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April 07, 2017

Naturally Nola

Dewanda Wise waited 30 years to play the part she was apparently born to play.

Randee Dawn
  • Rowan Daly

Here’s what made DeWanda Wise decide to watch Spike Lee’s classic 1986 film, She’s Gotta Have It: A few years ago, a boyfriend gave her a DVD and said, “You remind me of Nola Darling.”

Turns out that her boyfriend was either a casting director in the making or prescient, because Wise is playing Nola, the free-spirited young Brooklynite in the Netflix 10-part series of the same name, adapted, executive-produced and directed by Lee himself.

Wise was “blown away” by the original film — “I remember thinking how bold and ahead of its time it was” — but she’s a little in the dark about how the TV version, which she says Lee approaches like a 10-part movie, will progress. “It’s a very large trust issue,” she says.

Though the Baltimore native has been racking up credits for more than a decade in films and on TV, she’s especially busy lately. In addition to the Netflix series, which is due out in October, Wise is a regular on Fox’s Shots Fired and has a recurring role on WGN’s Underground, both of which premiered in March.

Scoring jobs on all three shows made 2016 particularly exciting. “It was the first time I worked throughout an entire year,” Wise notes. “It’s been a perfect storm of elements that came along after years of building to it.”

In other words, a classic veteran–turned–overnight success. So how did the graduate of NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts fill her days between gigs in the past? As an acting coach, it turns out. Her best advice: “Don’t quit,” she says. “Everyone gives up too soon.”

Not Wise, who is honored to be part of the ensemble that is bringing a new version of Lee’s 30-year-old film to television.

“There are so many women in the show’s writers’ room,” she reports delightedly. “That’s part of what sold me. I’m super deliberate about what I sign on to, and I take great care about how I represent. You gotta represent.”

This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 3, 2017

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