Long Slow Exhale may be the best role of Rose Rollins’ career. The Spectrum Originals series gives the actress plenty to tear into as J.C. Abernathy, a college basketball coach whose top-notch program is shattered overnight by scandal. When she sets out to uncover the truth, what she finds will challenge her, the team, and the entire institution. It’s a dynamic role in a gripping program that both challenges and celebrates what viewers know of college sports, and it was one that Rose gravitated toward.
“She’s a force to be reckoned with,” she said when I spoke to her ahead of today’s Long Slow Exhale premiere. “I immediately connected with her and I saw a lot of myself in her at times—not necessarily the decisions she’s made throughout this story, but moreso the essence of who she is as a woman. I just fell in love with her from the start.”
The character is not an easy one to play; college coaches have become almost larger-than-life figures as their programs essentially drive universities. For the series to work, audiences have to follow J.C. the same way any of her players would, and that means Rose has to be particularly convincing. She builds an incredible screen presence, based on her own personal background, some assistance from a Women’s Basketball Hall of Famer, and plenty of research into the world of college basketball.
“I did run track competitively, so I drew from my experiences with that. Then we also had Cynthia Cooper, who is a coach herself and five-time MVP, just a badass woman. She was our lead consultant and she was by my side through all of it. I trained with her, I learned from her, she definitely made this job a lot easier,” she explained. “I did do a lot of research myself. Just watching documentaries on female coaches and they’re phenomenal women. They’re very inspiring. I found myself shedding a few tears, where I felt like, “Is this normal?” But Pat Summitt, Dawn Staley, Cynthia Cooper—there are just so many amazing women.”
Most coaches depicted in film and television get their watershed moment, where they rally the troops or overcome some significant adversity. In the case of J.C. Abernathy, Rose explained that Long Slow Exhale takes a different approach. Viewers see who the character is not through one rousing speech, but through all of the little decisions she makes that have led her up to this particular crossroads—and the major challenges she faces throughout the season.
“There isn’t necessarily that one moment. There are a lot of different small moments, for different reasons and on different occasions. I was in from the start and even as the viewer, you’re smack dab in the middle of crises as soon as you tune in. There’s no conventional trajectory for this show.”
Yet that’s what makes her performance so special. Rose doesn’t approach the character in the archetypal way that she may have been played before. With the ability to feel her out through an entire season, she layers in a lot of small details. Long Slow Exhale isn’t a story about a basketball coach; it’s a character study of a strong and sometimes conflicted woman who happens to be a basketball coach. Viewers don’t need to know anything about sports to appreciate her character—or the series overall.
“Everyone loves a murder mystery, right? It’s also a murder mystery,” she said. “It touches on so many other relevant issues that affect everyone. I guarantee there will be an area that this will touch for every single viewer involved.
“I feel like I completely became J.C. so all of these issues were at the same time my responsibility, and I had so many people depending on me that I couldn’t let them down,” she continued. “I had to figure this out and support and get to the bottom of so many issues that there was no option but to persevere, power through and hold the hand of anyone who needed me through the process.”
If that sounds like something her character would say, that’s because there wasn’t a ton of separation between the two. Rose immersed herself fully in the role, which further lends Long Slow Exhale credibility. The audience can feel the connection she has with J.C. and how much she’s committed to what she’s doing; it doesn’t come across like acting. As she explained, that’s just part of her natural acting process.
“I never separate anything, really. I’m Rose and I’m a woman of my own experiences, and every time I approach a new character I put myself in that character’s shoes, so I’m still Rose and I just become that character,” she told me. “There’s no differentiation between the character and myself; it’s now me as this person. I bring with me every experience that I’ve ever had in life—acting, not acting, whatever it may be. That’s just who I am, and that’s what I have to show.”
The drama is serialized to a certain extent—Spectrum Originals is premiering the first three episodes today (on the same day as the NCAA men’s basketball championship)—before dropping three installments each of the next two weeks—and that also played into how the actors approached their roles. While they knew more than most, they didn’t know everything. That not only preserved some mystery, but changed the filming experience into something where the actors had to be completely present.
“We didn’t know the season finale, but we were given the first 11 episodes, which is a luxury as an actor. You can create your own arc and know that the journey that you’re about to embark on,” Rose explained. “But then there was like a gotcha moment, because they’re like ‘Yes, you know everything, but now we’re going to shoot them out of sequence.’ You had to just dive in and just be open and as honest as you can, but not have any preconceived ideas about where you wanted to go. You just had to remain open the whole time. It was a different experience, but it was very gratifying.
“In the finale, there is a moment where I have an out. There is this out where, clearly, I can take it and continue with the lie and get off clean,” she teases. “But there also is a choice where it’s just like, ‘Enough is enough. I’ve got to just let go, tell the truth, here I am.’ My character chooses the latter, and I think it’s a very raw moment, and it was a very hard choice…It’s a moment to watch, and I think everyone will be able to relate in that moment.”
That scene, when it happens, is Long Slow Exhale summed up in a heartbeat. The series isn’t about basketball necessarily, or the whodunit that unfolds; it ultimately is about one woman and the choices she makes that have the power to shape an entire institution. Through Rose’s incredible work, audiences get more perspective on why sports are so important to so many people and communities. It’s not about the game; it’s about who you become through the game. J.C. Abernathy has one idea of herself and her team, and that completely changes as she tries to do the right thing by people who depend on her—and who mean so much to her. That character and that journey wouldn’t work if Rose Rollins wasn’t playing the part.
“I’m very passionate about this show in general and what it represents and the message that it sends,” Rose concluded. “I think anyone who watches will be able to take something valuable from it. I’m just excited for people to see it.”
Long Slow Exhale premieres today on Spectrum Originals, free and on demand. Featured image is courtesy Derek Blanks with crowdMGMT.
Article content is (c)2020-2023 Brittany Frederick and may not be excerpted or reproduced without express written permission by the author. Follow me on Twitter at @BFTVTwtr and on Instagram at @BFTVGram.