EXCLUSIVE: 'Stitchers' Actress Salli Richardson-Whitfield on the Pressures of Directing For Oprah

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Following the enormous box office and critical success of director Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman, 2017 can easily be dubbed the year of women in entertainment. Case in point: Actress Salli Richardson-Whitfield directing an upcoming episode of Stitchers, the procedural Freeform drama she has starred on for three seasons.
“This is definitely a great time for women to really be in the trenches of this,” Richardson-Whitfield tells ET.
Richardson-Whitfield portrays Maggie Baptiste on the series, which follows a government agency where you can “stitch” into the memories of people recently killed to investigate their unsolved murders.
Despite this being the first time the actress will be directing for Stitchers, Richardson-Whitfield is no stranger to the directing chair, in fact, she got her start thanks to her good friend, Selma director Ava Duvernay!
“I did a film for Ava Duvernay, which was her first feature narrative, and during that process we got to talking,” Richardson-Whitfield reveals. “I kept giving my opinion too much and she said, ‘you really need to consider directing yourself I think it’s something you’ll be good at.’”
Richardson-Whitfield’s first stab at acting happened on another series she starred in, Syfy’s Eureka, and although she describes it as a “fabulous experience,” she does recall a time when she received pushback from a male member of her crew.
“I remember having one crew member who was a little salty and grumpy,” she says with a chuckle. “When I’d get pushback, I’m not a shrinking violet; I know how to push through.”
Since then, Richardson-Whitfield has directed some of Hollywood’s biggest shows, including Shondaland hit Scandal and the Oprah executive-produced series Queen Sugar.
Scandal was amazing,” the actress-director gushes. “It’s nice to work with actors like that who obviously are very famous on a show like that, who still want to be directed and still are willing to listen to you.”
“If anything, directing Scandal just let me know that I am making the right choices and this is what I’m supposed to be doing,” she adds.
Sure, but what kind of pressure is there when directing a show executive produced by the Queen herself, Oprah?
“Oprah is watching you and going to events and she’s there talking about your work, that’s definitely a different kind of pressure,” Richardson-Whitfield admits.
Fortunately, Oprah had glowing words for the budding director. “I was at the screening and she had seen the episode and I remember her saying how much she loved it…that was great to hear.”
Despite all of that, the hardest thing for Richardson-Whitfield is actually directing one actress in particular: herself.
“Directing myself is not my favorite thing to do,” she confesses. “I have to trust someone else’s eye at times when I’m in front of the camera, so that is not my favorite part.”
In Monday’s episode, titled “Kill It Forward,” a chain of murders lead the team searching the darkest corners of the internet.
In an ET exclusive clip, the group investigates the death of a professional volleyball player.
“Are there any other suspects,” hacker Linus (Ritesh Rajan) asks the room.
“Not yet,” Richardson-Whitfield’s Maggie confirms.
“Then hopefully the stitch will get us some answers,” Kirsten (Emma Ishta) confidently quips.
Rest assured Stitchers fans, Richardson-Whitfield confirms there was no pushback from her fellow castmates.
“Everybody is so open to it, they know I’ve been wanting to say these things to them all this time,” she says proudly before adding, “This is the ultimate power.”
While this year in particular has been incredible for female directors, Richardson-Whitfield admits there is more pressure now than ever before.
“I think there may be even more pushback because sometimes I can go on shows and I feel like they think the only reason you are there is that it’s a mandate to have a woman,” she reveals to ET.
“But if you come in and do a great job, you will be given the opportunity again,” she adds, “I take that responsibility to heart because I know that any woman after me is going to be judged by me and how I do, so it is very important for me to be prepared and do not just a good job but a better job than anyone else.”
Stitchers airs Mondays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on Freeform.