Aunjanue Ellis on ‘King Richard,’ Working with Will Smith and How She Still Can’t Believe She’s an Oscar Nominee

Variety Awards Circuit Podcast: "King Richard" star Aunjanue Ellis on being an Oscar nominee, and what's next.

Aunjanue Ellis arrives at the 28th
Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP

Aunjanue Ellis was content being a journeywoman actor in the business and providing for her family — but now the acclaim is pouring in.

And yes, that includes an Oscar nomination for her role as Oracene ‘Brandy’ Williams in Reinaldo Marcus Green’s “King Richard.” On the latest episode of the award-winning Variety Awards Circuit Podcast, we talk to Ellis about what it feels like to now be an Academy Award nominated actress, which she still can’t say out loud. She discusses her experience with working with double Oscar-nominee Will Smith (for best picture and actor) and the difference between his “lore” and the “good person” she was privileged to work with, in addition to her cast members. Listen below:

Ellis tells the podcast that she didn’t turn her phone on until around 11 p.m. on the day of the Oscar nominations, and was flooded with multiple messages. However, it was one from actor Russell Hornsby that touched her deeply, when he shared that her nomination “was for everybody, for all of us.”

“I think people have been watching my professional life for a long time and witnessing the heartbreaks that I thought were kind of my own,” Ellis says. “But I think were people who wanted things to happen for me.”

Written by debut screenwriter Zack Baylin and directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green, “King Richard” tells the story of Richard Williams (Smith) and his determination and execution to raise, train and coach Venus and Serena Williams. The Oscar and two-time Emmy-nominated actress portray Oracene ‘Brandy’ Williams, the mother of the future sports icons, played by breakout stars Saniyya Sidney and Demi Singleton. Receiving multiple accolades this awards season, including a SAG ensemble nomination, the film also stars Tony Goldwyn and Jon Bernthal.

This season, Ellis has received considerable acclaim and awards, including noms from Critics Choice, Golden Globes, BAFTA, and even kicked off the season with the National Board of Review prize for supporting actress. In addition, “King Richard” received an impressive six Oscar nominations including best picture (Tim White, Trevor White and Will Smith), actor, supporting actress, original screenplay, film editing (Pamela Martin) and original song for the track “Be Alive” (music and lyrics by Beyoncé and Dixson). The movie had its world premiere at the Telluride Film Festival and was released in theaters on Nov. 19 and HBO Max.

A two-time Emmy nominee for Netflix’s limited series “When They See Us” (2019) from Ava DuVernay and HBO’s “Lovecraft Country” from Mesha Green, Ellis’ noms represent an essential part of history, as the only two times the Television Academy nominated a Black cast member from a series, in every major category; making her a common denominator in recognition of Black excellence. She also remembers and praises her late co-star Michael K. Williams from “Lovecraft Country.”

Finally, she talks about her passion for getting a film made about American civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer and what we can expect from her upcoming series “61st Street,” which premieres on AMC in April.

Variety Awards Circuit podcast is hosted by Clayton Davis, Michael Schneider, Jazz Tangcay and Jenelle Riley and is your one-stop listen for lively conversations about the best in movies. Michael Schneider is the producer and Drew Griffith edits. Each week, “Awards Circuit” features interviews with top talent and creatives; discussions and debates about awards races and industry headlines; and much, much more. Subscribe via Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify or anywhere you download podcasts. New episodes post every week.