With The Big Bang Theory having proven to be a global hit since its very first episode, it should come as no surprise to learn that its spin-off, a look at the childhood and early years of Jim Parsons’ Sheldon Cooper, aptly titled Young Sheldon, has also become a phenomenon. With the show about to air its debut season finale, and with season 2 already greenlit, ThisIsTheLatest caught up with Danielle Pinnock, who plays Ms. Ingram in the show, to find out about her very first audition, her role as a body activist and how she feels about the reaction to and her being part of the smash-hit series that is Young Sheldon.
TITL: At what age did you first realize you wanted to pursue acting as a career? Was there one particular show/actor you watched that made you think ‘I’d like to do that’?
Danielle Pinnock: When I was 19 I was in a production at Temple University called In Conflict. It was a documentary play about war veterans returning home from serving overseas. The show was so incredible. We were even pulled out of school for a year to perform at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and Off-Broadway in New York. All of the vets we portrayed were real people, based on interviews done by journalist Yvonne Latty. The veteran I played, Sgt. Lisa Haynes, was the only one we were unable to get a response from during run of the show. I heard that during her initial interview, her PTSD was so severe once returning home that she may have “fallen off the map.” I didn’t want to accept this, so I took it upon myself to find Sgt. Haynes. I called every VA hospital in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where she was from, and was able to locate her and her family. During the run of the show, I flew down to Tulsa and met Sgt. Haynes and her family. When I returned back to New York, I was determined to have Sgt. Haynes see the final Off-Broadway performance. So in the final two weeks of the run I managed to raise $10,000 to get Sgt. Haynes and her family members up to New York to see In Conflict’s last show. It was THAT show that made me want to act for the rest of my life.
TITL: Can you recall your very first audition?
DP: Yes! Ha! My very first audition was for the middle school production of Aladdin. I played Halima, Jafar’s evil sister. It was like pulling teeth to get me to audition for this role. I never wanted to be an actor growing up, and was super shy as a child. My audition song was “Doo Wop (That Thing)” by Lauryn Hill.
TITL: Which auditions, looking back on them, do you feel went really well or that you struggled with?
DP: The reason I ended up in Los Angeles is because I auditioned for a production at the Geffen Playhouse called Barbecue by Robert O’Hara. At the time of the auditions, I was still living in Chicago and actually flew up to L.A. to be seen for the project. It was a risky decision and I would not recommend actors doing that, but I knew I had to be on point! I also knew if I was going to move to Los Angeles, I needed a job! Barbecue was one of my best auditions in L.A. Recently, I ran into Colman Domingo and he said: Danielle, you just walked in with your blue dress and commanded our attention. Working with Colman and the cast members was a dream realized. It was an honor to be included in that production.
My most memorable audition that I struggled with also happened in Los Angeles. I was going in for the role of a nurse on a sitcom. A lot of auditions in L.A. happen in “bungalows” which are really just trailers on the studio lots. I only bring this up, because the walls in most audition rooms are extremely thin so you can hear another actors’ entire audition. There was a young woman who went in before me, and her audition was so fantastic that the casting director actually booked her for the project IN THE ROOM! The entire waiting room, full of actors, heard the casting director call this woman’s agent to say the actor had booked it. However, in the waiting room, chaos ensued. People began to leave the audition and I had no clue what to do because I was NEXT! As soon as the actor left the audition room all I heard was: “Danielle Pinnock come on in.” It was my worst audition to date. I forgot all of the lines and was just unmotivated to even give my all because I knew there was no chance of me getting booked on that project.
TITL: How did you hear about the role of Ms. Ingram for Young Sheldon? What was/is it about the character that made you want to audition for the role?
DP: Funny enough, this was a same-day audition. My manager called me on a Thursday morning and I had three-hours to prepare the sides for an Untitled project. I initially went in for the music-teacher and then Nikki Valko, the casting director, asked me to read for a brand new character they created that week “Ms. Ingram.” It was refreshing to see that casting was considering me, a plus-sized African American woman to play the mathematics teacher. Ms. Ingram is one of my favorite characters to play because she is so quirky, hilarious and extremely no-nonsense.
