Breakthrough Actor: Yolonda Ross

Gritty HBO drama jumpstarts a career

Yolonda Ross had only a handful of small television and film roles under her belt when she landed what she quickly sensed was the part of a lifetime in the independent film “Stranger Inside.”

What she didn’t know was that her performance in the movie would earn her widespread critical acclaim and a featured role in Denzel Washington’s directorial debut set to begin filming this month.

But prior to beginning work on “Finding Fish,” Ross will be in New York to receive the Independent Feature Project’s Breakthrough Actor Award for “Stranger Inside.”

The gritty drama takes an unflinching look at life inside a women’s prison. Ross’ character, Treasure Lee, is a veteran of the juvenile detention system who welcomes a transfer to state prison in hopes of reuniting with the mother she’s never known, a seasoned convict serving a life sentence.

First impressions

“When I first read the script, I could visualize the role and I knew I hadn’t seen anything like it on television or on the bigscreen,” Ross says.

“I knew it was something different and I thought, ‘Wow! I really do have to get this part.’ It was one of the few things that I had read where the character was complete. To get that chance is every actor’s dream.”

Directed by Cheryl Dunye, the film premiered to rave reviews at this year’s Sundance Film Festival prior to its airing on HBO, which financed the project. It also won audience awards at the San Francisco Intl. Film Festival and the Philadelphia Festival of World Cinema.

When she auditioned for the movie, Ross had made guest appearances on the series “Third Watch” and “New York Undercover” but “Stranger Inside” marked her feature debut.

She has since filmed an appearance on the upcoming Kiefer Sutherland Fox series “24” and will appear in the PBS drama “The Taste of Dirt.”

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