KeeKee Simpson: A Star in the Making By: Amber Shepp
This summer, KeeKee had a supporting role next to Oprah Winfrey in the HBO film, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, a film based on the book of the same name by Rebecca Skloot. Winfrey portrayed the titular character and Simpson, portrayed Winfrey’s younger self.
Kyanna “KeeKee” Simone Simpson, says she got her start in acting when she was in the seventh grade. She was with her mother at Kroger when she was approached by actor, Tony Vaughn, who is best known for his work on the family sitcom Tyler Perry’s Meet the Browns. Simpson says that Vaughn helped to move her along in her career and teach her about the film and television industry.
Since then she has had several acting jobs, filming all over the country from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Cleveland, Ohio, California, and Atlanta.
Simpson described the process of landing the role of young Henrietta Lacks as a long one. She initially heard of the audition through LaTanya Richardson Jackson, an actress, Tony Award nominee and the wife of Samuel L. Jackson. Jackson is close friends with Oprah and the film’s director George C. Wolfe. Simpson auditioned in person as well as sent in a tape and didn’t hear anything until about a month later. She then had a call back, and had to wait another month.
She described the moment when she got the call from her manager that she had landed the part. She said, “I fell to my knees. I cried so much, it was a dream come true.”
When asked about working with Oprah Winfrey, Simpson gushed about her costar. She says, “There are so many things that I can say about Oprah Winfrey that everybody already knows. How loving she is, how amazing she is and how great she is to talk to.” She continues, “At some moments I forgot she was a celebrity, she’s Oprah Winfrey! The amount of knowledge and tips she gave me behind the scenes were definitely priceless.”
So what kind of advice does one get from Oprah Winfrey herself? Simpson says that Winfrey taught her a lot about manifestation. “I told her everyone said that I always looked like her ever since I was little, and I always said that I would play her in a movie and I would always speak it into existence,” said Simpson. “She said, ‘You know you manifested that right?”
It was truly destined indeed. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks premiered on April, 22nd on HBO and was nominated for 7 awards, including a Primetime Emmy Award.
Simpson will also have several projects debuting in 2018, including a movie starring Matthew McConaughey as well as a role on the CW superhero drama, Black Lightning.
While working with someone as iconic as Winfrey is an incredible feat, KeeKee is still a college student. She is currently a sophomore and an entertainment and media studies major at UGA’s Grady College. Balancing her education and an acting career is tough, but Simpson finds a way to manage. She is a member of Black Educational Support Team (BEST), a mentoring program for incoming African American UGA students and she is also a member of the National Council of Negro Women.
Simpson admires a multitude of black thespians including Gabrielle Union, Sanaa Lathan, and Denzel Washington. As an entertainment and media studies major, she hopes to not only act, but direct and produce films as well. “I really want to break the barrier of only being an actress. I want to be able to be behind the camera and be great at that, as well as on front of the camera and be great at that.”
As for advice to young aspiring actors she says, “ I would say do not go into this industry hoping that you can be famous. You definitely want this to be something that you’re passionate about, and you want this to be your job forever, and you have to put forth the effort to get where you want to be.”