This performer made a hit onstage in the 1980s and was lauded for one particular TV role, before beginning to make her mark in features. Taylor grew up in a poor Dallas, TX neighborhood and began acting in college. Arriving in New York in 1981, she supported herself with odd jobs until the roles began coming in: repertory, off-Broadway and finally the New York Shakespeare Festival's "Shakespeare on Broadway." Overseen by actress/director Estelle Parsons, the program presented Shakespearean productions for NYC high school students. Taylor appeared in several productions and had the distinction of being one of the few black actresses to portray Juliet. She also adapted several German plays for the New York Theater Festival, and was one of the few American performers in the Broadway show "Sarafina!" (1988-89).
Taylor made her TV debut in tiny roles in "Crisis in Central High" (CBS, 1981) and "Concealed Enemies" (PBS, 1984) and portrayed a lawyer in "Howard Beach: Making a Case for Murder" (NBC, 1989) before being cast in the highly-acclaimed (but low-rated) series "I'll Fly Away" (NBC, 1991-93). Her performance as Lilly Harper, a black housekeeper and surrogate mother to the three children of a widowed white prosecuting attorney (Sam Waterston) in the 1950s South, won her such accolades as "superb, conveying a mixture of strong intelligence and simmering anger with a complete absence of extraneous fuss" (THE NEW YORK TIMES). Taylor also appeared in the follow-up TV-movie, "I'll Fly Away: Then and Now" (PBS, 1993), and the miniseries "Children of the Dust" (CBS, 1995), as one of a group of freed slaves out to claim land in Oklahoma.
Film work was slower in coming. Taylor made her feature debut as a crack addict trying to kick the habit in "Lean on Me" (1989), then had a supporting role in the child-custody drama "Losing Isaiah" (1995). After appearing in the crime drama "The Keeper," Taylor got a break from director Spike Lee, who cast her as a Brooklyn mother trying to keep her son safe from drugs and crime in "Clockers" (both 1995). She went on to appear in the military drama "Courage Under Fire," with Denzel Washington and Meg Ryan, the drama "A Family Thing," with Robert Duvall, and a ghost story, "Spirit Lost" (all 1996). Taylor has not forsaken the stage. She wrote and starred in a one-woman show, "Escape from Paradise" (1994), and two of her one-act plays were performed in Chicago.
Cast (Feature Film)
Cast (TV Mini-Series)
Moved to New York; supplimented income by reconstructing interiors of houses, tutoring children and working as a maid
Professional debut in TV-movie, "Crisis at Central High"
Appeared in the New York Shakespeare Festival's productions of "Macbeth", "As You Like It" and "Romeo and Juliet" (as the first black woman to play Juliet on Broadway) in "Shakespeare on Broadway for the Schools" run by actress-director Estelle Parsons
Was one of the few non-African performers in the Broadway production of "Sarafina!"
Feature film debut, "Lean on Me"
Appeared in TV-movie, "Howard Beach: Making the Case for Murder"
Played Lilly Harper on NBC drama series, "I'll Fly Away"
Wrote the play, "Watermelon Rinds" which was produced off-Broadway by the Women's Project
Appeared in the NBC drama series "Feds"
Played Samuel L Jackson's wife in "The Negotiator"
Portrayed Anita Hill in the Showtime original "Strange Justice"
Wrote "Oo-Bla-Dee"; staged at Chicago's Goodman Theater
Adapted Chekhov's "The Seagull" as "Drowning Crow", set in the Gullah culture of South Carolina; performed at Chicago's Goodman Theatre
Cast as Molly Blane in the CBS drama series, "The Unit" created by David Mamet