOS ANGELES (AP) — On an unusually sweltering late-winter afternoon in a historic downtown nightclub, actress Tracee Ellis Ross and the cast of her sitcom "black-ish" have done some time traveling.
For the series' season-one finale, airing Wednesday on ABC, the show's Johnson family has been transported from today's suburbs to late-1920s Harlem to tell the story of how Pops' (Laurence Fishburne) great-great grandfather (portrayed by the modern-day dad Anthony Anderson) bet the family's future against a ruthless gangster (guest star Sean "Diddy" Combs).
The entire "black-ish" cast and crew were under incredible pressure, shooting at breakneck pace at a site out of the comfort zone of the "black-ish" sets on the Disney lot in Burbank. To make things even harder, this was a lavish period piece featuring two busy guest actors with extremely limited time (Mary J. Blige also appears).
The Associated Press caught up with Ross to ask about dancing while Blige sang, her famous mom and her awesome hair.
AP: During one of the breaks in filming, Sean started to joke around, spoofing his own diva persona by ranting and raving about how long everything was taking.
Ross: And did you hear what I said? Oh my god! (Laughs.) Everybody stopped. Because it was sort of like, 'Is he serious? Is he not serious? I'm not really sure.' And everybody stopped and he was like, 'I'm just sick of this. I'm the guest star! Did she know I was waiting?' And I busted through the door and I said, 'Well, they told me you were waiting, (so) I took longer.'
AP: And what about Mary J.?
Ross: The highlight for me was dancing on the moon behind Mary J. Blige. She was lip-syncing, obviously, because she was singing to track, because that's what one has to do. But she was singing, as well. And not everyone got to hear her, but I did, from a very close proximity, sitting on the moon behind her, doing my weird arm dancing.
AP: The show 'black-ish' is the first major broadcast-network sitcom to focus solely on a black family in recent memory. And while your show is attracting a diverse audience, you have said the characters' skin color is significant.
Ross: What I firmly believe is that this is not a story about a family that happens to be black. This is a story about a family that is black dealing with life. It's not about them being black, but they are black. And it's actually one of the things that I love about the show, because ... it's not about letting go of who you are, but, instead, owning your truth unapologetically.
AP: It has introduced you to millions of viewers, though you are no newcomer, having done a ton of things, including eight seasons of the sitcom 'Girlfriends.' And yet, when we Google you, the first search results are pages and pages of articles about your natural hair.
Ross: I think the reason is that it is about bigger issues. It's about expanding this idea in our culture where we get to be all unapologetically ourselves. And in the world of television and in the world of images and in the world of entertainment, there have been limited stories that get to be told. ... So, although it is just a hair conversation, underneath it, in essence, is me saying, 'This is who I am.' By the way, underneath the hundreds (of Google-search pages) about my hair, are hundreds about my mom. (Laughs.)
AP: After all these years, "black-ish" does seem to be the project that pulls you out of the shadow of your famous mom. (Her mother is Motown legend Diana Ross and her father is music-business manager Robert Ellis Silberstein.)
Ross: I don't know how aware of it I am. ... I think that because of who my mom is as a person and as a mom, I've never consciously been trying to get out of my mom's shadow. I've been consciously trying to discover who I am and make a mark on the world, so that I feel like my life is worth something.
Follow AP Entertainment Writer Mike Cidoni Lennox at www.twitter.com/CidoniLennox