At Tuesday premiere of HBO’s “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks,” Oprah Winfrey’s cast mates could not say enough about the work experience on the movie and the multi-faceted talents of its star and producer.
“Henrietta Lacks” comes as Winfrey has already stepped up her acting work — in addition to running a cable channel, a magazine and sundry other ventures — with a role in OWN’s “Greenleaf” and movies including the upcoming “A Wrinkle in Time” directed by Ava DuVernay.
“Henrietta Lacks” director George C. Wolfe said Winfrey needs to make time for more thespian work. “She needs to do more and more and more and more. She’s brilliant,” Wolfe told Variety before the premiere screening at Manhattan’s SVA Theater.
“Henrietta Lacks” tells the story of an African-American woman who died young and had her cells harvested for years for research that led to astounding breakthroughs in medical science — unbeknownst to her family. To Wolfe, a veteran legit helmer, the story had every ingredient for great drama.
Winfrey plays the titular character’s daughter, Deborah, who discovered her late mother’s storied history and battled the medical establishment to learn the details.
As soon as Wolfe got a hold of the story, based on the nonfiction book of the same name by Rebecca Skloot, he became a director on a mission. “I felt ‘Don’t sleep, don’t eat, just do it now,’ ” Wolfe said. He’d been talking to Winfrey about developing a Broadway show together around the time that Winfrey secured the rights to “Immortal Life.”
In addition to hailing Henrietta Lacks’ influence on modern medicine, the larger message of “Immortal Life” is transmitted via Deborah’s determination. “Don’t give up until you know your story.”
The production of “Immortal Life” was something of a family reunion for Wolfe and many of the actors with deep roots in New York theater. Co-star Reg E. Cathey said Winfrey was an exception but fit right in. “Oprah turned out to be the most generous, the most giving, the most prepared — a serious actress,” he said.
Following the screening, the troupe headed south a few blocks for the after-party at Tao Downtown.
(Pictured: “Henrietta Lacks’ ” John Douglas Thompson, Reg E. Cathey, George C. Wolfe, Renee Elise Goldsberry, Oprah Winfrey, Rebecca Skloot, Rose Byrne and Leslie Uggams)