Tracee Ellis Ross on how mom Diana Ross did and didn't inspire her The High Note character
Tracee Ellis Ross is ready to step into the next chapter of her life, one that includes a lot more music. Known for the bulk of her career as an actress, Ross will step into the spotlight for the first time in her new film The High Note as a singer.
The black-ish star will portray superstar Grace Davis, a talented singer who has shied away from making new music, opting instead to keep it safe by performing her biggest hits for fans throughout the years. But her assistant Maggie (Dakota Johnson) shakes things up and supports her ambitions of recording new music that could catapult them to new heights.
"Grace Davis is one of those women who has spent her life being what she thought everybody wanted her to be so that she could make her dreams come true," Ross tells EW exclusively. "And she's at that point in her career and her life where that crossroad happens. Where I can keep doing what I've been doing because it works and this is what everyone wants me to do or I can be who I am and let my real Grace Davis fly.
"That's what the movie is about. It's about the relationship between my assistant and me, and my assistant also has dreams. It's such a fun story."
As Grace Davis, Ross sings six original songs fulfilling a dream she always but never followed. And now that she's finally stepped into her truth, there's no stopping her.
"Working on this film was a really great experience for me," she says. "And it was so much fun to be working in a different world and a different genre. It was also terrifying for me to face my dreams, I was so scared to sing! I really wanted this script for so long and I wanted this role. I went after it and I'm so happy with how it all turned out."
A scene in the film features Ross singing while Johnson plays the piano. And while Johnson will not be singing, Ross promises there are surprises in store. A couple we can unveil is the participation of Corinne Bailey Rae and Sarah Aarons who wrote songs for the film.
"Dakota and I do not sing together but there is a surprise in the movie, though," she explains. She adds about it possibly being a collaboration with co-star Ice Cube, "He plays my manager, and he doesn't do any musical collaboration. But let me tell you something, I'm trying to talk him into doing a rap verse of one of the songs I recorded, so we can do that at some point. Maybe for the soundtrack?"
It's nearly impossible not to see some of Ross's mom, Diana Ross, in the character of Grace Davis. Tracee explains exactly how her famous parent inspired the role in the film.
"In all honesty, none of this is taken from the world I know of being my mom's child," she says. "The only thing is that I always had the dream of being able to sing. But this character was so beautifully and wonderfully written, and the story really has nothing to do with any of the things that I know from my mom's experience. Except for the fact that there's a real humanity to this woman and she's not a paper-thin quote-unquote diva that the world usually paints larger-than-life women as. She's a real person. That's the only connection that I can draw. That a woman who holds a great space in the world is actually a human with a heart, who has fears and disappointments and struggles all on her own."
Now that Ross is out of her shell, could this lead to a new career as a recording artist?
"I have no idea," she says honestly. "I mean, who knows?! Maybe? It was really fun. We'll see..."
She adds, "Playing Grace has been life-changing, in all honesty. I'd always been terrified of singing. Whenever I would sing and people were listening, I'd make it comedic and silly. I had to go into the studio before we even started shooting, for about three weeks. We were looking for what songs we were going to use that worked with my voice. I had never been in a studio in my life, so it was really a daunting task."