For the first time since Ava DuVernay’s Selma, Oprah Winfrey is returning to the screen as an actress in the upcoming HBO movie The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.
The movie, which is an adaption of the New York Times best-selling book of the same name, tells the story of the Lacks family, whose matriarch, Henrietta Lacks, became the unwitting donor of cells that were used as the foundation for the majority of the biggest medical breakthroughs of the century, from the Polio vaccine to AIDS research.
During a screening of the movie through Film Independent at LACMA, Winfrey talked about how she prepared for the role of Deborah, Lacks’ daughter, who is on the hunt to find out the truth about her mother and her cells.
One step in the preparation included visiting the old residence of Deborah Lacks in an unassuming Baltimore neighborhood and dropping in on a very unsuspecting current tenant.
“I stopped by her old house, and I just knocked on the door on a Sunday morning,” remembered Winfrey during a Q&A with writer-director George C. Wolfe and moderator Elvis Mitchell.
The audience at the Audi-sponsored event immediately burst into laughter as Winfrey went on with the story, saying, “The guy opened the door, and there’s that moment and then, ‘Oprah?’ “
“Don’t tell me that you don’t love doing that,” said Mitchell.
Winfrey continued: “So I asked him if I could come in because a very famous woman used to live here, and he goes, ‘In this house?’ “
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks also stars Rose Byrne, who plays journalist Rebecca Skloot, and Hamilton‘s Renee Elise Goldsberry.
The HBO film will premiere on Saturday, April 22. After this, Winfrey will next be seen on the big screen in DuVernay’s adaption of the beloved children’s sci-fi fantasy novel A Wrinkle in Time.
“I’ve only done a few films, you know,” Winfrey said of the recent uptick in her acting career. “I had a day job for a while.”