Margaret Avery is a face and voice that you’ll recognize. Best known for her role in the iconic film, “The Color Purple” with Oprah Winfrey, Danny Glover and Whoopi Goldberg, Avery has been in the business for a long time.
Turning 75 this year, Avery reflects on her journey and the secret to the longevity of her career. While working as a substitute teacher in Los Angeles Avery began making singing and acting appearances. She moved to Los Angeles to take her acting career seriously in 1968. In 1973 her Los Angeles Drama Circle Award-winning performance in the play “Does a Tiger Wear a Necktie?” caught the attention of Clint Eastwood and he quickly cast her in his film “Magnum Force”, serving as an entree for guest-starring roles in numerous episodic T.V. shows and Blaxploitation films including “Scott Joplin”, “The Lathe of Heaven”, “The Return of Superfly” and “Heatwave”. She eventually got cast in her most widely recognized Academy-Award nominated role as Shug Avery in Steven Spielberg’s “The Color Purple”.
Avery, raised in San Diego by a career Navy man, went to the UC Berkeley, and has been singing and acting for 15 years. She appeared briefly in a Spielberg TV movie, “Something Evil,” 14 years ago, uttering one word: “Freckles.”
She read Walker’s book at the urging of actor friends, and said she was drawn immediately to Shug, probably because the character’s openness and self-confidence were missing in her own personality.
“Playing her changed my life,” Avery told the L.A. Times. “I am less selfish, less me-oriented. I am more sensitive to people out there.”
“I have to share this with you,” Avery shares. “As a black woman in Hollywood what this has meant to me: In ‘The Color Purple,’ Shug Avery gave Celie a sense of self-worth. ‘The Color Purple’ has given Margaret Avery a sense of self-worth.”
Avery went on to explain how she was on the verge of giving up her acting career and had actually started taking typing lessons–thinking she would become a court reporter–not long before landing the Shug Avery role.
“Now as an artist, I can appreciate what this movie means to people. They seem to be so grateful.”
“The most beautiful and spiritual thing that happened for me was that after I was cast—and I share this with anyone who starts to not believe in themselves—after I was cast I heard about all these wonderful artists who had auditioned and I started feeling so insecure. I started thinking, ‘Oh my God, if this person wasn’t cast, and if this person wasn’t cast, I don’t think I can do this.’ I just had to get on my knees and pray to God for the courage to believe in myself.”
“I’m probably still processing what was learned,” Avery continues. “Not realizing what all was learned but I think as an actor it tells me—and I would share this with anyone going into the business—that you have to really believe in who you are and have faith and try not to be wavered by what other people say. It’s a tough business and I think you really have to have some kind of spiritual faith, some kind of a God that you believe in.”
When it comes to playing on the BET hit show, Being Mary Jane with Gabrielle Union, Avery was