NEW YORK >> As Teyonah Parris was preparing to play R&B singer Miki Howard in TV One's original biopic, she wanted to ask Howard about some of the darker moments in her life — drug abuse, domestic violence and a troubled childhood — to understand more about the character. But she was nervous at first about probing.
"I felt like, 'Well maybe you don't wanna bring up any bad memories or trigger anything to happen,'" she recalled.
Howard, best known for hits like "Come Share My Love" and "Love Under New Management," quickly put the actress at ease.
"Miki gave me the permission to ask whatever I wanted and to really just go there and explore whatever the role called for," Parris said.
"Love Under New Management: The Miki Howard Story," which premiered Sunday, is the latest meaty role for the actress, who has a lead role in Starz "Survivor's Remorse" and most recently starred in Spike Lee's "Chiraq."
Parris is appreciative of the opportunities, particularly given the struggles many actors of color face in finding strong roles in Hollywood.
"I really feel like the stars have aligned many ways, many times for me. I have been blessed to play some awesome roles and nuanced and meaningful characters," she said. "When I choose a role, what I'm looking for is the ability is to tell our stories. Me being a black woman, that's just a given. It's going to be a part of any role I do, making sure I tell it truthfully and nuanced and in a way that many people can relate to."
Q: Were you a Miki Howard fan?
A: I definitely knew Miki's music, but I didn't know anything about her life. So when I got this script, I remember getting it and reading it and thinking, 'Wait a minute, they're doing this for television?' It reads to me as if it were, it could be a feature film that has come out in theaters. It had so many dramatic elements.
Q: How important was it that Miki was involved?
A: Miki has been very involved in this film, and to me, that was one of the great things about being able to work on this kind of biopic. A lot of times, we don't get an opportunity to celebrate these amazing talents while they're still with us. Most of the times they're gone, and then someone else takes telling their story into their hands. With this one in particular, Miki is still alive and she's very much been a part of this process and making sure we're telling the truth ... and telling it in a way that she feels like it actually happened.
Q: You're singing to her track. Did you ever give thought to doing it yourself?
A: (laughs) Oh, I always think I can do it myself, but I know what the talents God has given me are, and singing isn't one, OK? I thought, 'Oh yeah, I can do this,' in my mind, and for myself. But Lord, I want people to watch the movie.
Q: What do you think Miki fans will find most surprising?
A: I think her whole life is a surprise. Miki came around in a time when it was always about the work and the music, so there was no social media, you didn't know what was happening in people's everyday lives. So all of it was kept private. It will answer a lot of questions just about her life, and how it's evolved. I think people are going to be surprised in all of what this woman has endured and gone through, and inspired how she's come out of each one and how she's really fought to become the woman she wanted to be,
Q: You have so many admirers of your natural hairstyles. How do you get your inspirations for what you do with it?
A: I'm like any other girl; I see the Instagram posts and the Tumblr stuff. I'm inspired by what my fellow girls are doing. I just have a different platform, and I love that women and black women, natural girls, have embraced what is. I know what I represent to us. It's not a lot of us being given a platform like I have. It's just a cycle of inspiration.