Chandra Wilson is best known to audiences as Dr. Miranda Bailey on ABC's long-running medical drama Grey's Anatomy. Yet there's a lot more to the Texas-born actress than just Bailey. Case in point, her role in the feature film Frankie and Alice, the moving true story of a woman (played by Extant star Halle Berry) with Disassociative Identity Disorder. After its initial 2010 release, the film is finally coming to DVD today. Chandra sat down with us on Friday to discuss its lasting appeal and stepping out from under Bailey's lab coat.
"We've had a couple of resurgences over the years!" she said of the film, which earned Berry a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress in a Drama. "I really appreciate the opportunity to continue to get the film out to audiences that have missed it in the past or weren't old enough to see it or whatever it was. I think [Halle] does a wonderful job, and it's shot so well and hey, I'm in it."
She plays Maxine, the sister of Frankie Murdoch (Berry), a go-go dancer and stripper who struggles with two alternate identities, a seven-year-old child named Genius and a racist Southern white woman called Alice, hence the title of the movie. Maxine and mom Edna (Phylicia Rashad) find themselves struggling to understand Frankie's condition.
"I think it's really clear the dynamic [Maxine] has with her sister Frankie from the beginning. We wanted to make sure to make that clear from the start," Chandra told us. "Halle's performance, again, I think is really extraordinary. And I love the revelation that [Frankie's] mom and her sister kind of end up having about what it is that Frankie's been going through, and what her family's been experiencing. These are really eye-opening moments for audience members to sit back and consider in their own lives."
Characters like Maxine and Edna are reflections of their time period; in the 1970's, Disassociative Identity Disorder wasn't even a term yet. People didn't necessarily know what they were dealing with. The world is a vastly different place now, but as Chandra pointed out, there's still a lot to talk about when it comes to mental illness.
"We live in an age now where we have labels for everything. We've got names for things," she reflected. "That's good as far as at least being able to receive better treatment options sooner as opposed to having it spiral out of control for years and years...Especially with our kids and the abundance of identifiable learning disabilities - now we've got names, what do we do and how do we make sure teachers understand what they're dealing with?"
Being a regular for all eleven seasons of Grey's Anatomy, Chandra doesn't often have time to squeeze a film or a stage production into her schedule. Yet she told us it's important for her to play other characters when she can.
"As an actress, certainly, you want to be able to exercise all those actor muscles. I kind of like to check in and make sure that Baileyisms that I have haven't become Chandraisms that I carry with me," laughed the actress, who's currently shopping around a short film, Muted. "That is certainly important to do, and whenever I'm able to work out stepping away from production, I try to take advantage of those opportunities."
"Recently people have been doubling back to me about Lone Star, which I did in 1995," she continued. "When you see the cast of characters in that movie and where they all have progressed to, it's actually kind of fun to see that. I guess it's been playing on cable a little bit, and it's a really kind of throwback movie in a way. It was a John Sayles film, and the first time I worked with Joe Morton." Other actors in the movie? Oh, just Matthew McConaughey, Chris Cooper, and Frances McDormand, to name a few.
What makes a movie stand out to Chandra as a fan? "I love journey stories," she told us. "I love where you get to see people come out of their shells and go on a ride for a while. That can cover a wide range of genres. I'm not specific to a certain kind of genre.
"I just really like to see an actor take the time to take a character through an interesting journey. And sometimes it's not the one that's in the script, it's the choices that an actor makes. But that's really exciting to me."
Right now, though, she's happy that a project she truly enjoyed is getting much broader exposure thanks to DVD. "I just really think that it's a lovely film," she said. "I love our director's [Geoffrey Sax] work in it; I love the way it looks, the style of it. [And] Halle's performance. Being on-screen with Phylicia is just a treat to me; I loved that. I'm just really glad that finally more people will have access to it."