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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

There are sidekicks, and then there are sidekicks. Hamlet had Horatio, Sherlock had Watson, and Precious Ramotswe had Grace Makutsi.

(Soundbite of TV show, "The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency")

Ms. ANIKA NONI ROSE (Actress): (As Grace Makutsi) I cannot tell you the number of times I have applied for jobs with my 97 percent and found myself in competition with a girl with 42 percent and a very short skirt. And every time, it is short skirt who gets the job.

NORRIS: That scene is from the HBO series, "The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency." Anika Noni Rose plays opposite Jill Scott, the soul singer turned actress who is the detective of the title. The series is set in Botswana. And as Grace Makutsi, Anika Noni Rose plays not only the very able assistant, but the perfectionist's perfectionist. She's quick to tell you about her grades in secretarial school.

(Soundbite of TV show, "The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency")

Ms. ROSE: (As Grace Makutsi) I think I have mentioned 97 percent.

Unidentified Woman (Actress): (As character) Indeed you had, but…

Ms. ROSE: (As Grace Makutsi) Which is unprecedented.

NORRIS: Anika Noni Rose has racked up some high marks herself. She won a Tony in the Broadway hit, "Caroline, or Change." Rose has also held her own in the film hit "Dreamgirls." And if that's not enough, she will be Disney's first black princess in the long-awaited film, "The Princess and the Frog."

Anika Noni Rose joins us now from our studios in Manhattan.

Phew, I'm tired just reading that resume.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. ROSE: Thank you.

NORRIS: Welcome to the program.

Ms. ROSE: Thank you, Michele.

NORRIS: I guess I should have begun by saying (speaking foreign language).

Ms. ROSE: (Speaking foreign language)

NORRIS: Hello. Hello.

(Soundbite of laughter)

NORRIS: I have to stop there. I can't go on.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. ROSE: Well, if you would like to go on, you can say (speaking foreign language).

NORRIS: Boy, you've really taken to this. You know, when you watch films or television shows like this, the American actors sometimes stand out because they're - how do I say this? They're distinguished by their accents. They don't exactly blend in.

In this case, the cast has nailed all of the accents. What did it take to do that?

Ms. ROSE: Thank you. It took a lot of listening. We had a dialect coach. And I also taped people a lot. I would ask people to pronounce things for me. Because I had so much time to myself, I was just in everybody's face. I was everywhere that I could be, and I'm really, really thankful to have been able to have that time.

NORRIS: In terms of the dialect and delivering a truly authentic performance, was it even more of a challenge for you because Grace Makutsi is often worked up? I mean, she just…

(Soundbite of laughter)

NORRIS: She's a little tight, yeah. Yeah. She's sprung.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. ROSE: I don't know. I don't know that I thought of it as much of a challenge because of that. I think that sometimes your dialect informs your body and sometimes your body helps to inform your dialect. And I think in this case, once I was familiar with the dialect, my body informed what the voice was doing, if that makes any sense at all.

NORRIS: Now, does that explain Grace's walk?

Ms. ROSE: Yes. It's tight, right?

(Soundbite of laughter)

NORRIS: Yeah. Well, she takes about 50 steps where maybe four would do.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. ROSE: She does. She does. She doesn't really bend her knees the way that she should. She has a lot of things pent up.

NORRIS: Yeah, she is tight. And I have come to love Mamakutsi(ph). She is a character. She had me at hello. She really did. She…

Ms. ROSE: Thank you. Thank you.

NORRIS: And she is evolving and developing, but she's always very spunky, for lack of a better word. And when I read your bio, I do see some similarities.

Ms. ROSE: Oh, yeah?

NORRIS: I mean, you…

Ms. ROSE: What is that?

NORRIS: Well, are you a perfectionist?

Ms. ROSE: I am.

NORRIS: Because you read on paper like a Virgo.

Ms. ROSE: I'm such a Virgo. I'm so mad at you.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. ROSE: You were online. I don't believe it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. ROSE: I am. I'm a Virgo with a little bit of Leo thrown in there for good measure and balance, and I am. I'm quite a perfectionist. I think I've, over the years, been able to release some of it because, you know, there are times when that really works in your favor and then there are times when it's just like, okay, sit down for a minute and release it, you know, stretch, take a drink of water, come back to it. So I'm trying to access the stretching portion of that at this point in life.

(Soundbite of laughter)

NORRIS: Can I ask you about your next project?

Ms. ROSE: Yes.

NORRIS: There is a lot of anticipation about "The Princess and the Frog." You're going to voice the character, Tiana. Oprah Winfrey will voice your mother's character, Eudora. The tale is set in New Orleans. What else can you tell us about it?

Ms. ROSE: Well, we have a magnificent cast. Jenifer Lewis is playing Mama Odie, who is our fairy godmother, for lack of a better title. John Goodman is in it. Terrence Howard is playing my dad, and, you know, the list just goes on. It's so much fun.

I just have never done anything like this before, and it has been a dream of mine my entire life, since I was watching "The Wonderful World of Disney" on Sunday nights with Tinkerbell flitting around and, when you wish upon a star at the end of it, and that was the night you get to stay up late before you have to go to school the next day. I have always wanted to do a voice, and it is a joy.

NORRIS: It sounds like fun. Now, after that pantheon of Disney princesses, Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella and Jasmine and Ariel, and now Tiana, is it an important milestone for you to break the color line for Disney?

Ms. ROSE: Well, the interesting thing is that I didn't think about it that way.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. ROSE: I just thought I wanted to do Disney animation, and this came up. Here's what's important about it: I love the fact that young black girls can go out for Halloween and look like the princess that they want to look like this year. I think it's a wonderful thing not to have to throw the towel over your head to create some hair that matches the television screen.

There's something about looking at something familiar. I mean, I really do remember having a yellow towel on my head, flinging my head back and forth like a complete fool. I remember the first time that I went to a birthday party at a friend of mine's house, and it was a swimming party, and this was pre-perm because, you know, you don't do relaxers when you're a little person. You let your hair be, which is good.

But I jumped in the pool, and I was a water baby, and I swam, and I swam, and I swam, and I jumped out, and my hair flung around for a minute, and then it stopped, and somebody asked me what was wrong with my hair. And I went in the bathroom, and I looked at my little hair, and it was looking like a forest of trees because it had curled right up. And I wished so badly that that was not the case at that time.

NORRIS: You were still at the party, but your hair went back home.

Ms. ROSE: My hair went home deep. My hair went to Mamakutsi. And that's a very interesting thing, and it wasn't that I felt uncomfortable being black or wanted to be something else. I just noticed that things were different. But I think that it's about celebrating the things that are different or at least saying that different is pretty all right.

NORRIS: I can't wait to see it.

Ms. ROSE: Thank you.

NORRIS: Now, how do we say goodbye?

Ms. ROSE: Ah, well, if it's nighttime, you're going to say (speaking foreign language), or you can even say that on the phone. You can say (speaking foreign language).

NORRIS: (Speaking foreign language)

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. ROSE: (Speaking foreign language).

NORRIS: It's been a pleasure to talk to you.

Ms. ROSE: Thank you very much, and you.

NORRIS: Thank you so much.

Anika Noni Rose plays Grace Makutsi in the HBO series "The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency." And if you want to know more about Anika Noni Rose, go to our Web site, npr.org.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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