Danielle Pinnock will never forget the day she booked her first series regular role on Ghosts, the charming CBS sitcom about a young married couple that inherits a quaint country house inhabited by many of its deceased previous residents.
The actress was on a Zoom call with her best friend, LaNisa Frederick, with whom she hosts a web series about the misadventures of being an actress of color in the entertainment industry, when her manager, Frank Gonzales, showed up outside her house with a gift. The present, Pinnock soon realized, was a box of Champagne chocolates to celebrate her casting as Alberta, a Prohibition-era lounge singer who is akin to the mother hen of the group of eccentric ghosts.
“For so long in my career, I’ve heard the word ‘no,’ and to get the big ‘yes’ on a project that I’m completely obsessed [with], I was shocked,” Pinnock tells W from Montreal, where she is currently filming the show’s sophomore season, which premieres September 29. In her Culture Diet interview, Pinnock—whose other TV credits include This Is Us and the iconic Scandal/How to Get Away With Murder crossover—speaks about the career-defining role that has changed her life, the importance of creating her own content, and the Black creatives who inspire her the most.
You’ve spoken before about the importance of shining a light on Black women artists from the 1920s, who are often overlooked. How did your research help you to capture the essence of Alberta and the women from that era?
Usually, as a plus-size Black woman in the entertainment industry that’s getting co-stars and guest stars, you come in and come out, and a lot of the roles are occupationally driven, like the sassy librarian. I wanted to bring my full self to [Ghosts], so I took dance lessons for the Charleston and the Lindy Hop. I remember watching the film Bessie, which Queen Latifah produced and starred in. I had a ton of books, and I made all these spreadsheets. I was like, “Girl, this is a half-hour comedy on CBS. They don’t need this deep dive!” But it was so good for me to know this character through and through, because there were some storylines that came from that research. The showrunners allowed us to meet with the writers and share all the things that we discovered.
What’s the biggest plot twist that has changed how you view Alberta?
There was something this season that changed my whole view on her: We will get Alberta back into the 1920s jazz club. It’s a stunning episode. I’m not a trained singer at all, and I was shocked they cast me in this role knowing that, but I’ve been taking lessons. I hadn’t been on stage since 2016 to perform, and hearing that applause for the first time and stepping out on stage, I got a visceral understanding of who this character is. She lives for the hype, and I think, in her afterlife, she misses that.
Who are your dream guest stars and who would they play?
I have to say Lizzo, without question. I want Lizzo to be Alberta’s great-great-great granddaughter, who is a musician. I have been campaigning for her to be on the show, and the showrunners are like, “Yeah, if you can get her, let’s do it! We’ll write something.” Bring Sasha the Flute, sis!
My aunt [Patrice Johnson Chevannes] is an incredible stage actress. She’s done Shrill, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, and The First Lady. She was my greatest inspiration coming into the industry and showed me that as a Caribbean person, you can be in the arts. They did a race reversal of Othello where she actually got to play Desdemona against Patrick Stewart. That was the first play I ever saw in my life, and I was like, “That’s what I want to do.”
Who would Ghosts superfan Mark Hamill play?
Honestly, Mark could be a ghost. Mark could be Sam’s father, which I’m kind of campaigning for. Mark could also be… Mark. [Laughs.] Mark Hamil comes to visit the B&B! He’s welcome any time.
You’ve credited your own family for helping you recognize the power of laughter to get through tough times. How has your upbringing influenced your comedic timing?
Growing up, I had comedians all around me who didn’t know they were comedians. My grandmother, Una, and my mom, Joan, are probably the funniest human beings on the planet. My mom is also my greatest inspiration. She speaks four languages, she’s an immigration attorney—and I used to be my mom’s receptionist. Can you imagine an 11-year-old girl answering the phone, talking about immigration issues?
