Arts

Uzo Aduba Adjusts Her Mood With Playlists and ‘The Real Housewives’

Before she was scooping up Emmys for “Orange Is the New Black” and “Mrs. America,” Uzo Aduba was winning medals as a star sprinter at Boston University. So when the script arrived for “National Champions,” about a battle between the National Collegiate Athletic Association and student football players demanding fair compensation for their talents, Aduba was fast onboard.

“I am myself an N.C.A.A. collegiate athlete and recipient of a scholarship and have known, sadly, many people who have been a part of the system and have benefited positively, of course, from the academic element — and who have also had longtime needs they’ve not been able to meet,” she said. “So I understood the complexity of the issue and the conversation.”

In “National Champions,” Aduba plays Katherine, a fixer hired to use whatever means necessary to get LeMarcus James (Stephan James) — a Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback who incites a players’ strike three days before the national championship — back in the game.

But just as nobody is the villain in her own story, Aduba prefers to think of Katherine as a survivor tasked with a thankless job. The same could be said of her title role in the Broadway production of “Clyde’s,” about the ex-con proprietor of a truck-stop diner where all the cooks have done time.

Some may call Clyde the devil, but “I think she is really a reflection of every obstacle and aggression that our society holds for women like her,” she said. “She is a direct reflection of the world.”

Calling from her dressing room between performances, Aduba discussed her cultural necessities, like getting into character with a playlist, winding down to “The Real Housewives” and curling up in a cozy robe, no matter where she is. These are edited excerpts from the conversation.

1. “The Real Housewives” I watch all of them, let me start there. Asking me, “Do I have a favorite?” feels like asking me, quite frankly, if I have a favorite child. They all have different tasks, different stories, different energies. It honestly feels like Grecian-level drama, just so over the top. So big, their troubles. All the emotions are huge. They just announced they’re going to do a “Real Housewives of Dubai,” and, sight unseen, I’m in.

2. Sunglasses I love the personality of them, and what you’re choosing both to see and let be seen. I have some that are totally a reflector or super dark and nobody can see my eyes, but I can see out. I have some that are super faint, and we both can see each other. I have some that are really fun with a design on the frame. They’re a subtle way of showing personality. But if I’m out and about, and somebody wants to stop and talk, I usually wind up putting them up on my head so that we can meet eye-to-eye — so that we’re talking to each other, not just like you’re talking to me.

3. Live theater I feel like whether you’re onstage or in the audience, you are a part of the show. I think the audience is a huge character in the production who has their own role as well, whether we know it or not. The actors and the designers and everybody, especially when we’re in previews, are informing story based on the audience’s role. That’s that final critical piece. Here in “Clyde’s,” when we were in rehearsal, obviously we could hear the play. But we can’t really know the play until that final actor-character comes into the space. And that’s the part of the audience.

4. The New York Times Basic Pesto recipeThis was not a New York Times plug. [Laughs] I legit have the screenshot on my phone, and it is a legit household favorite. The only thing that I add to it is a meat because it doesn’t call for any meat in your recipe. So I’ll either add grilled chicken that I’ll cook on the stovetop or a grilled turkey sausage or a vegan sausage. Take your recipe and add meat.

Five Movies to Watch This Winter


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1. “The Power of the Dog”: Benedict Cumberbatch is earning high praise for his performance in Jane Campion’s new psychodrama. Here’s what it took for the actor to become a seething alpha-male cowboy.

2. “Don’t Look Up” : Meryl Streep plays a self-centered scoundrel in Adam McKay’s apocalyptic satire.  She turned to the “Real Housewives” franchise for inspiration.

3. “King Richard”: Aunjanue Ellis, who plays Venus and Serena Williams’s mother in the biopic, shares how she turned the supporting role into a talker.

4. “Tick, Tick … Boom!”: Lin-Manuel Miranda’s directorial debut is an adaptation of a show by Jonathan Larson, creator of “Rent.” This guide can help you unpack its many layers.

5. “The Tragedy of Macbeth”: Several upcoming movies are in black and white, including Joel Coen’s new spin on Shakespeare’s “Macbeth.”

5. Music to get into character When I settled into my dressing room, three of the things I made sure to immediately do was get a Bluetooth speaker, a teakettle and incense and candles. I really love ’80s and ’90s soft rock. There’s this app called Radio.com. I have it tuned to 94.7 The Wave, which is a station in Los Angeles that plays a steady stream of Lionel Richie, Stevie Wonder and Bonnie Raitt. I love it, along with like a Wilson Phillips “Hold On.” Sade is in there. Adele. I just find it to be super calming, chill, and it feels good. I have a playlist for “Clyde’s.” I’m pulling it up right now. The first song is “Hood Bitch” by Fam0us.Twinsss. N.W.A.’s “[Expletive] the Police.” “Really From da Hood” by Plies. “Respectfully” by Big Jade. “Go Bestfriend” by Shyfromdatre. [Laughs] Yeah, these are very intense songs.

6. TimehopYou get Timehop, the app, then you allow it to have access to your photos. So then every day, if you have a picture that you took that day three years ago, two years ago, whatever, it’ll remind you. It’s just adorable. It’s a fun little app that you keep swiping from right to left.

7. Robes Love a robe. I am wearing a robe right now. It is comfortable. It is relaxing. I can stay in one all day if I have nowhere to be and I’m just resting. When I go to a hotel room it’s right into that robe. I’m looking at a photo in my dressing room right now of my cousin, my sister and I, and I think we are either on the Serengeti or Kenya, all three of us in a robe.

8. Continuing education I certainly treat it as a responsibility to make sure that I’m up to speed on how other people are experiencing the world, if it’s different from myself. Last year there was a documentary about the disabled called “Crip Camp,” and I remember it being really impactful. It’s important to see the focus of a spotlight put on communities that are often marginalized and seeing, OK, that is a very real thing. What I’m trying to get to is, what can I do in my world to make other people’s lives in whatever way I can equal to my own?

9. Clean, white Converse All StarsIt’s a nice, simple sneaker that lets you look polished through the day. You can run around in it. But if you need to go out for a quick dinner or if you find yourself wanting to go to a show, you can be dressed up and comfortable.

10. Apple WatchChanged my life. Never have I felt more pressure to get my steps in. Never have I been more aware of timeliness. It also has reminders that have been great. Take breathing. Sometimes it will vibrate and be like, “You should take a breath,” and it will be one minute of just slowing down and breathing. And I love that message. It’s so necessary, like a welcomed pause. At first, I was like, “Dismiss, dismiss, dismiss.” And then it was like, “Uzo, if you do not have one minute in this 24 hours to take a minute to yourself, what are we really saying then?”

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