Haneefah Wood has been booked and busy. She’s shining in projects like Netflix’s Murderville and the Apple TV+ shows Truth Be Told and Hello Tomorrow!. In the latter, she stars as Shirley Stedman, the right hand to Jack Billings, played by Billy Crudup. In the series, the crew is selling timeshares on the moon. The series is a sci-fi fantasy that was created by Amit Bhalla and Lucas Jansen.
Shadow and Act spoke with Wood recently where she talked about her upcoming projects, including her memoir. After reading her book, readers will be able to relate to the actress on a different level as she delves into vulnerable experiences with her eating disorder.
So you have two shows on Apple TV+
S&A: You have two shows on Apple TV+! What has your experience been like working alongside the likes of Tami Roman and Octavia Spencer on Truth Be Told?
Wood: I love Tami. Me and Tami on set is a good time. I’m a super huge reality TV fan, so I used to watch Tammy all the time. And Tami is so good about giving you all the tea about what’s actually happening. So she sometimes answers all of my questions. I have a good time with her. We just had a phone conversation a little while ago. She’s good people. She has good vibes. She’s really authentically herself all the time. I love that girl.
Octavia Spencer is the same. I feel like Octavia gives me lots of advice. She will call me sometimes out of the blue just to give me the 4-1-1 or to let me know things that I don’t know as an up-and-coming artist. So Octavia will give me professional advice, and I look to her because she’s such a fantastic producer and actor, and she’s just got her hands all in the mix. And I hope to one day be exactly like that. She’s building this beautiful home like I am. My home is in construction right now. So I guess technically, I’m building a home too, but her home is like eight times the size of mine. So, I just really look up to her and her drive.
S&A: Let’s get into Hello Tomorrow! It’s a different role than you had before How has the change of pace been?
Wood: So for me, it’s not necessarily a change of pace. I think acting is just acting. It’s all the same to me, whether or not it’s comedy or drama, if it’s a one-hour series or a 30-minute, like what we have in Hello Tomorrow!, a 30-minute dramedy – it’s all the same. It’s not a change of pace for me. I do think the change of pace was having to move to New York City and having to live there and find my footing while I was working. That’s the change of pace. But Hello Tomorrow!, for me, was one of my favorite experiences of my entire career. We all got along, and we all were just intent on doing the best job we could possibly do. I coached with my coach here via Zoom, even here in LA, but via Zoom. While I was in New York, I coached the majority of my scenes. That’s how important it was that I do a bang-up job– a really good job for our show. And I believe that every single character that’s on that show, I don’t know if they coached or anything, but I know that was the intensity we all came to set with every single day when doing those scenes. And I think it just made a fantastic marriage.
S&A: What’s been your favorite part about playing your character on the show?
Wood: I love that she’s having an affair. I love that part because it humanizes and it shows that she’s flawed. It gives me some complexity. It’s not one note. It’s majorly layered. So that would be the thing that I love about the character. I also love her drive to get it right and to have the business be super successful. Jack, played by Billy Crudup, he pulls Shirley out of this rut and gives her something to look forward to. So, Shirley wants to do the best job possible. I think all of it was pretty exciting for me. Like every twist and turn, every little thing that they gave Shirley, I was on board all the way. Like, strap me in. I’m going for the ride.
S&A: On Hello Tomorrow!, there’s also an expansive ensemble. How has it been being a part of such a talented cast on this show as well? You mentioned that you guys all get along, so it seems like there is a familial atmosphere that you guys have created.
Wood: Well, it’s a dream – an absolute dream job. And not only was it like that with the cast, but our creators, Amit Bhalla and Lucas Jansen, and I say this all the time– they’re like my brothers because they were so involved. Every little line. Let’s say I said a line – ‘I love you’ – they would come and just give me a note, but without telling me what to do. They would explain the moment. They just were hands-on, and I love that. Everybody was down-to-earth human beings who just wanted to do a good job at the end of the day. There were no egos on set, which is kind of rare because you get at least a few, you know. But that was not the case. Everybody was like, Listen, we are in this together. Let’s do it together.
S&A: I want to go back to Truth Be Told for a bit. The subject matter is pretty heavy. So what is the importance of the show tackling missing under-represented girls and sex trafficking this season, since it is an epidemic that’s being highlighted across the country right now? How timely and relevant is it as well?
Wood: It’s very timely. I mean, remember what happened in Texas – I think it was Texas, where they found all of those people, I think they were deceased. It was about 40 people or something in the back of a truck transporting people. I think because we have such a huge platform, the fact that we would take on this subject just gets it out there more and more, which is super important. It’s kind of like No Child Left Behind. But how about this? No Culture Left Behind, no little Black girl left behind. I sometimes see on my Instagram people who post like ‘My cousin is missing in Atlanta’ and that affects me…just from one little post. Sometimes we never hear from those people ever again. But you don’t see it on the news. Some of these girls that I’m seeing on Instagram, you never read about it. You never see it. And it must be shown. We must have equal opportunity to be kept alive [and] equal opportunity to be found. So thank God we have the platform to be able to do a show, especially like the one that we are doing this season with this subject matter. It’s super important, and I hope that it reaches millions.
S&A: Both of these shows are on Apple TV+. What have you found about streaming that seems to be the perfect home for compelling shows like the ones that you’re on?
