Ella Joyce, finally a star on 'Roc,' remembers her years as a nobody

October 19, 1993|By Los Angeles Times

As Ella Joyce puts it, she's "done the starving actor bit." But Ms. Joyce, who plays wife and mother, Eleanor, on Fox's "Roc," thinks those nine lean years helped her keep things in perspective.

"I worked on tons of films as an extra," she says, "and I still remember the people who took the time to talk to me," citing Dan Aykroyd and Charlie Sheen as examples. "It's something you never forget."

As a result of this, Ms. Joyce isn't one of those actors who rushes into her trailer during every break. No matter what her mood she tries to treat everyone on the set the way she appreciated being treated when she was just a face in the crowd.

After studying acting intensely in high school, the Detroit-raised Joyce worked 9-to-5 as a word processor for several years.

"Showbiz was never gonna happen that way," she says, "so one day I just up and quit." She figured she should give acting a stab before she got too old and scared, she says.

Even though Ms. Joyce wasn't a singer, she says "you do a little bit along the way and become a jack-of-all-trades." Her first big part was in the musical "Johnny Ace."

More theater roles followed, including August Wilson's "Two Trains Running," "Don't Get God Started," and "Odessa," for which she won an Audelco Award for excellence in black theater. She also won a Theater Renewal Award for her performance in "Not a Single Blade of Grass."

Ms. Joyce was in a theatrical production when her agent called about "Roc."

"I told him I wasn't interested in doing television right now," she says laughing, "And then he told me it was starring opposite Charles Dutton." Ms. Joyce was a big fan of Mr. Dutton's work and had met him years earlier. "Back then, I was just like a little groupie; like any other fan waiting for him after a performance."

"You hear so many Hollywood stories and talk about how badly people get along and I feel really grateful that we're all like we are," says Ms. Joyce as the show enters its third season.

This year, Eleanor and Roc are having a baby and adopting another. She says she doesn't have any idea what the baby will be.

"I would like her to have twins . . . there haven't been any black twins on TV," she says.

Ms. Joyce knows a little something about keeping her off-screen family going as well. She and actor husband Dan Martin ("Rin Tin Tin"), used to commute between Toronto (where "Rin Tin Tin" is shot) and New York, their former home. Now they call California's San Fernando Valley their home.

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