MICHEL MARTIN, host:
Finally, we hope to hear from Phylicia Rashad about her star turn in the television adaptation of that classic play "A Raisin in the Sun," but first the movie that won big at the Academy Awards last night was "No Country for Old Men."
That American crime saga was named Best Picture and won three other prizes, but the acting honors were swept by international performers. Joining us to talk about the big night is Shawn Edwards, film critic for Fox Television in Kansas City. Welcome back, Shawn. Thanks for talking to us.
Mr. SHAWN EDWARDS (Film Critic): Thanks a lot. Big night last night.
Mr. EDWARDS: Yeah, very exciting. You had a few surprises, but then, you know, everything else was pretty standard, and "No Country for Old Men," about the only thing American, it won big.
MARTIN: Okay, one more question, Shawn, because we do have Phylicia Rashad with us, but this year African-American performers were virtually shut out of the nominations. The exception was Ruby Dee, but she didn't win. Was this surprising? Are European actors now Hollywood's idea of diversity, or was it just not the year for, you know, native-grown minority folk?
Mr. EDWARDS: Well, number one, it wasn't a big year for African-American roles in the type of movies that usually get nominated last year. So that's why you didn't see a lot of African-Americans get nominated. I was sort of surprised that Ruby Dee did not win. A lot of people were expecting her to get like a legacy award, because a Tilda Swinton win was definitely one of the night's bigger surprises.
MARTIN: All right, Shawn. Thank you so much.
Mr. EDWARDS: No problem.
MARTIN: And we are pleased to have with us Phylicia Rashad. In 1959 Lorraine Hansburry brought her vision of the American dream to Broadway. For many it was a revelation. "A Raisin in the Sun" told the story of the Youngers, an African-American family on the South Side of Chicago struggling to hold on to their dreams.
At the center of the story is Lena Younger, the matriarch of the family. She's brought to life on television tonight by Phylicia Rashad, who won a Tony for her role on Broadway, and I understand that you're taking a break from rehearsals for yet another Broadway production to talk with us now. Thank you, busy lady, for joining us for a couple minutes.
Ms. PHYLICIA RASHAD (Actress): Thank you.
MARTIN: What attracted you to the role of Lena Younger?
Ms. RASHAD: Well, I really wasn't attracted to it, but Kenny Leon said read the play.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. RASHAD: And Kenny and I have a very long-standing professional relationship, and I absolutely trust him and his judgment. I read the play, even though I had seen the play and read the play several times before, and for the first time I felt that I was hearing the playwright and not things that had been superimposed on what the playwright had given us.
This play was written by Lorraine Hansburry. She was 27 years old. At the time of its premiere on Broadway in 1959 she was 29 years old, and in accordance with the times, what was happening in the country and in the world, it was so easy for people to stick the label civil rights play on this work, but that's not what it was. That's not what she wrote. That's not what inspired her.
You described it so beautifully. You said this family living in the South Side of Chicago, trying to hold on to their dreams. That is such a human story, isn't it?
MARTIN: It is, and what I like about your portrayal is it would be so easy to play her as, Lena Younger, as broke down, beat down, but here's a short clip where we see what she's made of. She's talking to a store clerk, a grocery store clerk, when she wants to buy some apples.
(Soundbite of film, "A Raisin in the Sun")
Ms. RASHAD: (As Lena Younger) Am I being charged for the worms, too?
Unidentified Man (Actor): (As Grocery Store Clerk) You don't want 'em, moms, you don't have to buy 'em.
Ms. RASHAD: (As Lena) I'm not buying 'em. I don't want 'em, and I'm not your mother.
MARTIN: All right, Miss. Tell him. Tell him how it is.
(Soundbite of laughter)
MARTIN: What were you thinking of in putting together Lena Younger? Who were you - what did you draw upon to make her who she is?
Ms. RASHAD: Well, a few things. My own family members - my great aunt Fanny and my grandmothers, Goldie and Matilda Allen, and Bessie Lou Sayers(ph). And all three of these women are very different, okay? And then informed by the time, the time meaning - the play takes place in 1959, and at that time Lena Younger is described as being 55 years old. That means she was born in 1904. When you go back and you look at what was happening in our country in 1904, it's very, very interesting.
MARTIN: Yeah, she lived through quite a lot. Briefly, I wanted to ask you - we only have about a minute. What would you like a new generation of viewers to take away from this production?
Ms. RASHAD: Well, the themes, you know, what's important, what is life? And really, this is a - pardon me - this a story of - a very entertaining story, I might add - a story of the importance of integrity. This is what Walter Lee comes to terms with, and his mother, in her own simple way, when she says to him I come from five generations of people who were slaves and sharecroppers, but nobody in my family never took no money from nobody, that was a way of telling us we wasn't fit to walk the Earth. We ain't never been that poor.
MARTIN: Yes, ma'am.
Ms. RASHAD: We ain't never been that dead inside.
MARTIN: Well, save your voice. You've got a new production coming out, "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof," and we are so looking forward to that.
Ms. RASHAD: Thank you.
MARTIN: Thanks so much for joining us. Tony Award-winning actress Phylicia Rashad stars in a new television version of "A Raisin in the Sun." It's on ABC tonight, and she joined us by phone from New York. Thank you so much for speaking with us.