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Lynn Whitfield ( 1953 - )  Category ( Actor_Actress ) [suggest a correction]
 

A common complaint among actresses is that they are often discarded by Hollywood when they reach a certain age (ranging, depending upon the source of the complaint, from 40-55).

But then there's 56-year-old Lynn Whitfield, whose career continues to evolve right along with her. One of the genuine intellectuals of the film world (she made the honor society Alpha Kappa Alpha at Howard University), Whitfield has done everything from high drama to low comedy -- most recently, roles in "The Women," "King of the Evening," "Madea's Family Reunion" and "The Cheetah Girls."

She also appeared on six episodes of "Without a Trace" and has slid into medical roles on "Confessions" and "Strong Medicine." Earlier, she was a regular on "Hill Street Blues," and she once played the lead in the short-lived 1986 TV series "Johnnie Mae Gibson, FBI."

Most challenging of all, perhaps, was her portrayal of Josephine Baker in a 1991 HBO biopic, a film that required her to age onscreen from 19 to 61. Whtifield beat out more than 400 other women vying for the part, and her performance earned her an Emmy.

Whitfield is also at home onstage, with an early role in "For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf" helping to kick-start her career.

To Whitfield, every role provides her with the opportunity to stretch.

"It's a constant challenge trying to remain relevant," she told Essence, "whether it's Josephine Baker or 'Madea's Family Reunion.' I have to keep things real and keep them fresh."

Whitfield was born in Baton Rouge, LA on May 6, 1953, the daughter of a dentist and a finance company employee. In a 2007 interview with the Spike Network, she said that her first on-screen appearance with Cecily Tyson in "Madea's Family Reunion" was not her first introduction to that legendary actress.

"My father was a dentist in Baton Rouge," she recalled, "and once when Cecily was in town doing 'The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman,' she decided that her character should have a gold crown, so she called my father at 3 in the morning to ask if he could do it. He said, 'Could we talk about this at 8?'

"I've known her ever since."

As a child, Whitfield grew up in relatively comfortable middle class circumstances in then-segregated Louisiana (she drew on that background for her role in the 1997 film “Eve’s Bayou”) and recalls watching classic movies like "Breakfast at Tiffany's" in black and white from her mother's lap.

"It never occurred to me that I couldn't do the Audrey Hepburn role," she said.

Her parents were active in community theater, which gave young Lynn access to the stage. After a year at nearby Southern University, she transferred to Howard, where she earned a master's in fine art and became involved with the Black Repertory Theater in Washington. Before long, company co-founder Van Whitfield became her mentor, and then more than that -- the two were married in 1974.

Whitfield now lives in New York City with Grace, a young actress and her daughter from a second marriage.


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