Pity the person who
tries to put Tracee Ellis Ross in a box. Granted, the 45-year-old actress might seem easy enough to peg at first glance—with words like funny and fashionable bubbling to mind. But scratch beneath the surface and it quickly becomes apparent there is far more than meets the eye.
Here are some of the things you may already know about her, starting with her very famous last name. She is, indeed, the daughter of music royalty, the second oldest of Diana Ross’ five children, and her father is former music business manager Robert Ellis Silberstein. She has logged more than a decade on popular sitcoms, first as the star of UPN’s Girlfriends and now on ABC’s hit Black-ish, where she has spent the past three years playing Rainbow “Bow” Johnson—a role that has garnered her two Emmy nominations and a 2017 Golden Globe win. She loves fashion and isn’t afraid to take risks with it. She has a magically chameleon-like face that’s capable of being twisted up into expressions that are both goofy and beautiful, often simultaneously. Oh, and she probably has the best tresses on TV.
All of that is true, of course. It’s also only part of it. Take, for example, the sacrifices she makes to do what she loves. For the eight months of the year that the Los Angeles-based series is in production, her alarm clock typically goes off at around 5:30am. If her call time allows for it, she squeezes in a workout en route to the soundstage, where she’ll then spend the next 13 to 14 hours. During her brief breaks—30 minutes for lunch, the occasional pause here and there—she squeezes in everything else.
Even when the actress isn’t on camera, she still considers herself on the clock. “During the season, I don’t drink. I don’t see my friends. I have to let go of my social life. I use every spare moment to work or take care of myself.” Still, Ross is quick to acknowledge that she wouldn’t have it any other way. “It’s a lot of work, but it’s also a dream—so much good stuff in my life comes from what I’m doing.”
Ross is feeling especially fortunate these days. “The fact that I’m on my second long-running show is an absolute blessing,” she says. “On top of that, our show is really good—it’s not just some sitcom about, ‘Oh, no, the pot roast has fallen on the floor!’”
That’s for sure. Black-ish has developed a well-earned reputation for deftly mixing lighthearted fare with thought-provoking social commentary, as filtered through the eyes of the upper-middle-class Johnson clan. (Bow is a doctor; her husband Dre, played by Anthony Anderson, is a successful ad executive.) Like Ross herself, Bow is half-white. The series has touched on the conflicted feelings that her character had during childhood about being mixed race.