Wood: I think Apple TV+ creates some of the most beautiful and in-depth shows with this creative abandonment, where they kind of allow the creators to take these broad strokes to their canvases. And then it gives someone like me, who was a performer in these shows, the capability to kind of abandon myself and go fully into the characters. I feel taken care of at Apple TV+. When I watch their shows, I just think that there exquisitely done. They are super pretty. It’s almost like watching a movie–and then you’re watching 30-minute shows. I went to the Ted Lasso premiere for their third season, and even the way that that shot is pretty exquisite. So Apple TV+, they’re new in the game, but they got game.
S&A: What projects are you looking to tackle next?
Wood: So I have a TV show coming out with Neil Patrick Harris and his husband David Burtka, called Drag Me to Dinner, which is coming out this summer. It is a reality show that takes two teams of drag queens, and they have to put on a dinner party for us. And it’s one of the dumbest things I have ever done in my career. And by dumb, I mean so much fun. I had so much fun on this set. It is crazy. It’s hilarious from start to finish. So that comes out in the summer on Hulu. I’m also writing my memoir, which I have been writing for two and a half years, and that memoir is called Eat Me, and it’s about my relationship with my eating disorder, my relationship with men and my relationship with my mother and my father. And although the title Eat Me is pretty provocative, but the story is really deep and intense, and it’s also layered with lots of humor because that’s just my personality. I can’t be sad all the time. I got to tell a little joke here, and there.
S&A: You touched on your memoir a bit. There have been a lot more conversations nowadays about eating disorders. Obviously, you work with Tami Roman, who is very open about her body dysmorphia that she has dealt with for a long time.
S&A: I saw her segment on The Real when she actually talked about it. And I sent her a text message right away saying, ‘Hey, if you ever need to talk about anything with someone just listening.’ But I just happened to send a text right after I saw that segment on The Real.
S&A: What do you attribute the current conversations about eating disorders to? Because it’s very much a hot topic now, and before, it was kind of taboo or was something that was hidden, especially in our community. There’s not really anything that communities of color discussed on reality TV. It was on a few seasons of The Real Housewives of New Jersey. There was one cast member who was very open about her battle with anorexia. It’s Interesting to see that come to the forefront as of late.
Wood: You know, this makes me think. So the first thing that I want to say is, especially with women of color, we have been dealing with the same stuff that white women have been dealing with from day one. We are all the same. So the fact that we are speaking about it now is huge and necessary because we can’t keep things a secret any longer. I feel like secrets bring about death internally. It might not be a true death, a real death, but internally you are killing something off inside of you when you don’t speak about your truth, And even if the truth is ugly, it still needs to be spoken about.
For me, I have been, or I have dealt with my eating disorder since I was like 12, 13 years old, actively. I even went to an eating disorder facility when I was 30 years old because it had gotten so out of control, and food had become my drug of choice. It was the way that I was able to push all of the feelings that I was not willing to feel. I was able to push them down by either stuffing myself completely full and then falling asleep. It was the way that I deadened myself, my spirit, my personality, my creativity, my love, sex – and I’m not talking about having sex, but that that sexual part of me was able to be deadened because I didn’t know how to feel all the feelings. But with the help of therapy and the support of mentors, it really helped me. And then I became willing. I have always kind of been open about my life because I feel like the more I reveal about myself, the more connection I get to have with people. I’m an only child, so connection is paramount for me. But the more I told the truth about myself, even the truth that didn’t look so good in certain people’s eyes, it still found me, my people, my connection, people who are going through the same thing. I think with this eating disorder stuff, it is imperative for us to talk about it and talk about it as a community. I think we are so used to being like, ‘Oh, you know, we can be big-boned’ or ‘She looks good, skinny,’ or whatever it is. We just have these ideals in our, minds that it’s like, just look at the whole picture.
Let me just tell you this right quick, and then I’ll shut up because this is what’s coming to my mind. Yesterday I was on a red carpet, and I was asked to name a word that describes a Black woman. And the first thing that came to my mind, which is so on brand with me, is I said Cinnabon. It was the first thing on my mind. So I go Cinnabon, and then I was like, ‘Oh s**t. Like, what does that mean, honey?’ And I was like, ‘Well, we are well-rounded, you know?’And I’m like, ‘Well, we are really sweet. We have layers.’ But what I thought about it this morning, and what came to mind was there is not one word or words that I want to describe a Black woman with because we are all so freaking different. So I don’t know what word is going to describe you, Brenda. I know what word can describe me, or a couple, or few are a lot of words actually to describe me, but I can’t say. I don’t want to call us strong or you know, the cliché things that they would say about a black woman, independent….she’s strong, she this…– because some of us are not. And it’s OK for us to define ourselves in our own words.
I was just thinking about this morning, I do not want to define a Black woman by one word because I don’t know what that would be for those other Black women out there. And to come back to this whole, let’s discuss the eating disorder and everything else, we all have our stress right, our ways to cope, our ways to live in the world, our ways to just like be able to brush our teeth in the morning and get out the house to go to work. We all have our ways. And for a long time, my eating disorder was my way in order to step out of my house. I suffered a lot. But I also grew a lot. And sharing what I have gone through or what I believe this book will do will just bring me closer to people and bring me into connection with more people. And maybe people can see themselves through me, and then they, they can find their own word.