North of the Bronx, and neighborhood to cultural elites like Ruby Dee and William Branch, actress Frances Turner was one of the 90 percent that occupied the Black block of teachers and accountants in this first generation, middle-class suburb of New Rochelle, NY.
An artistic, young black girl, ignited by her parents’ view of the importance of recognizing her roots through history. From normalizing seeing shows at the Schaumburg, where her sisters and her would experience the original Dreamgirls or spending her Saturdays in high school at the Dance School of Harlem.
Named after her grandfather, a master builder, like her father, an architect, who both passed within months of another, thrived off bringing beautiful spaces to African-American communities. Frances’ credits the two men for her entrepreneurial spirit and introducing her to the concept of being three-dimensional; within herself, and later on, her acting career.
However, it was seeing another Black man portrayed in a prosperous light that struck Turner’s interest in soon becoming a lawyer. Blair Underwood as Johnathan Rollins in L.A. Law became the inspiration behind Turner’s Georgetown degree, in addition to the defining Central Park 5 case of 89.’ ”Here’s this black man [Underwood], and he had it going on, and he’s this lawyer. He was suave. He was really smart on the show. Somewhere in my mind, being an actress seemed unrealistic so I became a lawyer. Also, I went to law school with the interest of wanting to be a civil rights attorney initially. I was growing up in New York around the time the Central Park 5 case was happening. It was on the news every night, coming on the TV when you’re sitting around having dinner. The police interrogations being on the evening news, and something about that felt wrong. I remember the conversations my family would have, knowing something about that wasn’t right. I was a good lawyer, but I wasn’t as passionate about it as you would think. I have to be enjoying this more than I am to keep doing it. I never had an interest in becoming a partner at a law firm.”
Turner would eventually decide that it was time to stop letting her busy schedule interfere with goal-feeding extra-curriculars, and take on an acting class instructed by notable coach, producer, author and civil rights activist, Susan Batson‒‒teacher to Nicole Kidman and Juliette Binoche.
The transition from a full-time lawyer to a professionally trained actress would inquire a deep and exhilarating six-month balance of three classes a week. As she became more seasoned, Turner could then start adding to her work experience outside of the law firm; auditioning for student and indie films.
“I was a good lawyer, but I wasn’t as passionate about it as you would think. I have to be enjoying this more than I am to keep doing it. I never had an interest in becoming a partner at a law firm.”
Her law career would now serve as a cash cow to fund her lifestyle during commercial bookings. After finally quitting, she was granted her SAG card and by the wonders of hard work, a small role on Law & Order. “How do I leave something I don’t love, for something I think I love and have absolutely no security? I woke up one morning and it was a moment of clarity, and I remember saying to myself, “This is what I live for.” At that time, all the fear I felt about “If I love this thing, could I do this thing?” All that weight was lifted. People in my life always say, “You took such a risk.” I never saw it as a risk. Once I saw that moment of clarity I realized this is the thing I’m supposed to be doing. Who I am now, is really a journey of breaking through my lawyer-self to find my artist self.”
Now, Prime Video viewers can get a glimpse of Frances Turner on a regular, as she stars in original series and Phillip K. Dick’s novel-based, The Man in the High Castle. She portrays Bell Mallory in this alternate history show, exploring the what-ifs toward if the ally powers had lost World War ll.
Mallory, who Frances describes as strong but vulnerable, smart but discovering, and ultimately the epitome of love, will be a member of the underground movement, the “Black Communists Rebellion” in the series fourth and final season premiering November 15.”When I got the audition for Belle in High Castle, it really blew my mind because even in the audition I was blown away by how three-dimensional of a character she is. High Castle really sets a high bar for me in terms of the kind of work that I want to do. It’s the kind of work I always knew I wanted to do before I could articulate the kind of work I wanted to do.”
Turner looks back on series that cannot fail to be mentioned when it comes to good TV. Good Times, A Different World, Girlfriends, E.R., getting lost in a marathon of Law & Order, and on the current wave, Insecure and Pose.
“People in my life always say, “You took such a risk.” I never saw it as a risk. Once I saw that moment of clarity I realized this is the thing I’m supposed to be doing. Who I am now, is really a journey of breaking through my lawyer-self to find my artist-self.”
The acting chops of Niecy Nash, Regina King, Viola Davis, Mahershala Ali and Michelle Williams, all served as an inspiring resource for Turner. But it was the guest-starring moment she scored in ABC’s Quantico, where she finally got to share the screen with who visually started it all for her, Blair Underwood. “ I got to tell him that I am a lawyer turned actor and that I went to law school because I saw him on L.A. Law. When the show was on, he was one of the first, professional Black men we saw on T.V. He was young. That’s representation, and seeing that made me think that being Black and being an attorney was possible. That’s the power of representation and I’m glad we’re getting to see more of it now.”
When it comes down to it, Frances Turner is still your (not so average) New York girl. Nothing beats the big city for her, moving back three years ago for good after some time in L.A., and wouldn’t think twice about walking from her Brooklyn home to Times Square for moments of peace wrapped in self-care.
Family is another part of her identity that remains on top of the pyramid. She uses time with her 12 and 17-year-old niece and nephew to reflect on how the world is changing, learning from their experiences to better enhance the three-dimensional one of her own.
Be sure to stream Season 4 of The Man in the High Castle on Amazon Prime Video, November 15. Keep up with all things Frances Turner on Instagram @franceslea25.