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‘The Color Purple’ Star Corey Hawkins on Advice from Oprah and Reuniting with Juilliard Classmate Danielle Brooks: “I’m So Happy to See Her Shine”

Corey Hawkins and Danielle Brooks may both be currently starring in the musical adaptation of The Color Purple, but the two have a long history, having been classmates at Juilliard over a decade ago.

The duo were part of the same 18-person class and have maintained a friendship since, with Hawkins telling The Hollywood Reporter at the film’s Los Angeles premiere on Wednesday that “for this moment to come, it was always Danielle’s but I got the call first; I remember calling [producer] Scott Sanders and literally hung up the phone, picked it back up and I was like, ‘Bro, it has to be Danielle Brooks right? I’m not crazy.’ And of course it was, it always was,” he recounted. “She’s an incredible talent, she stands on her own, and when people see this film they will understand the magnitude of what she brings, of what all of these women bring. But I’m so happy to see her shine.”

For her part, Brooks — who revives the role of Sofia that she previously played on Broadway — called the opportunity “a dream come true that I could’ve never imagined” and spoke about the advice she’s received from Oprah Winfrey, who played the role in the original 1985 film.

“Oprah’s given me so much advice and she’s just poured into me every step of the way, from the minute that she Zoomed me (to say she’d gotten the part), she’s been holding my hand through this process and I’m very, very grateful for that,” Brooks said. “And Whoopi [Goldberg], even when I was on Broadway, she signed something for me that said, ‘It’s yours now’ and so I still have it, and that’s what I have stood by and lived with too.”

Hawkins, who plays Harpo in the film, added that Winfrey gave him advice on how to embrace his character’s smaller, quieter moments, and remembered “watching her see it for the first time, watching her re-experience this moment that changed her life for the first time — there’s not a lot of firsts, she’s seen it all, but to be there when she witnessed us under that tree in South Carolina amongst our ancestors, that was a moment I’ll never forget and I’m grateful for that. And then we all did the Electric Slide after that,” he said with a laugh.

And as part of an all-star cast of women including Brooks, Taraji P. Henson and Fantasia Barrino, Hawkins admitted his job “was just to get the hell out of the way and be as much of a support as I could.”

“They have a lot to carry as Black actors carrying these roles on screen, but these women have a lot to carry once they put those roles down and walk off the screen, they have to be Black women in life,” he said of the film’s stars. “It’s a load to carry so I’ve just got to be there for them.”

H.E.R. also makes her feature film debut in the project, noting that “it’s something that I always wanted to do and I’ve done a little bit here and there but this is so huge, so major.”

“We supported each other, made each other laugh, because some parts were very heavy so it was so important for us to keep uplifting each other and just keeping it light and fun in between takes. It’s so cool that I have these incredible big sisters, they taught me so much,” the musician added of the bond she formed with the actresses on set, and said she hopes that audiences take away that the film is “a celebration — it’s a celebration of Black people, it’s a celebration of women. It’s really strong so I hope that people feel that; I know they’re going to feel that when they walk out.”

The Color Purple hits theaters Dec. 25.

Anaja Smith contributed to this report.

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