ELLE’s 2023 ‘Women in Hollywood’ December/January 2023 issue features nine remarkable women being honored for the creative and cultural contributions they have made to the worlds of film, television, music and beyond. The 2023 honorees grace the December/January covers of ELLE, on newsstands December 19, 2023.
THE PHOENIX: FANTASIA BARRINO TAYLOR
Fantasia Barrino Taylor Is Ready for Her Second Chance
It’s been 19 years since the star won American Idol, and she’s prepared to jump back in.
Talking to Barrino Taylor feels like you’re sitting in a pew at a Baptist church, listening to a sermon. As she speaks through her life—its trials, its tribulations—I’m crying. She’s crying. If I’m being honest, I’m pretty sure the Holy Spirit was in the room. Maybe that’s what led Barrino Taylor to divulge that three angels have revealed themselves to her throughout her life.
The second angel, “an older lady, [with] all white hair, beautiful, natural long nails and full of gold, gold, gold,” Barrino Taylor says, came to her in a nail salon. Barrino Taylor was on tour at the time, talking to God in her head, and feeling lost: “Being on the road, it’s clubs. It’s drinking. It’s partying. I feel awful. I’m like, ‘Lord, just tell me you haven’t closed your ears to me. You’re the reason I’m here. I need you.’ We ended up sitting under the dryer together—the lady and me—and she looks at me and says, ‘Can I speak a word into your life?’” The woman said Barrino Taylor’s ending was going to be better than her beginning. “At the time, I’m like, ‘What’s she talking about?’ I know what she’s talking about now.” As the stranger got up to leave, “she turns and says, ‘By the way, he told me to tell you he still hears you. He hasn’t closed his ears.’”
On where she was in 2010 and how she needed unwavering faith to rebuild: By this time, she had written a memoir and starred in its TV movie adaptation alongside Viola Davis and Loretta Devine. She had toured the country and appeared on Broadway. But due to mismanagement, and a manipulative relationship, she had lost it all. “I gigged for 20 years straight. Can you imagine being onstage just about every day the way I perform? Why is it that I ended up broke, twice, with nothing? They took it all, they took it all,” she says, shaking her head. “And I was taking care of my whole family.”
On having a new chapter in her life and how she relates to her character Celie in The Color Purple: “I was out here vulnerable, thinking that every man that says they love me, loved me. I’m in abusive relationships, getting my ass whooped. I’ve been spit on. My life is so much like Celie’s.” At 39, she’s writing a new chapter. She’s happy. Fulfilled. Healed. And she’s having a career resurgence, playing Celie in the new movie musical adaptation of The Color Purple. “This Tasia is different,” she says with a reassurance that comes from lived experience. “It feels like Idol all over again, except that I’m a woman and I get it.” She knows she is getting a rare second chance at fame—“the right way, though, with the right team, the right king [Kendall Taylor, her husband]. I’m in a better state of mind. I’m ready for Hollywood now. I was not ready for Hollywood when I was 19.”
On the advice she has for people following in her footsteps: “Always remember it was your first love, so that you don’t get caught up in the rat race. There was a point where I didn’t want to sing no more because I just was like, ‘Why are my albums not going number one? Why am I not selling out? Why am I still showing up at the shows and the promoter ain’t got my money?’ I had to get to a place where I realized that I am the award, I am the trophy. Now my shows are sold out, but I don’t want to get caught up in it. And that’s what I would tell a young person: ‘Make sure you still love it.’ Don’t get caught up in all the hoopla—remember what you fell in love with.”
THE GUIDING LIGHT: LILY GLADSTONE
Lily Gladstone Is Changing the Way Native People Are Seen Onscreen
The dynamic star on representation and the power of community.
