Anika Noni Rose's roles range afar ... and, occasionally, anear


By Mike Hughes

From the moment I saw Anika Noni Rose in "The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency," almost a decade ago, I thought she was an amazing talent. She's ranged afar since then ... and now stars in a new series on BET. Here's the story I sent to papers:

Anika Noni Rose has
criss-crossed much of the human spectrum.

She's been a corrupt
cop, an honest lawyer and a frog-kissing princess. She's been a timid
secretary in Botswana and the hottest (and saddest) wife in
Mississippi; she's also been Kunta Kinrte's daughter.

“It's exciting,
it's fun, it's stimulating,” she said. “I have no desire to be
myself onscreen every time.”

But sometimes,
that's called for. In “The Quad,” a new cable series, she moves
South to be the first female president of fictional Georgia A&M,
a historically black college. That fits; Rose studied at a
historically black school ... which, until recently, had never had a
female president.

Her character, Eva
Fletcher, promptly upsets the school leaders. “She is a very
intense woman,” said Rose, 44. “She has a Northern way and a
Northern speed .... She's a younger woman, an attractive woman who
looks perfect from the outside – and it galls them.”

Beneath that surface
are mammoth imperfections. An affair with a grad student left her
with few job options. Her husband is estranged; her daughter is
angry. All of that is where the acting comes in.

For Rose, thia
started during her freshman year in high school, when she got the
lead role in the “Fame” musical. “I didn't know I could sing
until then,” she said.

Later, singing would
help her win a Tony Award (in “Caroline, or Change”), co-star in
the “Dreamgirls” movie and become Disney's first black princess
(in “The Princess and the Frog”).

Her college choice,
however, went beyond career ambitions. “I was interested in
cultural enrichment .... I wanted to go to a school where you can
learn and grow around people of your culture.”

She'd grown up in a
Jewish neighborhood in Connecticut, with her parents exposing her to
lots of black music, theater and dance. Now she wanted the full
experience.

Florida A&M
began in 1887 as State Normal College for Colored Students; it
continues to have a student body that is 87.6 percent
African-American. Rose said she was instantly impressed by its
academics; she reels off statistics about its business, music and
pharmacy programs and more.

She majored in
theater, went on to the American Conservatory in San Francisco, then
scored. In classic Broadway revivals, she was rebellious Beneatha in
“A Raisin in the Sun” and sizzling Maggie in “Cat on the Hot
Tin Roof.” On TV, she's ranged from Jukebox Thomas (the lesbian cop
with her own crime ring) in “Power” to Wendy Scott-Carr, the
State Attorney candidate in “The Good Wife.”

Most impressive may
have been HBO's “The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency,” requiring a
new accent and attitude. She played Grace Makutsi, fresh from
secretarial school and overeager to help.

That was set and
filmed in Botswana. “I had never been to Africa; there were really
wonderful people.”

Now “Quad” takes
her to another interesting spot. The college is fictional, but the
backdrop is Morehouse College, in Atlanta, the alma mater of Martin
Luther King, Spike Lee, Maynard Jackson, Herman Cain, Samuel L.
Jackson and more.

“Morehouse has an
amazingly rich history,” Rose said. “And it's a gorgeous campus –
but not as gorgeous as Florida A&M.”

Therte's one other
difference: Morehouse is a private, all-male school (linking with
nearby female schools) and has never had a female president. Florida
A&M finally hired one in 2014, after 127 years of male rule. And
fictional Georgia A&M just got its first one, rattling some large
egos.

-- “The Quad,”
10 p.m. Wednesdays, BET, rerunning at 11.

-- Second episode is
Feb. 8, following the first two chapters (6 and 8 p.m.) of “Madiba,”
the three-part miniseries about Nelson Mandela.

-- Earlier, the
“Quad” opener reruns Tuesday night (technically, 12:03 a.m.
Wednesday, Feb. 8).

-- The first two
episodes rerun together on Thursday, Feb. 9, at 5:50 and 7:57 p.m.;
also, the second episode also reruns at noon Friday, Feb. 10.