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Winfrey with "Beloved" co-star Danny Glover

Oprah gives emotional 'Journey to Beloved'

Web posted on: Friday, October 16, 1998 2:40:49 PM EDT

By CNN Interactive Writer
Jamie Allen

ATLANTA (CNN) -- She is routinely listed among the most powerful women in the world. Her influence is felt from television to film to bookshelves. And still Oprah Winfrey keeps climbing, striving for the next great accomplishment.

Her latest fulfillment is the creation of the movie "Beloved," based on Toni Morrison's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. The movie opens this weekend with Oprah starring as Sethe, a runaway slave visited by the spirit of her deceased daughter.

The role is sure to lift Oprah to another echelon of fame, but it has also brought her more in touch with her roots as a human being, and as the descendant of American slaves.

As witnessed in "Journey to Beloved," a journal by Oprah released by Hyperion in conjunction with the film, she believes she has found the reason she was put on this earth: to play Sethe.

Loaded with photographs from the film and strung together by intimate entries taken from Oprah's journal, "Journey to Beloved" reveals the mind of one of America's favorite entertainers, and in the process brings to light all her most human fears and anxieties, contrasted with her unmatched courage and drive.

'An extraordinary moment, surreal'

The journal follows the development of the film from its initial stages in Oprah's heart, through pre-production, and finally through a memorable summer of shooting in 1997 that brought Oprah's dream to life.

In the beginning, there is an entry capturing her excitement over the possibility that "Beloved" might be directed by Jonathan Demme:

"When Jonathan (Demme) and producer Ed Saxon went out of the room for a moment, Kate (Forte, Harpo Films) and I were jumping up and down like three-year-olds. Jonathan really likes it and says he can't wait to see me play Sethe. He didn't says 'yes,' but I think yes is coming. Unbelievable."

Later, when the first scene -- running through chamomile fields -- was filmed and Oprah realized a 10-year-old dream of turning Morrison's book into a movie, she offers this:

"It was an extraordinary moment, surreal. I knew it was happening, but I couldn't believe that it really was ... Trying not to be too dramatic about it. Trying to accept the moment for what it is."

Winfrey with director Jonathan Demme during a break in filming

'What's worse than a wreck'

But the most revealing moments in "Journey to Beloved" come when Oprah writes of her unbending need to become Sethe, and her insecurities about whether she really is capable of taking the role.

In the filming of one particularly emotional scene, Oprah records her struggles with acting:

"Could not for all the wealth I possess cry on cue ... Sometimes I could get to that state and hold it, but I could not cry on cue. The anticipation of the moment would jam me up ... I felt like I failed -- Jonathan, the Book, myself -- but I'm moving on."

Another entry unveils Oprah's vulnerability over her first love scene with co-star Danny Glover:

"Oh, I was a wreck this morning ... Then Danny says to me, as they are resetting the lights, he's never done a stage kiss before. Ah, I think, neither have I. Then I realize -- after he says, "No, I do the real thing" -- what he means. Oh boy, what's worse than a wreck, because that's what I turned into."

One woman's catharsis through voice of another

"Journey to Beloved" rings throughout with the voice of a woman who is experiencing a catharsis through the work of another.

"I am a descendant of slaves. I came from nothing. Now I have the freedom, power, and will to speak for millions every day," she writes.

Then, looking back on the shooting of one scene, she says, "Hitting the ball out of the ballpark is what every take of Sethe going to attack Mr. Bodwin felt like. Wrenching, painful, sobbing every time it ended ... For me it was a personal attack on slavery."

Whether or not her role in the creation of "Beloved" becomes Oprah's proudest moment remains to be seen. In a life that continues to strive for success, more moments could be right around the corner.

As she wrote in her journal late in the filming of the movie, in direct reference to the death of Princess Diana, "I need to turn up the throttle ... and live more intensely."


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