It was not a requirement that the cast of Ghosts believe in the existence of ghosts to be cast in the comedy series. Although, if it did, Danielle Pinnock, who plays Prohibition-era diva Alberta Haynes, would be set. “I absolutely believe in ghosts, without a doubt,” Pinnock tells The Daily Beast’s Obsessed. “I haven’t seen one yet, but I might see one this year.”
One place you’re guaranteed to catch a slew of ghosts trying to live their best lives — okay, death — is Thursday night on UKTN, where the American version of the hit UKTN series has been a great success). The second season of the show delves deeper into the background stories of the disembodied creatures, who died on the grounds of the Woodstone Manor, killing time until they are “sucked away” (the term for being transported to the afterlife). For Pinnock, it means examining the myriad unanswered questions about Alberta’s death and providing an opportunity to overcome the barriers that held the singer back when she was alive.
“I’m obsessed with every kind of murder mystery,” Pinnock says, after I said I’d listen to a podcast about the mysterious circumstances that led to Alberta’s untimely end. Woodstone owner Sam (Rose McIver) uses her unique position to gather with the dead to pitch this as a true crime story to her editor at the local newspaper.
Of all ghosts, Alberta’s seductive and dangerous Jazz Age experiences make this character ripe for renewed public attention. “This is the big whodunnit of the season,” Pinnock says, referring to the evidence piling up to suggest it was poisoned moonshine and not a heart attack that ruined her chance for fame. If there was a way to make a Ghosts crossing with Only murders in the building—I mean, this suspicious death happened in a building – sign me up!
Rethinking the circumstances surrounding Alberta’s demise is an example of how creators Joe Port and Joe Wiseman infuse rich stories amid weekly laughter. For Alberta, that means shedding some of the copper-colored diva armor. “We’re starting to peel the layers off her and can share even more of her vulnerability,” Pinnock says.
That idea ties into a dissertation project Pinnock worked on while earning a master’s degree at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire in the UK.the Body Image Project. I interviewed five women about how they felt about their body image,” she explains. Pinnock then took the play to the Strawberry Theater Festival in New York, off-Broadway and Chicago, where it was Body/Courage (also from Pinnock social media handles). “In those five years, Second City found me, and I had a kaleidoscope of characters I was doing at the time,” she adds.
The showrunners asked if she was okay with incorporating the body positivity aspect of her work into the Alberta storyline. “Absolutely”, was her answer. “For most artists and artists with a larger format, it’s difficult. As a black woman in the industry, I’ve been given these career-oriented roles my entire career, where it’s like ‘the sassy Black this’ or the ‘sassy Black that,’” she explains. “Alberta is the first character to have had” So many dimensions that I have played in my TV career.”
Confidence is a shield, and some of the embellishments this character has put on are directly related to the obstacles she was trying to overcome. Alberta is ashamed of certain choices, but it was out of necessity: “It wasn’t easy for a woman my size back then. Of course we had Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith, but that doesn’t mean the club owners were looking for that, and I was tired of being overlooked.”
Pinnock ponders what it means to play a singer who didn’t reach the pinnacle of fame to match her talent during the Harlem Renaissance. “I am honored as Alberta to pay tribute to all the incredible black artists who have gone before me, such as women like Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith, and that we may not even know,” she says. Alberta’s struggle to stand out as a plus-size black woman isn’t unique to the 1920s, and today’s parallels to the entertainment industry’s slow progress are recognisable.
“So many people on the street have come up to me and said, ‘Thank you so much. Having this representation means the world to me,’” she says.
Pinnock says she “half the time she doesn’t even think about my size,” adding, “I just want to do a good job, but it’s the representation I wanted to see when I was younger on television.” The Season 2 episode focused on this, “Alberta’s Podcast”, is about body shaming as this character never loses her innate belief in her talent and beauty. It’s a tricky line to walk, and Pinnock’s voice shines through it.
