By Emily Feimster
Gina Ravera certainly isn't a new face to fans, especially with a starring role as Detective Irene Daniels on "The Closer" and a guest-starring role as Mekhi Phifer
's love interest on "E.R." However, it won't be long until she takes the big screen by storm as she'll be playing Denzel Washington
's wife in the Oprah Winfrey
-produced movie "The Great Debaters." Now there's a good way to break into the movie business!
"I play Ruth Tolson, the wife of Denzel's character, Melvin Tolson, who was one of the esteemed members of Wiley College, who actually founded the first debate team to win, and it was a black debate team," explains Ravera of the historic 1935 Texas debate team. "They debated Harvard and won during the time of the Jim Crow laws where blacks were seen as intellectually inferior. It kind of spearheaded a movement."
Ravera says she's certain that the movie, which also stars Academy Award winner Forest Whitaker, will become an instant classic. It certainly doesn't hurt to have someone as powerful and influential as Oprah backing it. It will also mark the second movie starring Denzel that he's also directed. "This is one of those rare things that you only hear about. A job like this you only dream of doing," she gushes. "I was sitting outside this weekend after working all week and I actually had the feeling as if I've been on vacation."
She continues, "You leave work with more energy than you started with. I think people feel conviction. There's a tremendous since of pride and gratitude to be a part of the project," says Ravera, who sits chatting in a 1930s style dress on set in Louisiana. "How many jobs have you had where everyone there loves doing it? There are people right now working in about 100-degree heat with 90 percent humidity and you don't hear complaints. You just see everybody giving their all. It's breathtaking."
Getting the chance to be a part of a film with such a powerful message is the reason why Ravera says she got into the business in the first place. After all, she wanted a career in which she could make a difference. "I was going to go into law. I was studying political science and all of that. It's funny because I have played a lot of lawyers," notes the San Francisco-born actress, whose mother is African-American and father is of Puerto Rican ancestry. "I really love the concept of law and democracy, but as we know, politics is a messy game. I found that I didn't have the personality for it. What I did find is that I had a love for drama. I was encouraged by teachers to pursue it and I did."
After attempting to balance school and work, Ravera realized that acting was her true passion. "I would do a job and then go back to school, and finally I had to make a choice between my GPA and a career," she explains. In the end, she couldn't be more thrilled with the path she has chosen. "In this capacity as an actress, I get to tell a story about an important part of history that will hopefully inspire others to learn. With this particular job, I'm doing everything I had dreamed of doing."
Despite what accolades may come from this project or any others in the future, Ravera reminds that it's all about service. "Acting is an art of humanity. Ultimately an actor's role is to serve humanity, and to actually be a part of a project that does that, I feel so at peace."