My whole life is comedy: [The story of] my husband and I, and how we ended up getting married. I thought I was going to England to meet Idris Elba—I met Ed Sheeran instead. [Laughs.] When I tell people these stories, they’re like, “That’s a show!” So that’s what I’ve been working on during the pandemic—getting all of these things to paper. One day, they could be on your TV and movie screens.
Outside of Ghosts, you’re developing and producing an adult animated series (Unmentionables), a web series (Hashtag Booked), and your own pop-culture sketches. Have you always felt the need to create your own content?
It’s been a necessity to create my own content, because no one was writing for me—plus, it gives me the freedom to just play. I never want to lose my imagination, and that really goes back to my theater roots.
I had a one-woman show called Body/Courage, which was a one-woman documentary play. I interviewed over 300 people from around the world about how they felt about their bodies. I was always getting these very stereotypical roles and I wanted to show, at least the theater industry, that I could be more than that. I performed as these people I interviewed, from a little girl from the south side of Chicago who was getting bullied because of her weight, to a Northern Irish priest who was dealing with early onset Parkinson’s, and a woman who worked in the sex industry but had just turned 50 years old. People really responded to it, because everybody has ideas about their own body.
A lot of times, creating my own work is also creating my own legacy. I want to talk about my Caribbean heritage, because when people talk about Caribbean heritage in America, we’re just drug-dealing psychics who bobsled. [Laughs.] I want to tell the stories about finding love as a plus-size woman in the entertainment industry to somebody that I did not expect to find love with.
You’re an avid reader of W’s Culture Diet vertical, so let’s jump right in to those questions. What time do you wake up in the morning and what’s the first thing you do?
Nowadays, if I’m shooting Ghosts, I’m waking up at 3:30 a.m. [Winces, then laughs.] I hop in the shower, and I’ve been on this hard-boiled egg kick. I don’t know why, but with the salt and the pepper and a little bit of hot sauce, it is phenomenal.
What books are on your bedside table right now?
Quinta Brunson’s autobiography [She Memes Well]. I’m currently reading A Mother of Black Hollywood—I’m always going back to that book, I’m obsessed with Jenifer Lewis.
What TV shows have been keeping you up at night?
Okay, I love reality TV... But I just finished A League of Their Own and was obsessed with it. Shout out to Chanté Adams and Gbemisola [Ikumelo]. Their storyline was by far the one that I connected with the most.
Danielle Brooks has this reality home renovation show on Netflix [called Instant Dream Home]. They’re literally going into people’s houses and renovating the homes in 12 hours, like, “We’re gonna renovate your house. Go swim, and by the time you’re back from the pool, it’ll be done.” It is one of the best shows that I’ve seen in so long; Danielle is such a phenomenal host.
Quinta and I went to college together. I’m so proud of her. I’ve watched the [first] season twice already, and I’m ready to guest star on there. I was like, “Let me just come in as a drama teacher!” [Laughs.]
What’s the last thing you Googled on your phone?
“What are monkeypox?” I’m very much a hypochondriac, so I got to know exactly what’s happening. If I swim in a pool, am I getting it? Are they in water? What’s going on?
What’s the last concert that you went to?
I think it was Beyoncé, the “Lemonade” tour. My husband surprised me when we were still living in Chicago, and he flew me to Houston—her hometown. That concert changed my life. She splashed some water on us, and I almost passed out.
Do you have any favorite social media accounts to follow?
Do you believe in astrology? And what’s your zodiac sign?
I have this character called “Terrica Tarot” that I’ve been playing around with on social media, where she has Tarot cards but they’re really Uno cards. I’m a Taurus, so I love a nap, I love snacks, I am loyal to a fault. These are really serious character traits for me, so I do believe them to an extent.
What’s the last thing that you do before you go to bed?
I’m not going to lie: I have snacks. Cheetos are my favorite snack in the world—not hot Cheetos. The way this acid reflux is set up, I cannot do it. But before bed, I like a good snack with some ice-cold water.