Jurnee Smollett: ‘The Past Few Years Have Been Heartbreaking’

“Jurnee and Miles make a good on-screen couple for this because they can both play damaged,” Kosinski said.

The movie forced Smollett to question what she herself might do under similar circumstances. Would she administer excruciatingly painful drugs to somebody, say, Miles Teller, if someone like Chris Hemsworth asked her to? “I believe, in the comfort of my home, that I would say no,” she said.

In a video interview this month, Smollett, 35, looked back on an acting career that has spanned three decades, from sitcoms to feature films, with detours on the stage. “I’ve done this so long,” she said with a laugh. She talked about everything from childhood crushes (“Paul Newman, Denzel Washington and Wesley Snipes”) to motherhood (“It’s true what they say, that it’s your heart living outside of your body”), to how she got her name.

That name. Her parents, Smollett explained, both had names starting with J, so they decided all six of their children should, too. Smollett’s brother Jojo thinks “Jurnee” might be a play on Sojourner Truth, the 19th-century abolitionist, but Smollett’s mother has a different story.

“My mom was in labor for two hours, and I fell asleep in the middle of coming down the birth canal,” Jurnee Smollett said. “And my mom kept saying, ‘This little girl’s a trip.’ I guess I wasn’t ready to come out, and so she said I took her on a journey.”

Smollett’s earliest memories have been on sets and stages. At 3, she played Debbie Allen’s daughter — and Diahann Carroll’s granddaughter — on a pilot for an unsold series, “Sunday in Paris.” At 4, she was cast as Denise Frazer, Michelle Tanner’s pal, on the long-running sitcom “Full House.” The young actress resisted the persistent siren call of the Disney Channel.

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