EXCLUSIVE: Anika Noni Rose Is Ready to Lead by Example On- and Offscreen

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Probably most famous for playing Lorrell Robinson in the 2006 screen adaptation of Dreamgirls opposite Beyoncé and Jennifer Hudson or for voicing Disney’s first black princess in 2009’s The Princess and the Frog, Anika Noni Rose has spent the better part of the past decade playing your favorite guest characters on various TV series. She starred in History Channel's remake of Roots, she’s been a hotel maid on a ripped-from-the-headlines episode of Law and Order: SVU, Corinne Bennett on Private Practice, a special agent on Bates Motel and, most memorably, Wendy Scott-Carr, a lawyer-turned-ruthless politician -- “nice-nasty,” as Rose puts it -- on The Good Wife.

All of these familiar recurring roles, plus her stage and screen work, Rose says, has led her here: to The Quad, BET’s new scripted drama about college life at Georgia A&M, a historically black university where the marching band is as prestigious as athletics and education. “I know these people have been watching me for a long time, so everything I did led up to this because they’ve been paying attention,” she tells ET, referring to director Rob Hardy and executive producer Felicia Henderson. “They know they hired somebody who is capable and professional and coming to give it their all.

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“Work begets work,” Rose affirms. And playing Wendy Scott-Carr did move her out of the nice box, paving the way for her latest role. “[Creators Robert and Michelle King]really did a wonderful job writing for me and it was so much fun to be that nice-nasty on screen. Previously, I was very much cast in the nice category.”  

On the show, which premieres Feb. 1 at 10 p.m. ET, the actress plays newly elected Georgia A&M president Eva, a complicated, ambitious person focused on getting the job done. “She’s very goal-oriented, and that can be taken as hard-core,” Rose admits, but adds that Eva is dealing with a lot. In addition to her new title, her daughter is a freshman at the school. “They have a very different relationship.” 

Photo: BET

And unlike the “nice-nastiness” of Wendy Scott-Carr, Eva doesn’t have the pretense of niceness. “She’s not going to be nice to smooth the road for something else. That’s not how she functions,” Rose says. “She comes straight at it.”

While Eva is a strong, demanding woman -- not all that unfamiliar from some of the other characters Rose has played -- she’s also sensual. “You don’t get to see me that way, I have to say,” the actress says of the stark difference between Eva and her past onscreen roles. “This is very new to me.”

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Also new to Rose is leading the show. Having finally graduated (so to speak) from recurring parts, The Quad is very much her show, allowing her to not only play a complex character but also help set an example for the set. “It’s really different to be at the helm of something, but it’s a good feeling,” Rose says. “What’s important for me on the set -- aside from doing good work -- is making it an environment that other people feel welcome to when they get there. And when they leave, making sure they felt a part of something and not just a cog in the wheel.

“I want to make sure people feel all the things I’ve been able to feel guest-starring, and avoid all the things I felt guest-starring on shows that haven’t been comfortable,” Rose concludes. “That’s important to me.”