A vegetarian for 13 years who went "full-on vegan" a year ago, Kimberly Elise says she feels so much better, free of the stomach problems that had plagued her for years. "I didn't like dairy anyway," she confides, adding that she'd realized earlier on, as she became more in tune with her body, that meat and processed foods were damaging her system. She enjoys only raw foods — veggies, fruits and nuts — several days a week, and expresses concern about the lack of full-disclosure labeling on genetically modified foods. "There's a campaign right now at LabelGMOs.org to require labeling so people will at least know. I'm helping in whatever way I can because it's a really important issue. GMOs hurt us on many levels. We're trying to get a million signatures on a petition."

 

On June 9, Elise stars in the Hallmark Movie Channel Western "Hannah's Law," a story about a bounty hunter (Sara Canning) out to avenge the long-ago murder of her family. Elise plays Hannah's best friend Stagecoach Mary, one of several real-life figures (including Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp) that populate the fictional story. "It was my first Western and the most fun I've ever had playing a part," raves Elise, who had to "fill in the gaps" with her imagination because there wasn't much information available about Mary. She went to the Calgary location ahead of time to train with cowboys and rodeo riders, which she likens to an "actor's playground. I learned to drive a stagecoach and shoot a rifle," she says, emphasizing her commitment to getting everything authentically right. It took a trio of dressers to costume her in many layers of clothing and weaponry, so going to the bathroom took some effort. "I felt so bad every time I had to go," Elise confides.

 

A fan of Westerns who remembers watching them with her dad as a girl, Elise had shot guns before but not the antique models required in the movie. She'd also ridden horseback but, not surprisingly, had zero experience with stagecoaches. "All the training was very necessary for authenticity and safety." She'd readily do a sequel if it transpires, but has several, more contemporary, projects in the works. Already in the can is a dramedy called "Highland Park," about what happens to a group of school staffers' lives after they win the lottery in which she plays a guidance counselor who dreams of being a singer. The ensemble also includes Danny Glover, also in the "Hannah's Law" cast, though they don't have scenes together. (They first co-starred in "Beloved.") The indie "Ties That Bind," filmed in Ghana, casts Elise as one of three women dealing with different life issues, and she's waiting to hear if "Bounce," a VH1 pilot she shot about basketball dancers, goes to series.

 

Elise, who "always felt that acting is what I was supposed to do," counts "Beloved" and "Diary of a Mad Black Woman" among her favorite roles, but her goals go beyond the performing side of creativity. She studied directing at the American Film Institute and plans to use those skills, hopefully producing and directing herself in a film based on one of her screenplays next winter. She's also optioned a few projects to produce, and recently established a foundation called Young Women Rising to empower and build self-esteem in young women. As the mother of daughters aged 22 and 13, fostering a strong sense of self is especially important to her. "Self-esteem is such a challenging issue for young women," she believes. "We need happy productive citizens on our planet for us to survive. A solid sense of self will help a person to lead a full and happy life."

 

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