Grapevine native Annie Ilonzeh is fresh off a successful role as Kidada Jones in the summer film All Eyez On Me, based on the life of Tupac Shakur. Another movie she's in, 'Til Death Do Us Part, hit theaters Sept. 29. The fall thriller also stars Taye Diggs, Robinne Lee and Malik Yoba. The Observer recently spoke with Ilonzeh about her career and her memories of growing up in DFW.
What does Colleyville Heritage High School mean to you?
When I think about Colleyville Heritage High School, I remember participating in a lot of athletic activities and family because I have four younger sisters. Two of my sisters were in school at the same time, and when the third came along, I always remember people saying, "Those are the Ilonzeh girls." It is not very often when you get a chance to attend school in the same building with your siblings because of the age difference.
"My parents owned a 12-passenger van because there were seven of us kids. ... When my parents would drop us off or pick us up it, was such an embarrassing time." – Annie Ilonzeh
Joseph Showell, who would later become a principal. He was an African-American principal, and back in 2001, you really didn’t see too many minority principals in his position. From 1998 to 2001, I remember him administrating a lot of our practices and events and then transitioning into a principal.
He is currently the lead administrator at Lancaster High School in Lancaster, Texas. He was very influential in my life during my time in high school because he made sure I was making it to my classes on time and getting my work done. He inspired me to want to pursue a career as a teacher or a principal prior to me concluding that I wanted to become an actress.
What are some of your favorite memories growing up in Dallas?
My parents owned a 12-passenger van because there were seven of us kids in total, to store all our athletic equipment. We had previously owned a minivan, but they traded it in for this bright, teal-green van. When my parents would drop us off or pick us up, it was such an embarrassing time because you always could see us coming. Normally, you see those types of vans just in the color white, but my parents — I love them to death — wanted to put their own spin on the experience.
What are your favorite Dallas restaurants when you come to town?
Yama Izakaya, Nobu.
Tell us about your character, Madison/Kate, in Til Death Do Us Part?
Madison is someone who has dedicated her life to creating a family with her husband that will hopefully involve kids. She has made it her mission to make her husband happy, and in return, she is at peace. Madison’s husband is going through something and turns violent toward her, and as their relationship progresses, she becomes a prisoner in her own home.
She would later come up with this plan with her best friend [Chelsea], who is played by Robinne Lee, to get out of the abusive relationship. She decides to change her name to Kate and is ready to start her new life under a new identity. They're two different characters with the same outlook on life and wanting to be happy.
What intrigued you about this role?
Being able to play two different roles was a challenge for me, and that was something that intrigued me about this role. I felt this was a project that allowed me to take risks and provided me with the opportunity to be competitive with myself. So anytime I get the chance to challenge myself, I jump at those type of roles.
You have another project coming out called Grace.
The opportunity was brought to my attention by a friend of mine, Katie Cassidy, who is playing the lead character, Dawn Walsh. She spoke highly of the producers, the script, and asked would I like to be a part of the project. I appreciated her for thinking of me, regardless of if I was selected for the role. Her recommendation was a true honor for me. When the producers offered me the role, I jumped at the chance to be a part of Grace.
You recently played Kidada Jones in All Eyez On Me, the biopic based on the life of legendary emcee and poet Tupac Shakur. Are there any other prominent figures you would like to play in the future?
My manager and I have talked about me playing Florence Joyner. She is an Olympic gold medalist in track and field and considered to be the fastest woman of all time. In 1988, she set the world record in the 100 meters and 200 meters, and that record still stands today. Florence also brought a flashy personal style, with her nails and fashion look, to the sport of track and field. I feel that I would be a fit for the role because of the competitiveness that I would bring to the role, and it will match the intensity she brought to every event.
In a recent interview with The Hype Magazine, you mentioned that you wanted to create your own content. Have you thought about trying to create content around the Dallas culture?
There is a pilot that I started working on a while back, and it was based in Dallas. I have been sitting on the project for a while now; this might be the right time to finish writing the script and see where things go from there.
You have also been on the record saying that you want to open an animal shelter. Are there any locations in Dallas or Los Angeles that you are considering?
At this present time, I have not, but my sister is currently investing into property and land. So at some point, she and I will discuss locations to open an animal shelter.
Where do you plan on traveling this year?
Claudia Jordan and I decided to go to the Dominican Republic for my birthday this past August.