Lisa Gay Hamilton is an American film, television, and theater actress known for her role as attorney Rebecca Washington on the ABC legal drama The Practice, as well as for her critically acclaimed performance as young Sethe in Jonathan Demme's film adaptation of Toni Morrison's Beloved. Her theater credits include Measure for Measure (Isabella), Henry IV Parts I & II (Lady Hotspur), Athol Fugard’s Valley Song, and The Ohio State Murders. Hamilton was also an original cast member in the Broadway productions of August Wilson’s The Piano Lesson and Gem of the Ocean.
Hamilton was born in Los Angeles, California, but spent most of her childhood in Stony Brook, New York, on Long Island. Her father, Ira Winslow Hamilton, Jr., hailed from Bessemer, Alabama, and her mother, the former Eleanor Albertine "Tina" Blackwell, was from Meridian, Mississippi. Both parents graduated from historically black colleges; Tina attended Talladega, while Ira went to Morehouse, and they both became successful professionals. Ira worked for a while as an engineer and then went into business as a general contractor. Tina eventually earned a Masters degree in social work and worked for the Girl Scouts for many years.
Hamilton fell in love with theater at an early age. During the 1970s, she saw several off-Broadway productions by the Negro Ensemble Company, including A Soldier's Story and The First Breeze of Summer. She enrolled in Carnegie Mellon University to study theater, but, after a year, she was accepted into New York University’s Tisch Drama School. After graduating in 1985, she earned a second BFA from The Juilliard School in 1989.
Early on, Hamilton set her sights on classical theater. In one of her first notable roles, she played opposite Kevin Kline in Measure for Measure in the New York Shakespeare Festival. Her performances in Much Ado About Nothing, Tartuffe, Reckless, Family of Mann, and Two Gentlemen of Verona earned her a reputation as a serious dramatic actor. In 1995-96, her portrayal of a young, aspiring South African singer in Athol Fugard's Valley Song garnered an Obie Award, the Clarence Derwent Award, the Ovation nomination for best actress, and a Drama Desk nomination. More recently, Hamilton earned critical acclaim, her second Obie, and a Lucille Lortel Award nomination for her role as Suzanne Alexander in Adrienne Kennedy’s The Ohio State Murders.
Hamilton has appeared in over two dozen films, including The Truth About Charlie and Beloved for director Jonathan Demme, Clint Eastwood’s True Crime, and the following independent films: Palookaville, Drunks, Showtime’s A House Divided, and as Ophelia in director Campbell Scott’s film version of Hamlet. She has worked on several projects with director Rodrigo García, notably his films Ten Tiny Love Stories, Nine Lives, and Mother and Child. She also appeared in Honeydripper, directed by John Sayles, and The Soloist, directed by Joe Wright.
She directed the documentary film Beah: A Black Woman Speaks in 2003. This film, about pioneering black actress Beah Richards, dealt with Hamilton seeking out Richards, an African-American actress who had broken ground making inroads for black actresses. The two women met on the set of Beloved. Richards worked on stage and screen, taking small roles in several motion pictures during the 1950s and 1960s, earning an Oscar nomination for her role as Sidney Portier’s mother in Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, despite being two years his junior. Richards worked in television as well, making memorable late-career appearances on the series Designing Women and The Practice. Hamilton's film explored Richards' political activism as well as her poetry (her volume, A Black Woman Speaks and Other Poems was published in 1974). After Richards died, Hamilton collaborated with illustrator R. Gregory Christie to turn one of her poems into a children's book. Keep Climbing Girls was published by Simon and Schuster in 2006.
Hamilton played the role of Melissa in Men of a Certain Age, an hour-long comedy-drama starring Ray Romano, Andre Braugher, and Scott Bakula that ran from 2009 to 2011.
In the fall of 2010, Hamilton took a faculty position in the School of Theater for the California Institute of the Arts.
|Season 4 Appearances|