Diana Ross returns to acting with TV movie

TURNED ON IN L.A. -- Spring Preview

January 12, 1994|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Television Critic

Diana Ross is about to turn 50 and to make yet another comeback.

This time, it's as an actress.

It's been 16 years since Ross' last film, "The Wiz."

Sunday night, she returns to the screen in her first made-for-TV movie, ABC's "Out of Darkness."

Ross met with TV critics yesterday to promote the film and talked about the ups and downs of one of the most spectacular show business careers in our lifetime.

"Since my last film, which I won't tell you how many years it's

been, I have been reading scripts, and I've been with a few different agents," Ross said.

"This business has taken quite a few turns since my last film, and I've been searching for a way to get back into acting. . . . But there weren't a lot of films for black females. . . . And people were not tearing down the doors to get to me."

Ross, who was nominated for an Oscar for her performance as Billie Holiday in "Lady Sings the Blues" (1972), says that she has always considered herself an actress but that it didn't come naturally.

"It's part of what we do when we stand up on stage and try to sell a song to the audience.

"But, in terms of film, the hardest thing was learning not to be afraid to make an ass of myself. Learning to risk that was an important transition. And that happened during the filming of 'Lady Sings the Blues.' "

Ross says she's also had to overcome her glamorous-pop-diva image, a larger-than-life persona once as potent as that of Madonna, Whitney Houston or Michael Jackson. In "Out of Darkness," she plays a woman suffering from schizophrenia. It is not a glamorous role.

"When I first met with the director for this picture, he said, 'This film is not about Armani gowns and costumes and all that.' And, I have to tell you, I was annoyed. He was stuck in the Diana Ross image.

"I do like beautiful gowns and pretty things. And that's part of my image [as a singer] on stage. I've even tried going on stage in my jeans and a T-shirt, and it doesn't work for me.

"But, as an actress, I can let it go. . . . It's not difficult at all for me to let go of my eyelashes," she said, batting her long, long lashes.

"What was hard, in terms of this film, was to get back to work in front of camera, to get back in touch with what works for me as an actress, because I didn't have any acting training."

Ross, the mother of five, says her family comes first these days. She says she and her husband spend a lot time abroad, especially in Norway, the country of his birth.

But it still sounds as if the career means a lot to Ross, as she talks

about what has and hasn't happened with acting roles and record releases in recent years.

"A lot of my records are really popular in Europe. I have a No. 1 record right now in the UK," Ross says.

As for the success of recent releases here, she said: "I have never left. It's really all up to your record company, in terms of if they promote you.

"Maybe my choice to go back to Motown may not have been the best choice, I'm really not sure. I'm happy to be there. But I went back to the company as part owner, and then, it changed hands again.

"So, it's really up to the record company, how you're perceived out there.

"I'm treated really wonderfully as an artist in Europe. It's not the same here. I don't know why."

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