We always knew that Diahann Carroll had an impressive career paved with incredibly important accomplishments. But when we sat down to prepare for a recent interview with her, we were overwhelmed by all she’s done.
She is perhaps best known for her groundbreaking (and Emmy nominated and Golden Globe winning) title role in the 1968 television series, “Julia,” which made her the first African American actress to star in her own show. Besides her Emmy nod for Julia, she won the 1962 Best Actress Tony Award for the play “No Strings” and garnered an Oscar nomination for “Claudine” in 1975. And she has a slew of other Golden Globe and Emmy nominations, too. Most recently she made the short list of Outstanding Guest Actresses in a Drama Series for “Grey’s Anatomy” in 2008.
In addition, she’s recorded albums, starred in TV shows like “A Different World” and “Dynasty,” appeared in cabaret shows and acclaimed theatrical productions of “Agnes of God” and “Sunset Boulevard,” and survived breast cancer.
It was truly an honor to speak with her recently about her current role on the hit show “White Collar” (Tuesdays at 10:00 on USA Network), her TV legacy, and her goals for the future.
Q: How did the role come about on “White Collar?”
DIAHANN: The creator, actually, is the person who approached us about doing this role and he really understood the period of time that was—my character, June—that was her hey-day and I thought, well, this is going to be really great fun because it goes back to the period of the Rat Pack and she was, obviously, a part of it to the degree where she was married to one of the musicians… That's how she meets [Neal Caffrey], getting rid of some of the clothing that she has kept, her memorabilia from that period that was a wonderful time in her life, but actually, he has a great feeling for that period of time, and so it's been, really, a joy being there and doing it.
Q: Could you tell us anything about June? What's going to be happening with her on the remainder of the season of “White Collar?”
DIAHANN: June is, at this moment, enjoying her relationship with her new found friend and I think that they're just getting to know each other under all circumstances and she trusts him and is fascinated by him and also his friend [Mozzie]… I think all of it together is something that I'm enjoying having to relate to that.
Q: Is Matt Bomer as good looking in real life as he is on TV?
DIAHANN: If it's possible, he's better looking in real life and also very charming, and I think this is going to catapult him into the kind of stardom that he deserves. He is very hard working and it's a delight to watch him in front of the camera. I think the character is perfect for him. He is really a bad boy who has good instincts and he looks the part. I'm enjoying it very much.
Q: If there was one thing you could tell your fans from “White Collar” about your character that they would find surprising, what would it be?
DIAHANN: I think the relationship with Matt is very interesting and it's something that I see in my life, constantly, and that is women who are no longer young seem to find young men interesting and amusing, whereas they were not as interesting and amusing when I was young, and I think that happens to most women. We can afford that kind of relationship at this age.
Q: Are we going to get a glimpse of your musical side on “White Collar?”
DIAHANN: I don’t know. We have thought about it. We've never brought that conversation to a conclusion, but it would please me. We'd just have to find out how and where it makes sense, if our writers can find that.
Q: “White Collar” has become a real hit with fans. What is it about the show that you think draws in the viewers?
DIAHANN: Oh, so many things and not only is Matt beautiful, and his partner Tim, is a very handsome man also, the writing is outstanding, I think, and the look of it, it brings you into it immediately… It's a grabber and, once again, I must make a comment about the writing. It's really wonderful.
Q: As the first black woman to star in your own TV show, [“Julia”], what are your feelings about how it's changed not just black women, but for minority women, today?
DIAHANN: Well, I would have to say that I have a positive feeling about that. There are so many shows on the air that I'm not really familiar, but I do believe that the stereotypical woman that was dominating television when I started, we've done away with that, for all of but what we call third world women — people — and that's very gratifying that we've done that. The integrating is still not on a level that I would like to see it, but I do think it's coming. I do feel that we are trying and that it's getting better.
Q: You think we still have a long way to go?
DIAHANN: Oh, indeed. Yes, we do.
Q: What are some things that can be done to help facilitate further integration?
DIAHANN: I suppose our lives need to be more integrated. We have white communities and black communities and white country clubs and black country clubs. It's very important when we integrate ourselves, and it helps us to have a better understanding of the world, to people all over the world and this is the time in history that we have become very aware of how important that is, so I think it's just really — we have to know each other and work together and play together in order to write about each other.
Q: In your career you seem to have done it all. Is there anything that you still have yet to accomplish?
DIAHANN: That's a great question. I appreciate that question and I really have not done it all… I've done theater and television and film and nightclubs, that is true. But I really would love another opportunity to do something as fascinating as “Dynasty” was, on television. I really enjoyed doing that and I'd like to see something like that come about again. Something that is totally absurd and fun.
Q: You are a role model, a pioneer in your craft, and have taken Joan Collins and cancer, and slapped them both. What else do you wish to conquer?
DIAHANN: What else? Well, I don't know, to tell you the truth. Living day-to-day is quite a feat, I feel, and I'm enjoying it and getting something out of it and putting something into it is a lot to do. I've been doing it now for — it will soon be 75 years, in July, and I'm pretty satisfied. I've also had four marriages that I went through, which is, also, difficult to do, so I don’t know. I'm feeling satisfied and so everyday… I'm still making the effort and the effort to do what? Everything.
Q: You have a program called “1 a Minute” coming up about [breast cancer]. Would mind sharing your thoughts about that?
DIAHANN: Any time I have the opportunity to talk, particularly to women who are going through what I experienced, it's always a very gratifying exchange for me and I learned something and I hope that I give them something in return, something they can use, something they can move on, and I think that's one of the best things — one of the perks actually if that can be called a perk — when one knows that they have breast cancer — is the exchange, meeting each other, discussing, making new friends, learning new things that they have done that they can pass along to me, and vice verse, and that's what we will be doing.