Like fine wine we get even better with time. And nowhere is that more true than with Alysia Joy Powell, who currently is starring in the Oscar-nominated film, Judas and the Black Messiah. Her performance has been noted as one of the most important appearances in the film.
A native of Southern California who currently resides in Brooklyn, New York, Powell was born with acting in her blood: her parents met in an acting class. She started her entertainment career late in her 20’s with gospel music. She sang with epic performers like Richard Smallwood, Yolanda Adams and Gospel Music Workshop of America (GMWA) and sang back up for singers like Mary J. Blige.
Powell eventually transitioned into acting, having had a 25 year career In film, television and stage with guest starring roles on Bull, Billions, Random Acts of Flyness, Pose. She is pursuing her talents behind the camera as well, as a director and writer for a new web series, and is co-director/actress for the TV pilot, Boys and Girls.
The veteran performer is also working on her one woman show, Different Shades of Love, which was featured in the Emerging Artist Festival. She is also proficient in screenwriting, stand up, teaching acting, making jewelry for her jewelry line My Diva-Tude and designing her plus size clothing line.
The Bucket’s Susan Hornik talked to Powell about her incredible life.
SH: What was it like to take on such a serious character in Judas and the Black Messiah and what did you draw on to nail that performance?
AJP: Taking on this character was exhilarating; I was finally being challenged. Comedy is so easy for me, but I still love a deep drama. It wasn’t hard to find what to draw on with everything going on with police brutality. In this role, I became every mother whose child had been the victim of police brutality. The day we shot this scene, the verdict came in for the Botham Jean case; it was not hard to draw from that kind of grief. The feeling every time you hear of another incident is palpable. You spend your life holding your breath, praying you don’t have to hear or see another video of wrongdoing. As a black woman, you live in trauma. I used that for Pauline Winters.
SH: How did you land that role? What do you think the casting company saw in your other work that made them pick you for this role?
AJP: The old fashioned way– I went in and auditioned for it. I’m not sure what they saw, but when I’m in that deep, I disappear; it’s just the character and the moment. There was a lot of people who auditioned for this role, but God chose me. It was my turn. My moment. I’m grateful for that moment. And man! What a moment it was and continues to be.
SH: You played the role of Mrs. Winters, the mother of Jake Winters. But given the relatively young age of most of the cast members, did you feel like you were kind of like the mother of the whole cast?
AJP: Well, I feel like that, now! I feel a responsibility for this project, and the families we were tasked with representing. I’ve never felt like that before. Judas and the Black Messiah is one of those “once in a lifetime” kind of projects. The film was perfection from the executive producers, the writers, the cast, and crew. All the stars were aligned for this film.
SH: At The Bucket, we’re always encouraging people to take a step back and think about the things they really want to do in life. And then make choices that help make those things happen. You seem to be the poster child for that. You’ve acted, directed, written, sang and done stand-up comedy. You even have a jewelry and clothing line. What drives you to do all these things!?
AJP: They’re all gifts! I wouldn’t do any of it, if it wasn’t something I was passionate about. I started writing when I was in the 6th grade, looking at my Dad’s scripts. Michael Jackson was usually my leading man! I had a career in gospel, and I was with the LA Chapter of the GMWA before I got into acting. Music was and is my first love.
I started to direct because when I write, I see shot selections. Stand-up and comedy are easy for me; I like the interaction with the audience, as I do with the stage. It allows me to play. The jewelry began when I was looking for something to match my wardrobe when I played Ma Rainey, in August Wilson’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, and I fell in love with stones. I’ve been designing clothes since my days in gospel. You weren’t a real artist unless you had rhinestones and feathers!
Typical fashion was never what I saw in my head so, I designed my own fashion. I want to make plus size women feel beautiful.
SH: What advice would you give people who have things they want to try in life but just can’t get up the courage to make it happen?
AJP: Just take the leap and have faith you’ll land where you’re supposed to. If this pandemic and all the people we have lost has taught us that this life is too short to live in regret and not realize your dreams. It’s time to take flight. If not now, then when?
SH: I read something you said about your character, Alicia, in the TV show, The Mysteries of Laura, about how you literally flipped the script in casting and reinvented the character. Obviously, that worked because you got the role. But were you afraid that you would risk losing the part by interpreting it the way you did? What gave you the courage to do it your way?
AJP: I did what my heart told me was right. There’s never fear in doing that. That’s a part of what we do. We bring our full selves to a role, to a character, and we leave it all on the table. That is what allows you to walk away free. Fear comes when you don’t follow it.
SH: I know that you had a difficult time last spring when your father died. How did he influence the way you live your life and has his death changed the way you will live your life moving forward?
AJP: My dad was my hero and my wisdom. I miss talking to him, especially about the industry, even more so now. I want to make him proud and achieve a level of success that he couldn’t. He was a brilliant actor, but the roles weren’t available to him. I want to get those roles, and create for him.
SH: What has been the biggest obstacles you’ve faced in your career?
AJP: Vertical elevation. There’s been a lot of lateral movement. When I moved from California to NY, I had a decent resume, however, I still had to start my career all over again. The casting directors didn’t know me yet, and I had to find representation. I couldn’t use my representation from LA because of the time zone difference; you can do NY to LA but not the other way around.
Nothing I did up until then mattered. So, I went in search of ways people would know my talent. I did stage readings, showcases, and I networked. After a while, I started to be known. I never accepted representation without them knowing my work. If they didn’t know what I could do, then they couldn’t submit for my range or fight for me.
SH: What is left for you to accomplish? What else do you have to check off your Bucket list?
AJP: A lot! Everything. I want to write more, so I’m working on 3 episodic scripts. I want to direct more. A series regular would be nice, for the right role. I’m an activist for the maternal health of women of color, a full spectrum doula, a certified lactation counselor, and I still have my nursing license. Not sure how many more babies I will be catching though, since I believe I’ll be a little busy!