Danielle Pinnock will never forget the day she booked her first regular role on the series ghoststhe charming CBS sitcom about a young couple who inherit a quaint country home occupied by many of its deceased previous residents.
The actress was on a Zoom call with her best friend LaNisa Frederick, with whom she co-hosts a web series about an actress of color’s misadventures in the entertainment industry, when her manager, Frank Gonzales, showed up outside her house with a gift. The gift, Pinnock soon realized, was a box of champagne chocolates to celebrate her casting as Alberta, a Prohibition-era lounge singer related to the mother hen of the eccentric spirit group.
“For so long in my career I’ve heard the word ‘no’ and gotten the big ‘yes’ to a project that I’m totally obsessed with [with]I was shocked,” says Pinnock W from Montreal, where she is currently filming the show’s second season, which premieres September 29 This is us and the iconic scandal/How to get away with murder Crossover – talks about the career-defining role that changed her life, the importance of creating your own content, and the Black creatives who inspire her the most.
You’ve already talked about the importance of shedding light on Black women artists from the 1920s who are often overlooked. How has your research helped you capture the essence of Alberta and the women of the time?
Usually being a plus size black woman comes in and out of the entertainment industry getting co-stars and guest stars, and many of the roles are professional, like the cheeky librarian. I wanted to get fully involved [Ghosts], so I took Charleston and Lindy Hop dance lessons. I remember seeing the film bessie, which Queen Latifah produced and starred in. I had a lot of books and all these spreadsheets. I said, “Girl, this is a half-hour comedy on CBS. You don’t need that deep dive!” But it was so good for me to know this character through and through, because there were a few storylines that grew out of that research. The showrunners allowed us to meet with the writers and share all the things we discovered.
What’s the biggest plot twist that changed the way you see Alberta?
There was something this season that changed my whole view of them: we’re going to take Alberta back to the jazz club of the 1920’s. It’s a stunning episode. I’m not a trained singer at all and I was shocked they cast me in that role even though I knew that but I took lessons. I haven’t been on stage to perform since 2016 and when I first heard that applause and stepped onto the stage, I got a deep understanding of who this character is. She lives for the hype, and I think in her afterlife she misses that.
Who are your dream guest stars and who would they play?
I have to say Lizzo, without question. I want Lizzo to be Alberta’s great-great granddaughter who is a musician. I campaigned for her to be on the show, and the showrunners were like, ‘Yeah, if you can get her, let’s do it! We’ll write something.” Bring Sasha the flute, sis!
My aunt [Patrice Johnson Chevannes] is an incredible stage actress. she is ready Shrill, The wonderful Mrs. Maiseland The First Lady. She was my biggest inspiration in the industry and showed me that you can be in art as a Caribbean person. You have made a race reversal of Othello where she actually got to play Desdemona against Patrick Stewart. That was the first play I ever saw in my life, and I thought, “This is what I want to do.”
who would ghosts Superfan Mark Hamill play?
Honestly, Mark could be a ghost. Mark could be Sam’s father, which I’m kind of advocating for. Mark could also be… Mark. [Laughs.] Mark Hamil visits the B&B! He is always welcome.
You commend your own family for helping you see the power of laughter to get through difficult times. How did your upbringing affect your comedic timing?
Growing up, I was surrounded by comedians who didn’t know they were comedians. My grandmother Una and my mother Joan are probably the funniest people on the planet. My mother is also my biggest inspiration. She speaks four languages, she is an immigration attorney – and I used to be my mother’s receptionist. Can you imagine an 11-year-old girl answering the phone and talking about immigration issues?
My whole life is comedy: [The story of] my husband and i and how we finally got married. I thought I was going to England to meet Idris Elba – I met Ed Sheeran instead. [Laughs.] When I tell people these stories, they say, “This is a show!” So that’s what I’ve been working on during the pandemic — putting all those things on paper. One day they could be on your TV and movie screens.
Outside of ghostsyou develop and produce an adult animated series (unspeakable), a web series (Hashtag posted) and your own pop culture sketches. Ever felt the need to create your own content?
It was a necessity to create my own content because nobody wrote for me – plus it gives me the freedom to just play. I never want to lose my imagination and it really goes back to my theatrical roots.
I had called a one woman show body/courage, which was a documentary film piece for a woman. I asked over 300 people from around the world about how they feel about their bodies. I’ve always gotten these very stereotypical roles and I wanted to at least show the theater industry that I could be more than that. I acted as these people that I was interviewing, a little girl from south Chicago who was being bullied because of her weight , down to a Northern Irish priest dealing with early onset Parkinson’s disease and a woman who worked in the sex industry, but had just turned 50. People really responded to that because everyone has an image of their own body.
Creating my own work often means creating my own legacy. I want to talk about my Caribbean heritage, because when people in America talk about Caribbean heritage, we’re just bobsleigh-riding drug-dealing psychics. [Laughs.] I want to share the stories of finding love as a plus size woman in the entertainment industry with someone I didn’t expect to find love with.
You are an avid reader of W‘s Culture Diet vertical, so let’s jump straight to those questions. What time do you wake up in the morning and what do you do first?
Nowadays when I shoot ghostsI wake up at 3:30 am [Winces, then laughs.] I hop in the shower and was on that hard boiled egg kick. I don’t know why, but with salt and pepper and a bit of hot sauce, it’s phenomenal.
What books are on your bedside table right now?
Quinta Brunson’s autobiography [She Memes Well]. I’m reading now A black Hollywood mother—I keep coming back to this book, obsessed with Jenifer Lewis.
What TV shows kept you up at night?
Okay, I love reality TV… But I just finished A league of its own and was obsessed with it. Greetings to Chanté Adams and Gbemisola [Ikumelo]. Her storyline was by far the one I connected with the most.
Danielle Brooks has this reality home renovation show on Netflix [called Instant Dream Home]. They literally go into people’s houses and renovate the houses in 12 hours, like, “We’re going to renovate your house. Go for a swim and when you come out of the pool it’s done.” It’s one of the best shows I’ve seen in a long time; Danielle is such a phenomenal host.
Quinta and I went to college together. I’m so proud of her. I watched them [first] Season two already and I’m willing to be a guest there. I thought, “Just let me come in as an acting coach!” [Laughs.]
What was the last thing you googled on your phone?
“What is monkeypox?” I’m very hypochondriac, so I experienced exactly what’s happening. If I swim in a pool will I get it? are they in the water What’s happening?
What was the last concert you went to?
I think it was Beyoncé, the Lemonade tour. My husband surprised me when we were still living in Chicago and he flew me to Houston – their hometown. This concert changed my life. She splashed some water on us and I almost passed out.
Do you have favorite social media accounts to follow?
Yes, Ryan Ken on Twitter is my favorite. The Joke’s on Eddie is a really funny site, he’s a dear friend of mine.
do you believe in astrology And what is your zodiac sign?
I have this character called “Terrica Tarot” that I’ve been playing around with on social media where she has tarot cards, but they’re actually Uno cards. I’m a Taurus so I love naps, I love snacks, I’m loyal to the last detail. Those are really serious character traits for me, so I believe them to a degree.
What’s the last thing you do before you go to bed?
I won’t lie: I have snacks. Cheetos are my favorite snack in the world – not spicy Cheetos. The way this heartburn is built up, I can’t do it. But before bed I like a good snack with some ice cold water.