I’m sure most of you have heard of the new hit series on Fox called Empire and you may be familiar with some of its characters – Lucious, Cookie, Jamal, Andre, and Hakeem. But one person you may not be familiar with is Attica Locke. Lucious and Cookie may be the face of the hit series but Attica is one of writers for the series. This week, Reel Focus will explore one of the geniuses behind this phenomenal new series and will focus on how she built an “Empire” of her own.
Attica thank you so much for talking to our Reel Focus readers. We all of course are excited about your recent success with the new show but I want us all to go back down memory lane and get to know Attica Locke. How did your writing career begin?
AL: I have always been writing, even as a child. But somewhere around high school, when I saw Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing, something clicked inside me and I wanted to be involved in film. I started writing scripts. I went to film school at Northwestern University in Chicago and then moved to LA as soon as I graduated. I wrote scripts exclusively at that time, but I was only thinking of them in terms of being a path to directing. I was a fellow at the Sundance Institute’s Feature Filmmaker’s Lab and came out of that with a movie deal, which collapsed shortly after. It broke my heart. I was 25 years old. I knew I could write but was not certain at that time that I would ever get my own movie made, or that Hollywood was interested in my kind of black stories. So I became a studio screenwriter. I made a lot of money writing scripts for every major studio. I did it for years, but nothing ever got made. I grew bored and disenchanted and decided to write a book. That was three books ago.
What is life like for you outside of Hollywood?
I myself am a book writer and screenwriter and so I’m going to ask this question on behalf of me and other fellow novelist and screenwriters. How did you make the successful transition from a book writer to a screenwriter and what advice can you give to the ladies of Women in Film and Television Atlanta?
As you see above, I was a screenwriter before I was a novelist. I came back to Hollywood because TV has gotten really interesting over the last decade or so. All the stuff I was doing as a feature writer – character dramas, political thrillers, etc. – has all moved to television. It’s hard to live off book money in Los Angeles, so I went to my agents and said I wanted to explore TV. I went in with an idea for my own show, but I also told them I’d like to look at the pilots that were going to series, and I wanted to take meetings. I had never done TV, so I was stepping waaayyyy outside my comfort zone. But I kept saying to myself, almost like a mantra, “I’m willing to be uncomfortable.” When I read the script for Empire, I knew I wanted to be part of it from the first page. It took a lot of meetings, but then I got the job!
My best advice is always to write, write, write, and be willing to stretch yourself. Reach high and stay ambitious. And believe in the power of your own voice.
Finally, the moment we have all been waiting for. Let’s talk – brag about your involvement with Empire. According to IMDB, you have co-produced 11 of the episodes of the first season and have written one: “Our Dancing Days.” I will let you share what you like to about this episode or about the show in general.
I love the show because it’s so fresh, so unprecedented. I’ve never seen these characters on TV before. I’ve never seen a Cookie on TV, though I’ve known them in my real life. I’ve never seen a Jamal on TV before, though I know young men like him in my real life. It’s all a breath of fresh air. And I love the fact that the show lives in a kind of high, low place. We do big soap opera turns and crazy plot twists, but we also deal with social issues like homophobia, mental health, race, and class. My favorite part of the episode I wrote was when Cookie took over the stage and gave the speech to investors in Lucious’s place. It was pure Cookie.
For more information on Attica Locke visit http://www.atticalocke.com
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