Carmen Sings of Brooklyn

Photos Peter Ash Lee
Stylist Julie Brooke Williams
Make-Up Ashunta @ the wall group
Hair Miok @ Judy Casey
Location Trumbull Studio

When I meet Carmen Ejogo in Park Slope, the coffee shop is crawling with children; it’s like a hip daycare, and she apologizes for the clamor. Ejogo lives nearby in Fort Greene with the actor Jeffrey Wright and their two children, and seems keenly aware of the delicate balance between her art—performing in movies like Away We Go, Pride and Glory, and the upcoming Sparkle, a remake of the 1976 musical that has her acting and singing alongside Jordin Sparks and Whitney Houston—and the responsibilities of family life. “You’re clearly not a dad,” she says in her crisp London accent when I ask about her favorite local bars; later, she speaks eloquently about the trouble with Brooklyn’s new basketball stadium. “We were so against that happening, but my son is such a big basketball fan, and I know we’ll end up there
at some point.” We talk about Sparkle, missed concerts, and the Fort Greene delicacy she’d eat every day if she could afford it.

Brooklyn Magazine: Sparkle has an eclectic cast: you’ve got actors singing, and you have singers like Jordin Sparks, Cee-Lo Green, and Whitney Houston also acting. What was that ensemble like?
Carmen Ejogo: Well, it was very different for each of us. I’m someone who’s come to learn that most artists are multifaceted, and do a bit of everything really well, so it’s not a surprise when you’ve got a singer who shows up and is really good at acting, or an actor who can really sing. For me personally, I’ve done some singing, but never on film, which is partly why I wanted to do it so badly, like a legitimate way of getting to be a pop star. [Laughs] It’s hard to explain what this set was like; it was unique. I just felt like everyone came to the table to make something really special. There was nobody floundering at any level.

What were some of your other singing experiences?
I sang a little bit—nothing really that serious—back in my youth, back in London. I sang on a single, a drum-and-bass track. I went on tour with Tricky for a while. So I’ve sort of dabbled. But my tastes in my personal life, musically, are very eclectic and quite alternative. PJ Harvey, who I love, and I’m paraphrasing, but essentially she said at some point that there’s so much good music out there already, if you’re not going to bring something that’s really spectacular, there is no reason to be making music; there’s enough great material out in the world already. And I kind of swiped that; if I was going to do it, it would have to be superb, it would have to be on par with the music I’m inspired by. So I’ve kind of stayed away from that and focused on acting.

Do you go out and see much music in the city?
Having kids, you know… I tried to get my hands on tickets to Santigold, couldn’t. I had tickets to go see Sleigh Bells and then didn’t show up because I had to take care of my kids. I also had tickets for TV on the Radio when they were playing on the waterfront, and I missed that too! It sucked. I have all these great intentions but no time.

Were there musicals you liked growing up?
I was in one, now that I think about it. My first-ever film was one called Absolute Beginners, with David Bowie and Patsy Kensit. It was this big musical meant to save the British film industry, and it didn’t quite do that. But it was such a major moment in my life. I was 11; it was just a summer holiday opportunity that happened to come around. It was my introduction to film sets, and to music as well, in some ways. It blew me away.

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  1. Just want to let Carmen (and your writers) know that The Vanderbilt is not in Fort Greene. It’s in Prospect Heights. So many great restaurants here, Too bad she strayed to another hood…