Salli Richardson is an actress who has appeared in more than fifty television, film, and theater roles since beginning her acting career in the late 1970s. She has often played a romantic lead, including opposite Will Smith in the film I Am Legend (2007). As a woman of mixed African, Caucasian, and Native American descent, Richardson's ethnic ambiguity has allowed her to play characters of a variety of ethnic origins from Native American to Hispanic. She has performed in a number of recurring roles in television series, including Gargoyles, CSI: Miami, and the hit science fiction series Eureka.
Richardson was born Salli Elise Richardson on November 23, 1967, in Chicago, Illinois. Her mother, Marcia Harris, was of black and Native American (Cherokee) descent, and operated a recording studio in Chicago, while Richardson's father, Duel Richardson was white, and worked as director of neighborhood relations and educational programs in the Office of Community Affairs at the University of Chicago.
Though she was of mixed racial heritage, Richardson grew up thinking of herself as African-American. "I was raised around both my parents, and I knew that my father is White and my mother is Black, but I never thought that I was anything but Black," she said in Ebony in 1997. "It never crossed my mind that I could be anything else. No one ever said anything; no one ever made any comments in my family. It was just never a question. I think being Black is a wonderful thing to claim."
Richardson was an athletic child and played tennis for University of Chicago Laboratory High School. She developed an early interest in singing and performance that remained with her for the rest of her life. "I think I've always wanted to perform," she said in a 1993 interview with Aldore Collier in Ebony. "I don't think there's anything else I've ever wanted to do." While spending time in her mother's recording studio as a child, Richardson entertained herself by singing along with old soul and jazz recordings.
It was Richardson's mother who first encouraged her to try acting, urging her to audition for a part in a production of the Gwendolyn Brooks poem The Tiger Who Wore White Gloves at the Kuumba Workshop in Chicago. The Kuumba Workshop, which was estab- lished in 1968 by actress Val Gray Ward, had become an important local center for African-American theater. Richardson won the role, at fourteen years old, and continued working with the Kuumba Workshop Company in subsequent years.
Began Work in Films
Though Richardson played a number of starring roles in theater productions mounted by Chicago-area theaters, she had a difficult time finding roles in television and film because Chicago lacked the developed film communities of New York and Los Angeles. Richardson won a few minor roles in films shot in Chicago and also appeared in a number of commercials. She eventually decided to move to Los Angeles in an effort to better market herself as a film actress. At first she suffered from being a relatively new face in a crowded market. "I was losing a lot of jobs because the other people had more notoriety than I did," she told Collier. Her ethnic ambiguity also proved to be a problem initially. "People think that I am Persian, Indian, East Indian, Spanish, everything," she said to Collier. "And that was a problem when I was first working because it was like, ‘She doesn't really look this or that.’"
Richardson finally won a major screen role in the 1991 film Up Against the Wall, but the film's poor critical showing did not significantly increase her name recognition. She played minor roles in a few major films including Prelude to a Kiss alongside Alec Baldwin and Meg Ryan, and Mo' Money alongside Damon Wayans. Her major breakthrough came with a starring role in the 1993 film How U Like Me Now? alongside writer and star Darryl Roberts. The film was a minor critical success, and Richardson was soon being considered for other principal film roles.
In 1993 Richardson performed in a leading role in the western drama Posse as a Native American woman who was the romantic interest of star Mario Van Peebles. The film was a critical failure, but Richardson won praise for her performance and sex appeal. Richardson also recorded a song, If I knew Him at All, for the soundtrack.
Appeared in Gargoyle Series
In 1993 Richardson played in an episode of the television series Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Her association with the cast of Star Trek continued the following year when she provided the voice of Elisa Maza for the hit animated television series Gargoyles, which also featured the voices of Star Trek regulars Jonathan Frakes, Marina Sirtis, Brent Spiner, and Michael Dorn in cameo roles. Richardson continued acting in Gargoyles until the series was cancelled in 1996, and also appeared in made-for-television and video films based on the Gargoyles characters in 1995 and 1998.
Throughout the remainder of the 1990s, Richardson remained busy appearing in both television and film roles. She played the romantic lead in the 1993 Wayans Brothers film A Low Down Dirty Shame, and also appeared in the 1996 film Great White Hype alongside Peter Berg and Samuel L. Jackson. Richardson undertook a serious role in the 1995 film When We Were Colored, about the trials of growing up in the racially segregated South.
Richardson's appearances in Star Trek and Gargoyles increased her a reputation as an actress with talent for science fiction. In 1998 she played a role in the series Mercy Point about a futuristic hospital staffed by a mix of human and alien doctors. Richardson appeared in four episodes of what was ultimately a failed series that left the air after a single season. That same year she returned to the theater and appeared in The Old Settler alongside actress CCH Pounder, and was nominated for an Ovation Award from the Theater League of Southern California for her performance.
