Being Mary Jane: Latarsha Rose on shocking character death
SPOILER ALERT: The following contains details from “Sparrow,” Tuesday’s episode of Being Mary Jane.
Did anyone – seriously, any of you – see that coming? Sure, Mary Jane (Gabrielle Union) and Lisa (Latarsha Rose) were in the midst of a World War III-sized feud, but fans were definitely hoping the two would broker a reconciliation for the sake of their decades-long friendship.
It became clear that wasn’t to be the case when the opening scenes of “Sparrow” revealed Lisa’s plan to die by suicide. Ironically, Lisa’s death proved a wake-up call for Mary Jane, who realized that part of her grudge had played in Lisa’s guilt over David. With a frank dialogue about mental illness and suicide within the black community supporting Mary Jane’s new resolve to “tell everyone that you love them, that you will love them no matter how ugly their truth is,” Tuesday’s episode proved one of the series’ most emotional to date. (Especially with MJ’s touching eulogy.) But why did Lisa have to die? Will we ever learn the full extent of her relationship with David? And what about those crazy revelations about Lisa’s past? Here, Rose answers our burning questions, reflects on saying goodbye to her character, and reveals details about the show’s surprising plot twist.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: When and how did you find our your character was going to be killed off?
LATARSHA ROSE: I got a call from [creator] Mara [Brock Akil] before the season, and we met, had breakfast and talked about it. She talked about her inspiration and Lisa’s journey, mainly that she wanted to have the opportunity to explore suicide in a character.
What kind of conversation did you have with Mara about your final scenes?
Mara and [director] Salim [Akil] had a vision for it. They wanted to handle this with care and they wanted the scene to have this quality, a certain ritual. How does she approach this last day? What goes on in a person’s mind, spirit when they’ve made that choice? I was ready to jump into that journey, like how do you play a character who is making this choice? And it was great because it was an opportunity close out an arc, and see a character from beginning to end. I really wanted to do it justice and be sensitive about the portrayal.
You filmed a nude scene for this episode. How was that?
When I found out how it was going to play out, I had that moment of, ‘Well I’m willing to do whatever is necessary for the character.’ I didn’t feel like it was gratuitous, it’s what happens when you’re alone. We’re looking at it as if the camera isn’t there. I think the crew was more worried than I was. But because I’ve been with the crew for so long, I felt confident with the people involved, even though it was my first time working on a set nude. I consider myself lucky to have done something like this in the company of Salim, Mara and the crew.
What do you think might have changed the outcome for your character?
I think at the core of it we’re talking about mental health issues. I don’t know that everyone has the opportunity to really get vulnerable and honest when dealing with the pain. The question is, why does a person choose to do this? I think it’s different for every person, and if we’re taking about suicide, we never know why a person chooses it. She, as a character, as with all the women on the show, feels that it’s important for them to protect their image and not seem like their a burden to anyone. I think it was the way her friendship progressed with Mary Jane that made her get to that point.
So what really happened between David and Lisa? Do you have any theories as to the extent of that relationship?
I can’t really say too much about their relationship, but in terms of backstory, I believe it was something where Lisa had real affection for David. Whether she never really made room for herself to have love, or wasn’t able to because of what had happened to her, Lisa probably wasn’t capable of pursuing real love. And when her friend MJ was like, “You’re not going anywhere,” I think that probably cements that fact. When I read the scripts and saw that line, I thought “How did their friendship devolve to this?”
We learned a lot about Lisa posthumously: she went to Kenya to find herself and came back with twists, she was mentor at the Boys & Girls club, and was open to all faiths. How did that backstory come about?
Well, that’s all in Mara’s hands. That’s her vision. The actors always have to create backstories and when you actually meet the backstory, its interesting how they meet up.
How did that differ from what you had originally imaged?
It all starts with the breakdown, the two-line breakdown when you get to the audition. My character’s breakdown said she was celibate, religious, traveled the world and was a doctor. Once I got that information, I was constantly on a journey to learn about and evolve the character. It was really fun.
What was your final day of filming like?
I definitely felt the love from the rest of the cast, especially when we were shooting the funeral. Everyone was so down, but I was excited because it was an opportunity for the whole cast come together, because it’s rare we can all be together. I love them.
What do you want to see for Mary Jane this season?
I want her to be able to really get a sense of herself, outside of what everyone expects of her. I think that’s how she’ll be able to attract someone in her life who has value for her. She needs to strip away everything that gets in the way of her being herself so that she find out what it means to be her authentic self. That’s what life is all about.
You’ve been part of the Being Mary Jane family since the premiere. What’s next for you?
I don’t know. [Laughs] We’ll see.
Being Mary Jane