Janora McDuffie has accomplished many things during her career, including being on many TV series, including Grey's Anatomy, Criminal Minds, Veronica Mars, Firefly and New Girl.
However, on Sunday, March 27, the queer actress will be doing something much different. She will be heard by approximately 1 billion people when she will be the official announcer a the 94th Annual Academy Awards.
McDuffie talked with Windy City Times about what being an announcer involves, her thoughts about Hollywood, something she realized about herselfand her holiday tree.
Windy City Times: We're on a Zoom call, and I'm noticing your background. Is that a Christmas tree I see?
Janora McDuffie: Yes, it is! I put one up during Christmas of the pandemic because we [McDuffie and her wife] couldn't go back to my hometown in North Carolina. It's the first time we put up a tree, and I love it; I didn't want to take it down. So the Christmas tree could be a Valentine's Day tree, St. Patrick's Day tree. I finally went home and, after I got back, I STILL didn't want to take it down.
The thing is, though, that to continue to keep it up, I cannot repeat a theme. For example, in February, I couldn't do Valentine's Day so I made it early Mardi Gras. And I couldn't do St. Patrick's Dayso I've made it the Oscars tree! There are little Oscar statues and these little cutouts; and, at the top, there's a microphone!
So in order to keep the tree up, I'm going to have to be creative with the themes. Last June, I had a Pride tree, complete with the Progressive Pride flag at the top.
WCT: Congrats on being designated as the Oscars announcer. So I assume you auditioned?
JM: Yes, I auditioned. I'm just thankful that someone recognized that I'm a sister who's been in this voiceover game for a minute. Someone asked me to put down some tracks that sound like they could be said at the Oscars. I made up some things, put my best foot forwardand it worked!
WCT: And what will you be doing, exactly? I'm going to be listening for your voice.
JM: Well, you ain't gonna have to listen hard, Andrew, because I'm going to be there from the beginning to the end. I'm going to be the one who welcomes you to the 94th Academy Awards at the beginning of the program. I'm the one who talks about the stars and I will be welcoming the hosts: Regina Hall, Amy Schumer and Wanda Sykes. And when we go to commercial break, I'll tell you to stay tuned. Also, when the awards are announced, I'll be the one saying, "Andrew Davisthis is his first win and fifth nomination for being the journalist extraordinaire."
WCT: Your family must be over the moon.
JM: Oh, manyes! [Interviewer laughs.] They're so excited. It was just hometown love. It was, like, "Janora, we see you and we love you! You are shining for us."
WCT: Are you nervous at all?
JM: Yes, because it's live. If there's anything that's not in the script or if I say an extra syllable… I definitely have to be on my game.
WCT: And some of the names can be tricky.
JM: They're very tricky. At my first rehearsal, they had this linguist come in who knows 50 different languages and breaks down the more complicated namesand she sounds just like she's from those countries.
I record my own voice saying those names, based on her coaching. That's the packet that I'm able to study. They attempted to write out the phonetic spellingbut, when you're dealing with a different language, our American tongues are accustomed to saying things a certain way.
WCT: I know you like all the categories, but which ones particularly intrigue you?
JM: You took my answer because I even like the artistic/technical categories. I will forever be grateful when the OscarsI forget which yeardid an excellent job describing what each category meant. Saying "production design" doesn't necessarily compute, but this particular program broke down things and gave digital examples. It truly takes a team to have the most beautiful movie. Who lit that actor? Who made that background look so incredible?
WCT: What are three or four of your favorite movies?
JM: Well, I can refer to my tree because I have a couple there.
One thing that's very important is to see yourself; that takes you to a whole other level of connection. You know it's a hit if you're able to transcend and tell a good story that takes you on a rideand I was on a ride from beginning to end with Forrest Gump. I do like the historical fiction genre and I was just so moved.
It could be the nostalgia because that movie came out at a certain timebut I also like Titanic, which also came out around then. I could watch that one a million times over.
Now, I also have Rocky and The Godfather on my tree. Those are my wife's picks. She can have some say about what goes on the tree. [Interviewer laughs.]
WCT: Switching gears, I think some people still feel Hollywood is this cradle of diversity and liberalism. What are your thoughts?
JM: I do feel that Hollywood talks that talk, but it can definitely do better walking that walk. And with as many woke folk we have out here, we need more than tweets for change to happen. It's about using WHEREVER you are in this matrix of Hollywood. Let's greenlight some projects that tell OUR story. More action is needed, especially from those in positions of power.
There's a story I want to tell you, and it was something Martin Luther King Jr.'s daughter shared. This little boy was in a boat while fishing with his grandpa. The boy started laughing a lot and the grandpa asked, "Okay, grandsonwhat are you laughing at?" The little boy pointed to the grandfather and said, "I'm laughing because you have a hole in your side of the boat." What the little boy didn't realize was that they were both in the same boat.
So I use that analogy to call all of us to action because we're all in the same boat. We need to realize our connectedness that we're all in the same boat.
WCT: The debate seems to be increasing about straight actors portraying LGBTQ+ characters. Where do you stand regarding that?
JM: So, I'm all about authenticity; if there's someone who fits that role and who can portray it well, that person should get the opportunity. In addition to that, I do ask that, as a gay person, I won't be considered for a straight role? I feel like many gay people can play straight roles, so I don't want to go so hard to the paint with that conversation that I exclude our ability to play so many roles.
Maybe it should be that there are 50 gay people [audition] for a gay role, and may the best man or woman win. Now I recognize I said "man" and "woman," not recognizing the non-binary actors out there. I especially [advocate] hard regarding transgender and non-binary/genderfluid actors playing those roles because I think that's a specific community. Representation mattersand it doesn't matter if the non-binary or transgender person is in Mississippi or if the role speaks to that mother down the street who thinks her child is "strange" and doesn't realize the child is normal and human.
There's a difference between sexual orientation and gender identity. People need to be educated so they know the difference.
WCT: It seems that if someone doesn't see himself/herself/themself reflectedwhether it's in a magazine, television show or filmthat person might think, "Maybe I'm not supposed to be included."
JM: Right. Yes! And we all belong in this world.
WCT: My last question is something I've asked a wide variety of people, and I've gotten a wide variety of answers. These past two yearswith the pandemic and the racial awakening some people have hadwe've all had time to self-reflect. What have you learned about yourself?
JM: Ohthat's a really great question!
I recognize that I get sadmore than I'd like to admitand that it's okay to talk about it. It's also important to find things that don't make you sad.
We're too busy moving and don't take time to understand how and why we feel. You're stuck with yourself at home, for days! [Laughs] I've discovered that it's okay to feel thatbut also that a sister needs to get outside. For days and weeks, I would not go outside; I now recognize what going outside does for my soul. I've put a time limit on how many days I can stay insideand it cannot be more than one. [Laughs]
Also, community can help you get out of your rut. I got a Peloton [bike] over the pandemic, but it wasn't about the exercise; it was about the community. That really helped a lot.
The last thing I would say is that I consider myself extremely blessed and a hard worker. I work hard and I come from a genuine place. I feel that I've planted some beautiful and fertile Hollywood seeds since I've come into the scene.
Being high-strung is part of my madness, and I felt like when I wasn't doing it [during the pandemic], I was bringing my sadness. But what I ultimately learned was to trust my own journey.