Worked with Leading Hollywood Stars
Richardson landed costarring roles in a number of major films, including the hit Antwone Fisher (2002) starring Denzel Washington, and the 2003 film Biker Boyz starring Laurence Fishburne. Her most notable role was as the deceased wife of Will Smith's character appearing in flashback sequences in the science fiction drama I Am Legend (2007).
At a Glance …
Born Salli Elise Richardson on November 23, 1967, in Chicago, IL; daughter of Marcia Harris and Duel Richardson; married Dondré Whitfield on September 8, 2002; children: Parker (daughter).
Career: Actress in film and television, 1991—.
Addresses: Office—Craig Dorfman & Associates, 6100 Wilshire Blvd. Ste. 310, Los Angeles, CA 90048.
Richardson's work in television was more successful. She played a recurring character in the hit series CSI: Miami in 2003 and also appeared in episodes of House M.D. and New York Undercover. Having already distinguished herself in the sci-fi genre, in 2006 Richardson was hired for a major role in the series Eureka, which became one of the most successful original series produced on the cable television network Sci Fi Channel. In the series Richardson played Allison Blake, an agent of the Department of Defense who becomes involved with the residents of Eureka, a secret haven for America's geniuses.
Although most of Richardson's television and film appearances have been of a supporting nature, she has been successful enough to find continuous acting work since her debut in the early 1990s. In 2002 she married long-time romantic partner and fellow actor Dondré Whitfield, and the couple had a daughter, whom they named Parker Richardson-Whitfield, in 2005. She has long wanted to play a female lead in an action-oriented role, saying to Collier in 1993 that her ideal role would be one similar to the French film La Femme Nikita, a strong female role with a lot of physical activity. In an interview with Wilson Morales on BlackFilm.com in August 2007, however, she discussed her career choices: "I find that I love TV so much more and have an opportunity to do better work on TV for some reason, which sounds strange because you have more time in film. … With [Eureka], I feel like I can let all my barriers down and do better work because I have a trust there. TV right now almost pays more than film and keeps my life stable and right now everything is about my daughter; to make sure her life is stable. Everything I do right now, every job, every party that I'm not really into is only because of her."
Up Against the Wall, 1991.
Prelude to a Kiss, 1992.
Mo' Money, 1992.
How U Like Me Now, 1993.
A Low Down Dirty Shame, 1994.
Gargoyles: The Heroes Awaken, 1995.
Once upon a Time … When We Were Colored, 1995.
The Great White Hype, 1996.
Gargoyles: Brothers Betrayed, 1998.
Gargoyles: The Force of Goliath, 1998.
Antwone Fisher, 2002.
Baby of the Family, 2002.
Book of Love, 2002.
Biker Boyz, 2003.
Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid, 2004.
I Am Legend, 2007.
Gargoyles: The Goliath Chronicles, 1996.
Mercy Point, 1998-99.
CSI: Miami, 2003.
NYPD Blue, 2004.
Ebony, November 1993; July 1, 1997.
Jet, July 16, 2007.
New York Times, August 27, 2004.
Morales, Wilson, "I Am Legend: An Interview with Salli Richardson," BlackFilm.com, August 6, 2007, http://www.blackfilm.com/20070803/features/sallirichardson.shtml (May 27, 2008).
—Micah L. Issitt
Richardson, Salli 1967–
Richardson, Salli 1967–
(Salli Elise Richardson, Salli Richardson–Whitfield)
Full name, Salli Elise Richardson; born November 23, 1967, in Chicago, IL; daughter of Duel Richardson (a university community affairs director) and Marcia Harris; married Dondre Whitfield (an actor), September 8, 2002; children: Parker. Avocational Interests: Reading and writing.
Addresses: Agent— Innovative Artists, 1505 10th St., Santa Monica, CA 90401. Manager— Frontline Management, 5670 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 1370, Los Angeles, CA 90036.
Career: Actress. Performed with the Chicago Children's Choir; appeared in industrial films and commercials; appeared as Allison Blake, in Eureka: Hide and Seek, an internet series; cohost, with Dondre Whitfield, of an infomercial for TimeLife's "Midnight Soul" music collection, 2007.
Awards, Honors: Ovation Award, Theatre League of Southern California, for The Old Settler.
Denise, Up Against the Wall, African American Images, 1991.
Bridesmaid number two, Prelude to a Kiss, Twentieth Century–Fox, 1992.
Pretty customer, Mo' Money, Columbia, 1992.
Valerie, How U Like Me Now, Xenon Pictures, 1993.
Lana, Posse, Gramercy Pictures, 1993.
Jolene Buckley, Sioux City (also known as Ultimate Revenge), IRS Media, 1994.
