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Solea Pfeiffer was on the phone with Don Cheadle about a possible appearance on his Showtime series Black Monday when another call came in. She ignored it. The 27-year-old actress didn’t end up working with Cheadle, but she did land a lead role in A Jazzman’s Blues, a period drama directed by Tyler Perry, who happened to be the unidentified caller.
A Jazzman’s Blues marks Pfeiffer’s first feature film after being lauded for her stage performances in the original national tour of Hamilton and Gustavo Dudamel’s West Side Story production at the Hollywood Bowl. In October, she stars as Penny Lane in the Broadway premiere of Almost Famous.
Perry’s film, set in the 1940s American South, tells the tragic tale of a young woman who is forced by her mother to pass as white and leave behind the Black man she loves. The film, writes THR critic Lovia Gyarkye, is “animated by [Joshua] Boone and Pfeiffer’s strong performances.” The story is significant both professionally and personally for Pfeiffer, given that she is biracial: Her mother is Black and her father white. Both are academics and always encouraged her musical and acting ambitions. A Jazzman’s Blues debuts Sept. 23 on Netflix.
How did this project come to you?
In the spring of 2021, I was in New York and making most of my living either singing at online corporate events or coaching [singers] online. I probably heard 200 different renditions of “Burn.” I swear if there was one thing I learned from this pandemic, it is the enduring power of Hamilton. I was at the absolute end of my savings, and then my agent sent me a script about a biracial character. I made a tape and did my best. And then — it might have even been the next day — I saw I had a missed call from an Atlanta number. My agent texted me and was like, “Hey, Tyler [Perry] is trying to reach you.” When we talked, Tyler said he thought my audition was fantastic. I told him how exciting it would be to get to represent who I am as a mixed person onscreen. A few days later, I got the offer.
Can you tell me about your parents?
My mom was born and adopted in Boston and raised by white parents. It was actually one of the first integrated, interracial families in the United States, which I think is a really beautiful thing. My mom and I have spent a lot of time discussing our identities. Her biological father was [the late] Ron Dellums. He was one of the first Black congressmen and later was the mayor of Oakland. We finally got to connect with him for about a year before he died.
Do you want to make more films?
Maybe this sounds totally cheesy, but I’m unwilling to put one label on everything that I want to do. I got into this because I love to sing. That is where so much of my joy came from initially. And that led to one thing that led to another. But now, I would like to be able to earn the title of multihyphenate.
Interview edited for length and clarity.
This story first appeared in the Sept. 16 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
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