TITL: The show has proven to be a HUGE success in the US and is also popular here in the UK. Did you or your fellow cast members ever expect the show to get the response and reaction it has?
DP: It’s surreal! This show is a hit internationally and I’ve never, in my entire career, been a part of such a phenomenon. Chuck Lorre is a genius and absolutely has the Midas touch when it comes to creating successful television! Working with the creators Chuck Lorre and Steve Molaro has been a dream come true. My mom and I were in the grocery store and someone stopped us and said “That’s Ms. Ingram, Oh My God!” In the pilot, my character Ms. Ingram talks about attending Oral Roberts University and the school sent me a gift! I went to graduate school at Birmingham School of Acting UK, now known as the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, so it’s really cool for my friends, family and professors to see it overseas as well!
Aside from it’s obvious TBBT connection, what do you think it is about Young Sheldon that has attracted so many people to watch, and keep watching, it?
DP: The show is hilarious and the main cast give masterful performances. Iain Armitage who plays Sheldon Cooper is a brilliant young performer and is such a joy to work alongside. His portrayal of Sheldon Cooper is honest and relatable.
TITL: You’ve also appeared in Scandal and This Is Us. How important to you is it that you’re able to take on a variety of roles that really put your abilities to the test, and with that in mind, what’s your dream role? Which show would you most like to appear in and why?
DP: Working on those two shows was incredible. I was able to work on Scandal with the genius Kerry Washington; the legendary Viola Davis was the cherry on an already delicious sundae! I’ve had the opportunity to play some fantastic roles both in theatre and on-screen. To be honest, I don’t know what my dream role would be. There are so many great shows out right now. My favorites at the moment: Good Girls, Atlanta, How To Get Away With Murder and SMILF.
TITL: The entertainment industry is cut throat and competitive, so what advice would you give to anyone looking to make their mark on it? Is there any one piece of advice you were once given that you still look back on?
DP: A colleague of mine once said: “In this industry, you must learn to be plural.” In this industry, especially nowadays, you have to be multi-faceted. This is why there is an uprising of artists creating their own content now.
TITL: Away from TV, you’re an accomplished writer/playwright, and are passionate about creating productions that address life, living and the many issues that come with it. Does your work in that field ever cross over into your acting work and vice-versa?
DP: Absolutely. I’m actually developing an improvised Instagram series with my friend, LaNisa Frederick called Hashtag Booked. Hashtag Booked is a hilarious, raw, and shocking portrayal of what happens during the short period of time in the audition waiting room. These “characters” are based on real-life experiences.
TITL: How are you finding your role as a vocal activist for body positivity impacting both yourself and those around you? How did you first get involved and would you like to see more individuals, especially those in the public eye, using their status to speak out about important matters as you are?
DP: The first play I ever wrote was a solo show called Body/Courage. Body/Courage was created from over 300 interviews I conducted worldwide, and it was an exploration on body acceptance. This project changed my life. The show is about my journey to find my own beauty through the voices of others. The cool thing about the show is that it introduced a constellation of characters grappling with diverse body issues including weight, illness, disability, skin color, aging, and gender transition. It was this show that got me involved in the body positivity movement. Body/Courage, allowed me to find a courage in myself that I didn’t know I possessed. The body positivity movement already has some fierce voices and it can always use more so I would encourage others to speak out.
TITL: Are there any other plans or projects in the pipeline you can tell me about?
DP: This summer, I’ll be releasing an interview-style podcast called SHOOK discussing true stories of mental health in the industry. I’ve also been asked to be a guest contributor for Shondaland, so check out my essay I’ll be writing for them in the next few weeks.
TITL: Finally then, given that the industry is ever changing, sometimes at a pace even fans can’t keep up with, where do you think the business will go and be 5-10 years from now? What would you like to see happen and do you think that such things will?
DP: My hope for the industry in 5-10 years is that we can begin to bring more stories by women of color to the forefront. I want to see more women of color on set, I want to see more women of color in the writers room, I want to see more women of color as producers and directors. I want to see women of color win in this industry now and in the future.
Young Sheldon is currently airing on E4 in the UK on Wednesdays at 8.30PM. You can keep up to date with Danielle Pinnock via her Twitter. Header photo credit: Joe Mazza.