Angela, A Low Down Dirty Shame (also known as Mister Cool), Buena Vista, 1994.
Miss Alice, Once Upon a Time … When We Were Colored, 1995.
Voice of Elisa, Gargoyles: The Heroes Awaken (animated), 1995.
Bambi, The Great White Hype, Twentieth Century–Fox, 1996.
Blusette Ford, Butter (also known as Never 2 Big), Live Entertainment, 1998.
Voice of Elisa Maza, Gargoyles: Brothers Betrayed (animated short), 1998.
Voice of Elisa Maza, Gargoyles: The Force of Goliath, 1998.
Voice of Elisa Maza, Gargoyles: The Hunted, 1998.
Voice of Elisa Maza, Gargoyles: Deeds of Deception, 1998.
Lillie, Lillie, MCA/Universal, 1999.
Nelli McPherson, Baby of the Family, 2002.
Karen, Book of Love (also known as Book of Love: The Definitive Reason Why Men Are Dogs), Artisan Entertainment, 2002.
Berta Davenport, Antwone Fisher, Fox Searchlight, 2002.
(As Salli Richardson–Whitfield) Half & Half, Biker Boyz, DreamWorks, 2003.
(As Salli Richardson–Whitfield) Gail Stern, Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid (also known as Anacondas 2: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid), Screen Gems, 2004.
Zoe, I Am Legend, Warner Bros., 2007.
Gloria, Black Dynamite, 2008.
Coproducer, Pastor Brown, 2008.
Television Appearances; Series:
Voice of Elisa Maza, Gargoyles, syndicated, 1994–96.
Voice of Elisa Maza and Delilah, Gargoyles: The Goliath Chronicles, ABC, 1996.
Kim, Mercy Point, UPN, 1998–99.
Allison Blake, Eureka (also known as A Town Called Eureka), Sci–Fi Channel, 2006—.
Television Appearances; Miniseries:
Martha Benny, True Women, CBS, 1997.
Television Appearances; Movies:
Nicole Scott, I Spy Returns, CBS, 1994.
Ada Covington, Lily in Winter, USA Network, 1994.
Lahoma, Soul of the Game (also known as Field of Honour), HBO, 1996.
Nancy Adams, Rude Awakening, Showtime, 2000–2001.
Laura, CSI: Miami, CBS, 2003.
Television Appearances; Specials:
The 10th Annual Soul Train Music Awards, The WB, 1996.
Soul Train Music Awards: 11th Anniversary, The WB, 1997.
Acapulco Black Film Festival, Black Starz, 2000.
Television Appearances; Episodic:
Shelley, "Wild Card," Silk Stalkings, USA Network and CBS, 1992.
(As Salli Elise Richardson) "Banshies," Space Rangers, CBS, 1993.
Diane Hubbard, "The Last Temptation of Roc," Roc, Fox, 1994.
Tammy Barrett, "Eyewitness Blues," New York Under-cover, Fox, 1994.
Drey'auc, "Bloodlines," Stargate SG–1 (also known as La porte des etoiles), Showtime, 1997.
Vanessa, "The Player," Between Brothers, Fox, 1997.
Cynthia Sloan, "Gigolo Jarod," The Pretender, NBC, 1998.
Camille Turner, "Liar, Liar Pants on Fire," The Jamie Foxx Show, The WB, 1999.
Viveca Foster, "The Nanny," Family Law, CBS, 1999.
Viveca Foster, "Media Relations," Family Law, CBS, 2000.
Viveca Foster, "Human Error," Family Law, CBS, 2000.
Rachel, "WhupSumAss," Secret Agent Man, UPN, 2000.
How I'm Living, Black Entertainment Television, 2001.
(As Salli Richardson–Whitfield) Pyramid (also known as The $100,000 Pyramid), syndicated, 2003.
(As Salli Richardson–Whitfield) Erica Logan, "The Senator," Line of Fire, ABC, 2004.
Amanda, "Coupling Up," Second Time Around, UPN, 2004.
Bobbi Kingston, "My Dinner with Andy," NYPD Blue, ABC, 2004.
Bobbi Kingston, "I Like Ike," NYPD Blue, ABC, 2004.
(As Salli Richardson–Whitfield) Sharon, "Sports Medicine," House M.D. (also known as House), Fox, 2005.
Kelly, "Sisterhood," 1–800–MISSING (also known as Missing and Porte disparu), Lifetime, 2005.
Vanessa, "Guess Who's Coming to the Barbecue," The War at Home, Fox, 2005.
(As Salli Richardson–Whitfield) Assistant U.S. Attorney, "Aliens in a Spaceship," Bones, Fox, 2006.
The Old Settler, 1998.
Also appeared in The Tiger Who Wore White Gloves, Kuumba Workshop, Chicago, IL.
Esquire, November, 1993, p. 116.