On dealing with criticism and hate: “When I accepted this role, I knew that my life was going to be taking a very different turn and I would have a much bigger spotlight on me. So I’ve had a low level of anxiety for the last couple of years about what’s going to happen when the internet figures out who I am. So far, I’ve been very pleasantly surprised that there’s way more love than hate out there. And that goes back to community. It’s been an incredible reminder of like, Okay, maybe all these things that I’ve been saying—that representation really matters, that seeing yourself represented gives you a sense of your place in the world [resonated with people]. So my anxiety went away when I started seeing all the love and excitement and support.”
On her “only in Hollywood” moment: “Marty’s 80th birthday party. I couldn’t turn around without being like, ‘Oh my God.’ First I sat next to Robbie Robertson, who I’ve loved since I was a kid. Before I did a lot of theater, I was just a little expressive, chunky ballerina who would choreograph my own dances, and I did a lot of choreography to Robbie Robertson & The Red Road Ensemble. Then I was introduced to Steven Spielberg—it was the third time that we met. We were like, ‘Oh yeah! We know each other.’ That was all in the span of 10 minutes. Margot Robbie was seated at one table; Jennifer Lawrence was at another. And in all of that, the person who was grounding for me was Leonardo DiCaprio. Like, where’s my friend? There’s my friend! What is happening? So that was a very Hollywood experience—I couldn’t turn around without a titan right there.”
THE DIRECTOR: EVA LONGORIA
Eva Longoria Has a New Role
As the director of her first feature film, the actor and political activist is showing a different side.
On why telling the story of Richard Montañez, the Frito-Lay janitor who claims to have invented Flamin’ Hot Cheetos—the subject of her directorial feature film debut, Flamin’ Hot—was so appealing: “Hollywood gets to decide what heroes look like, and they never look like us. I looked at Richard and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, this would be a great opportunity to create a hero who looks like my dad, who looks like my uncle, who sounds like my family.’”
On her mindset shift with making Flamin’ Hot and how she knew how much was at stake: “You have to assume you have the job—that’s what men do all the time. They don’t assume they’re fighting for the job. Hearing that changed my approach and my tone in the room when I pitched Searchlight. I was like, This is my movie, and I, in every fiber of my being, knew I would be directing this. It’s mine, it’s mine, it’s mine.” It’s not lost on her how much was riding on her success. “I couldn’t fail at my first movie—that wasn’t an option for me, because then I wouldn’t get a second chance,” Longoria says. “Men can direct a $200 million movie, fail, and get another $200 million movie. And you’re like, What?” To change that imbalance, she says, “You have to work harder; you have to work smarter. I don’t mind doing that until we have equality. I’m going to keep pushing the line and doing all I can to pave the road.”
On being typecast: “I remember when I was on Housewives and I was the sexy one, people were like, ‘Are you scared you’re going to be pigeonholed as sexy?’ I was like, ‘Oh God, no. I’m riding that wave to the beach. Go ahead and say I’m sexy.’ I don’t care, because there’s going to be a day when you’re going to say I’m not sexy, and I won’t care then either.”
On her longtime political activism and how she would not run for office: “There are things that are a lot more important than box office and viewers. Women’s rights are very important. The dismantling of human rights, of health care systems, of education systems. The banning of books. These are very dangerous things that need to be talked about, looked at, voted on, and advocated for. So it’s not an ‘Oooh, do I do it?’ I have to do it. It is nonnegotiable. I don’t ever think, ‘I’m going to alienate half an audience’ or ‘I’m going to lose some Twitter fans.’ That doesn’t matter to me if I’m saving democracy.”
“I think that’s the myth, that you have to be a politician to be political. That’s not true. The most powerful person in democracy is the citizen. Once you become a politician, your hands get tied. You’re beholden to special interests; you’re beholden to certain industries. As a citizen, you can speak your mind as loudly as you want.”
Fantasia Barrino Taylor Photographed by Adrienne Raquel
Lily Gladstone Phorographed by Mark Seliger
Eva Longoria Photographed by Zoey Grossman
[Photo Credit: Sølve Sundsbø, Adrienne Raquel and Zoey Grossman for ELLE Magazine]
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