July 1, 2020 Interview – Elise Neal
You just never know where life will lead you. You could be on one path but then be taken in a completely different direction, finding success and happiness in a place you never thought possible. Interestingly enough, Elise Neal was faced with this type of crossroads many years ago, as an accomplished dancer who soon detoured toward acting. Finding new success, she has starred in such memorable films as 1997’s Rosewood, Money Talks and Scream 2, but also others such as 2000’s Mission to Mars, 2005’s Hustle & Flow, plus 2017’s Logan. Also a producer and fitness advocate, Neal is a compelling talent just full of surprises.
Recently taking on a role in the Hulu Into the Dark film Good Boy, she is excited to take interesting new challenges that come her way. Still seeking to surprise herself and audiences, Ms. Neal sat down to talk about her career, starring in Good Boy, future plans, and a much more.
Cryptic Rock – You have been involved in entertainment professionally for well over three decades, starring both in film and television. Briefly, tell us, what initially inspired you to pursue a career as an actress?
Elise Neal – Well, that’s what is so interesting for me. I will say, to my discredit, that I have not bridged the gap between how my career got started and where my career is now. I’m originally from Memphis, Tennessee, and my goal in life was just to mimic Debbie Allen. I started off as a dancer doing ballet, jazz and tap. I went to high school in Memphis, got a full scholarship to what is now The University of the Arts in Philadelphia. To make a long story short, I ended up fulfilling the dream of being a chorus girl, Broadway/musical theater dancer – which was my dream in life. I do look back and go, “Dang it! I should have done more with that other talent!”
To answer your question, I was doing musicals in New York and people said, “You’re silly and funny, you should try to act.” I told them, “I’m good – dancing is what I want to do with my life.” Then I decided I would take a commercial workshop to see if it was something I would like. What challenged me about it was how different it was to be able to create and show emotion with your face and not your body; the challenge of being able to master that really intrigued me. I started to take acting classes, and here we are today all these years later.
Cryptic Rock – It is very interesting to hear how it all began for you. You clearly had a talent for the arts to begin with, and you have gone on to work in Comedy, Drama, and even Horror films. Do you enjoy that versatility as an actress?
Elise Neal – Absolutely. I think, especially when you’ve done it as long as I have, the goal is to do things that excite you still. You want to excite your audience, but you want to excite yourself too. Being able to go from Scream 2 (1997) to Into The Dark to starring on Scandal, or doing whatever, from Money Talks (1997), to classics like Rosewood (1997), it definitely has been interesting for me. I don’t think I could ever say I’ve had times on set where I go, “That’s just like the last one.” That’s the fun thing about mixing it up. They are all in some ways different and that’s always a lot more fun.
Cryptic Rock – It keeps things interesting for yourself and the audience. One of your most recent roles is in the Hulu Into the Dark film Good Boy, portraying Doctor Linda Johnson. How did the role come about for you?
Elise Neal – I had worked with the Director Tyler MacIntyre before. He thought I would be great for the role; it was kind of that simple. I’m a huge Judy Greer fan, too. It was great to meet her and work with her. I don’t want to give anything away about the movie, though.
Cryptic Rock – It’s an interesting story and great cast. You have this dog Reuben who seems harmless, but clearly is not. Without giving too much away, what do you think Reuben is?
Elise Neal – I’m going to leave it at that. (Laughs) I’ve been on these roads before, I like to keep things very quiet. I’ve been in Scream 2 and Logan (2017) where you can’t tell anybody anything about anything. I just keep my mouth shut. (Laughs)
Cryptic Rock – It keeps the suspense. One of the other topics the film revolves around is Judy Greer’s character is frustrated with the dating scene; she can’t seem to find an individual who won’t play games and settle down. As a society, why do you think many people no longer want that type of commitment?
Elise Neal – You’re speaking to someone who’s not married. (Laughs) I think everyone has a different reason, I do. In my opinion, we have too many options as a society. As a society, back in the ‘old days,’ even way before my mom’s time, it was about you pick someone you just met, you think you’ll get along, and you get married. That was what it was. It wasn’t tomorrow I might meet someone, but someone else might want to swipe my picture on social media, so let me just wait and see what options I get. I think things were very much more cut and dry back then. It was I’m twenty something years old, I need to be married, I’m gonna get married; this person likes me, I like this person, that’s the person I’m going to be with for the rest of my life.
I do think that was definitely easier. I do think we all start to weigh the options and go, “yes, no, maybe so, maybe there is someone else.” If it were such a simple thing as making a choice and deciding this is the choice I have and figuring out the ins and outs of the choice, after the fact, I think it would be a little more cut and dry about relationships. We definitely have too many options. For me, it’s all about me trying to preserve who I am and not let someone be intimidated. We could have a whole other episode about me. (Laughs) As a society I think it is more so about the options.
Cryptic Rock – You raise very good points. Society is changing. You mentioned how you started out dancing and that was your option. As someone who loves music, you have be able to interject that into your acting career with roles in Hustle & Flow (2005), etc. Has that been redeeming, to be able to mix music into your work in some way?
Elise Neal – Oh my god, absolutely! There was a time, about 10 years ago or so, I even created my own music group. It was Elise and Assorted Flavors. You could look it up online, it was a very small amount of time I did that. I was doing the television show All of Us and I really missed performing. I went to ICM, talked to them, and created a group. We used to tour and I had a whole group of music producers I worked with. None of our songs really ever came out – there is a whole long story about that. Every now and then I think about, “Maybe I might just get back with a producer to create a single just for me.” I do love music so much, I’m glad you brought it up.
Being creative has always been a part of my life. I started dancing at the age of six years old. Being active and creative has been a complete part of my entire life. I actually created a movie around the group that I’m shopping right now while in quarantine. Things centered around music are a lot of fun.
Cryptic Rock – It will be interesting to see what comes of that.
Elise Neal – Yes, I’ve had a lot of time to rethink some things. We will figure it out as we get better. People have to take care of themselves and figure out how we’re going to move forward in life with a virus which will not be going away any time soon. We just have to be smart: take care of each other, take care of the people around us, and wait for a vaccine.
Cryptic Rock – Right, we need to take care of one another and be smart. This is certainly one of the most interesting times in our lifetimes. Between the pandemic, along with the issues of injustice and racism – which have always been here. Do you feel change is finally going to happen?
Elise Neal – Slowly, but yes. You’re right, it’s always been here. We can even talk about the movie Rosewood created by John Singleton that starred Ving Rhames, Don Cheadle, and myself. That is based on a town in Florida that was one of the most prominent black-owned towns in the twenties. It was completely raided and the whole town was murdered because one woman cried rape, because she didn’t want her husband to know she was cheating. The jealously of the Caucasian people not part of that town let that fuel them to say, “See they’re no good; black people are what we thought they were.”
With the young people in America right now the light switch is turned on where they are saying, “We need to stop this.” I’ve seen so much conversation, because that is where it starts: with the conversation of change. You see different cities like New York having the conversation, and making different laws and excluding different things that they know aren’t right. I do think there is going to be change. It’s not going to be an overnight everything is better, but the slow changes lead to the big changes.