The moment she referred to f -word-flinging Grey's Anatomy costar Isaiah Washington as "the other one in rehab" while accepting her SAG Award in 2007, gay people knew they had an ally in Chandra Wilson. Thrice Emmy-nominated for her role as tough-lovin' Dr. Miranda Bailey on ABC's hit hospital drama, Wilson will now razzle-dazzle audiences as (possibly lesbian) prison warden Mama Morton in Chicago from June 8 to July 5 at Broadway's Ambassador Theatre. Here the 39-year-old mother hen tells Advocate.com all that jazz about how she copes with onstage challenges and the many queer controversies of Grey's.
Advocate.com: Since the Chicago revival opened on Broadway in 1996, a number of great actresses have played Mama Morton, the same role in the film version for which Queen Latifah earned an Oscar nomination. Are you feeling any pressure to follow in those footsteps?
Chandra Wilson: The pressure comes from the role itself, but my nerves are from the rest of the cast: The principals and the ensemble are just on their A-game, so you can't come to Broadway doing your C-D performance. No one wants to be the weak link.
Particularly in the stage version, it's suggested that Mama might be a lesbian. Are you planning to play up her butch qualities?
That was one of the discussions that I had with the associate director. When someone new takes over a role, the company doesn't change anything from the script, but they do lay it all out there and let people take from it what they take from it. So sometimes, depending on who's playing Mama, it might sound crazy calling Mama butch. I decided that I'll give Mama her look, her walk, and her demeanor, and then I'll let the words fall where they fall.
Have you ever played a lesbian role?
I had a little, itty-bitty piece of a role as an inmate at the very top of the film Strangers With Candy. She probably was supposed to be a lesbian, but I don't think you saw her long enough to know.