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‘The Red Line’ Star Emayatzy Corinealdi on How The Show Influenced Her Real-Life Activism

On CBS’ new limited series “The Red Line,” Emayatzy Corinealdi plays Tia Young, a woman deeply entrenched in Chicago politics, whose professional and personal lives begin to intersect in unexpectedly complicated ways when the daughter she gave up at birth decides she wants to meet her mother. The show has inspired the actress, who is also known for small-screen roles on “The Young and the Restless,” “Roots” and “Ballers,” to become more politically active in her own life.

The Red Line” starts with the shooting of an unarmed African-American man by a white Chicago police officer. What about such a ripped-from-the-headlines tale attracted you to the show?

I don’t think I was looking for anything like that specifically, but it’s almost hard to avoid it with what’s going on. It’s an even better gift if you do get the opportunity to speak to things that are currently happening and get to do your art. When they come together, it’s the best of both worlds.

What were you looking for, then, that led you to Tia?

What I was looking for was a very strong, female-led story that was about something, and that’s what this was. To be on a show, you really, ideally, want it to be something that resonates with you in some kind of way, and when this one came along, it was one of those scripts. … That pilot script was so strong — it was so well written — it just made you feel like you had to be a part of this.

What did you know about the arc with her daughter trying to find her when you were auditioning for the pilot? How did that side of the story add to your interest or create new complications?

I did not know a lot of that at the start, in terms of how it was going to play out with her finding her daughter. Do they meet eventually, how does it happen? I didn’t really know that going in. I just knew that she had this daughter that she gave up and that in some kind of way, most likely, their worlds were going to converge. That is what was exciting about it because it really adds to just the reality of that.

What added layer of preparation did you do for that part of the story?

Speaking with people who have been in that scenario — who have been given up for adoption and then finding your birth mother and what that is like. All of those feelings and emotions that go along with that, I felt, especially when [Aliyah Royale, who plays Jira, and I] had an initial meeting. It was helpful for me, for us, to keep a distance in terms of our relationship on set because I thought it would be stronger and more powerful if they eventually came [face-to-face].

What is the balance in the story of how much Tia’s daughter weighs on her, versus the weight of running for alderman?

The politics of it are No. 1 because everything else kind of falls under that umbrella. It still remains Tia’s duty, if you will, to do something. That is her main focus, and from that everything else kind of does fall in line. She’s not expecting her daughter to come back in her life, especially at this time, so when she’s faced with that, she has to navigate how that can fit with what she’s doing: “How will I be judged?”

What was the most joyful part of the role, and what was the most challenging?

I really think after Tia meets Jira, watching her struggle with that and then ultimately seeing it connect and seeing her set some of those fears and insecurities that she had about her even being able to be a mother to this young woman at this point aside, watching her go through that was so sweet and tender, and I think that might have been one of my favorite moments or journeys. Bringing it all together [was challenging]. Her trying to figure out “How can I still do what is necessary and make this run for office to see where this leads me so I can do something greater and still have a family at home with a husband who is supportive but at the same time doesn’t really want to invite this daughter in right now?” It’s about juggling…and it made it difficult.

How do you feel the most changed after living in Tia’s shoes?

It really riled up in me this desire to do something, in terms of even at your local level, because that’s what she did in running for alderman. I’ve always been active, but it gave me more of a desire and an urge to do that. So I was looking up different things here in L.A. and I was like, “I can start with something as simple as, I go to my neighborhood council meetings, how about I run for a seat on my neighborhood council?” It really did spurn that on. I finished and now I’m trying to run for my neighborhood council.

What’s the cause you care the most about during that run?

There has to be justice. The way that specifically black men are treated how they’re arrested, when they’re arrested is just wrong, and it happens too often. Botham Jean was shot in his apartment. We’re seeing this far too often in the news.

How do you hope the show changes the conversation around such names on the news?

Ideally…people at home will see themselves or see someone they know represented in some type of way and, from there, have a bit more understanding and a bit more empathy, and there’s a lot more of that that needs to go around.

Coming off such an emotionally heavy show as “The Red Line,” is there a strong feeling about choosing something next that is very different?

Drama is just my heart. Finding out those things that make us tick as humans, I love exploring that from the limbs of drama, so that is really No. 1. But even action, I am just champing at the bit to get to do something in action. Coming from a very athletic background and having brothers growing up, I want to explore that so much.

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