Another area that shows attention to detail is the specificity of how the actress approaches the historical context of her character. Woodstone Manor’s speakeasy past runs like a thread through this season, and when Pinnock booked the part, she plunged deep into her 1920s. “I wanted to be as prepared as possible and maybe even too well prepared in the sense of taking dance and singing lessons,” she admits (that’s Pinnock singing on “Alberta’s Podcast”). “I was researching how much black people were earning during that period; which clubs were segregated, which were not.”
Alberta has a rivalry that may have led to her death. Still, Pinnock highlights the overwhelming camaraderie she discovered when she read about legendary figures like Langston Hughes, Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey. “Who knows if Clara killed Alberta or not? We’ll know,” she says. “But it was also a scary time because it was a ban. People hid booze, got killed and went blind because of the booze.”
Her death and decades-long status as a ghost haven’t dampened Alberta’s spirit, and she takes joy wherever she can find it, whether she attacks an arborist named Ted (who can’t see her), while watching Jason Momoa scenes in slow motion. . mo, or spying on annoying guests. “Even in the midst of the hardships, there was still a celebration of black joy and black artistry,” Pinnock says. “That’s the most exciting thing for me in this character, knowing she came from such a glorious and rich period.”
From Ted Lasso until Abbott Elementarythe audience craves comedy with a heart. Ghosts fits into this category, and the response to the fledgling series panel at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con was an eye-opener for Pinnock. “I think it became very real for the entire cast. We have taken that to heart. It’s such a bubble here in Montreal; we can’t estimate who was watching and who wasn’t,” she says.
One place where Pinnock can see exactly how many people are watching is the hilarious Hashtag Booked series she created with her best friend, LaNisa Frederick, which unpacks their experiences as actors of color. The duo met on the Chicago theater scene in 2013 and later moved to Los Angeles at the same time. “When we first arrived in LA, we had a ‘hashtag not booked’ and we were having a hard time,” she explains. At 2 a.m. in Pinnock’s kitchen, they turned these experiences into comedic shorts like, “What’s it like auditioning for that one Black Handmaid role?”
Hashtag Booked has since received more than 20 million views and the duo is developing a pilot that will draw on their 17 years of experience in this industry. “Some of these experiences, I’m telling you, are wild.” she teases. “The things that have happened for black women when it comes to hair and makeup on set. Not having people who can do our hair and makeup right and end up looking like Casper or anything like that.”
Pinnock is also developing an adult animation project with Punam Patel called Things not mentioned “about a messy group of undergarments living in the millennial’s chest of drawers.” Taraji P. Henson is the executive producer of the series: “I’ve looked up to Taraji for so long, so to be able to work on this feels like a dream come true.”
“It felt so good to go to work and see someone who looks like you.”
Another person she enjoys working with is an Academy Award winner Matthew A. Cherrywho directs two Ghosts episodes this season. “He’s our first Black director we’ve had on the show. It felt so good to go to work and see someone who looks like you,” Pinnock says, before noting that in her career she’s only been with a total of four Black directors.
Despite the fierce competition from streaming, network comedy has seen a resurgence and Pinnock is very interested in guest-starring in another broadcast hit. “I love Abbott Elementary. I’m ready to show up there and guest-star as a drama teacher,” she says. Pinnock went to the same university as Abbott Elementary creator and star Quinta Brunson (hardly missed being there at the same time). “It’s so cool that two Temple Owls are on network TV, on the biggest shows on network TV.”
The actress watched the Emmys in September and is spot on when she says that Sheryl Lee Ralph’s speech should win an Emmy of its own. “I’ve been watching Sheryl Lee Ralph for so long. I’m Jamaican, she’s Jamaican too, and to see that performance on that stage that night – for her to win the top prize in TV – was so inspiring. And it just made me feel like I’m next,” she laughs. “She’s an inspiration.”
Pinnock also hopes the network comedy accolades will spread: “I’m showing our cast will be in the Emmys next year too. I’m manifesting that and hoping for the best, but it’s been an amazing journey and ride.”
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