Lisa Michelle Cornelius – Building Bridges

Words + Interview By Lucky Smith

Actress Lisa Michelle Cornelius talks Canada, family and her role as Vicky Marshall in OWN’s “A Sisterly Christmas”.

Note: This interview originally took place in December of 2021.

Tell us about OWN’s “A Sisterly Christmas” and your role as Vicky Marshall. 
This film is about two sisters who’ve been at odds since their mother passed away when they were teenagers. So, their Aunt Debbie decides to send them on an all-expense paid holiday trip to a fancy resort so they can make amends and spend time together. My character Vicky LOVES Christmas and is all about it, even if it means being stuck with her “Scroogy” little sister Kristina (played by Deborah Joy Winans).

To please their aunt, they both agree to go and end up having quite the adventure: swanky accommodations (above their pay-grade), handsome gents and a drama-filled run-in with their former high-school friend-turned-nemesis. Lol, nothing brings people together like a common enemy, so the sisters are forced to find some common ground as they take on the ‘mean girl’ and try to have some fun along the way!

What methods did you use to prepare for this role in particular? Also, are there any big moments behind the scenes that are worth mentioning? 
With Vicky (from A Sisterly Christmas), I was definitely interested in her and Kristina’s backstory – how and why did their relationship go sour? What was her relationship like with their mother before she passed? I spent time thinking about what Vicky’s life was like before we meet her at the top of this film. As far as actor prep goes, knowing (or creating) the backstory of a character will always help you fill-in-the-blanks about who they are and why they do what they do.

The holidays can bring about a lot of emotions, especially when it comes to family and our relationships with them. Overall, do you think pain is just as prevalent as joy during the holidays? Why or why not?
Yes, I think sometimes the holidays can bring pain to the surface for some of us, even for those who enjoy the holidays overall. Many of us are missing someone we used to share good holiday memories with.  It can be a challenging or bittersweet time that can perhaps be soothed with time and clinging to the things (and people) that bring us joy.

Based on this film’s trailer, it made me think about “Soul Food”. In your opinion, is that a fair take?
I love that comparison because I love that film!  Soul Food is a beloved classic and of course I’d love the same fate for A Sisterly Christmas. I feel like the family drama in our film is a little more light-hearted though. Definitely earnest and relatable but a little more ‘family-friendly’ in its delivery.

How do you plan on celebrating Christmas this year?
I plan on celebrating with a little shameless self-promotion: watching A Sisterly Christmas with my family! Lol, we were so excited to learn that the OWN Network is airing it right on Christmas Day so my whole family will be watching while we enjoy my mom’s turkey and Jamaican Rice and peas!

Without giving us spoilers, what do you think is the main takeaway from the film? 
I think the main themes are the importance of communication (with loved ones) which allows for understanding, forgiveness and healing. All beautiful things!

The COVID-19 pandemic has been rough over these last few years. How have you adapted to all of the changes? Also, how have you changed as a person, if at all?
While I certainly appreciate the freedom to travel and the ability to move about the world with ease, all the extra time spent at home over the past two years have made me even more grateful for my family… my husband and daughter in particular. I’d like to think I never took my peeps for granted in the first place, but I certainly know that their presence and love made this challenging time so much easier than it could have been. It’s been said that many couples ended up divorced during this time! Thankfully my husband and I learned that in addition to love, we still actually really really like each other, lol. Thank God!

Which role of yours to date has been the most challenging and why?
I recently played a guest-starring role in a show as a heavily outcasted, lonely and misunderstood woman (I can’t be more specific, as the episode won’t be released until January 2022). But it was challenging because it was probably the biggest departure from any other character I’ve ever played and possibly, the most different from who I am in actuality. But I took a strong liking to this character from the very beginning. She may have been misunderstood by all the other characters in her world, but I understood her completely. It turns out the most challenging part about playing her was leaving her behind.

Out of each genre you have performed in, which of them do you enjoy most? 
I truly love it all…..the best part about being an actor is being able to try on a multitude of characters, experiences and points of view. But if I had to choose one, I do love comedy the most. Comedy is high-vibe and that’s the frequency I’m most often riding on. I absolutely love to laugh and can find the humour in almost anything. I love trying to make people feel that way too.

What are your “Top 5” films of all time? 
In no particular order:
• iRobot (because I think there’s more truth in it then we’d like to admit! And also: Will Smith.)
• The Truman Show
• The Best Man
• La La Land
The Harder They Fall (newly added to my list!)

A lot of Canadian actors have been making a name for themselves in Hollywood. Is there anything significant that happened to cause this, like more organizations and opportunities being made available?
I think Hollywood is vastly becoming somewhat of a “global community”. Actors from all over the world have been making their mark in the elusive world of Hollywood and Canadians are no exception, especially with many Hollywood films being shot on Canadian soil. Organizations like ACTRA (Alliance of Canadian Television and Radio Artists) do an incredible job of building bridges between American productions and Canadian performers, to the benefit of all involved. We’ve always had what it takes, and I love that we’re turning more heads than ever before! Big up to stars Stephan James, Shamier Anderson, Simu Liu and so many more who continue to put Canadian actors on the Hollywood map.

Break down “Canadian Black Entertainment” and your role within the organization.
One of my good friends and fellow Toronto performers Quisha Wint started Canadian Black Entertainment (CBE) out of her desire to celebrate, create and promote Canadian Black Artistry. When she invited me to join, it was a no-brainer. The group hosts and broadcasts live weekly interviews with Black Canadian entertainers from coast-to-coast in efforts to raise the artist’s profile, reach and fanbase.

The pandemic slowed down many of our other initiative plans but we’re slowly building them back up again. One of those plans is to launch an Awards show highlighting the achievements of Black Canadian artists from a variety of disciplines in the near future as well. We want to recognized accomplished artists who’ve largely been left out of similar career achievements due to system discrimination and lack of diverse representation from other organizations and gatekeepers.

What is the biggest misconception about the entertainment business, in your opinion?
That we’re all spoiled, overpaid stars who don’t work hard and that our jobs are easy. While in actuality, very few professional, working actors are “stars” or “rich” by any means. I think some of these beliefs are held by folks outside of our industry because it’s difficult for folks to believe that a job you love doing can also be challenging and hard. They only see the red carpets, screenings and fancy photoshoots but not the years of auditions, rejections, paying for classes you can’t afford, time away from your kids and missed birthdays/weddings of your loved ones. I love what I do and I’m so grateful every time I get the opportunity to do it. But, it’s not always as easy.

Name 3 things about yourself that most don’t know.
• I shared a stage with Mariah Carey once (long story, lol).
• I started my high school’s first Drama Club (with my friend Daniel) and it’s still running there today!
• I was in the first US National Tour of the musical Godspell. This was after its Broadway run so I wore Uzo Aduba’s pants as part of my wardrobe, lol!

What is next for you?
I’m ready for it all, baby! These past couple years have shown us so clearly how precious and short life is,and so I’m truly excited and grateful for all the opportunities to come. To get specific though, a growing part of me wants to try my hand at kicking butt in an action film. I think I have it in me….somewhere, lol!

Follow Lisa Michelle Corneilus @yeslisamichelle.

Photo By Dwayne Morgan.

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