History Inspired 'Beloved' Stars

Kimberly Elise and Oprah Winfrey play daughter and mother in Beloved, and each in her own way tapped African-American history to inspire their performances.

"This film was profound for me," says Elise. "You know, you read about our history in textbooks, and you see the movies. But to be there and to have on the clothes, and smell the sweat, and touch the utensils, it makes it all more tangible and more real."

In Beloved, Elise plays Denver, the daughter of Sethe (Winfrey). To survive the present, mother and daughter must battle the ghosts and demons of the past.

"Though Denver was born free, she still carries all the psychological burdens of slavery," says Elise, "and it's something that I think dwells within us to this day - within our molecules and with race memory - that haunts us and we don't even know why."

Winfrey agrees that history touches her own Beloved portrayal. In the diary Winfrey kept during the making of Beloved, she reveals how her performance was inspired by a spiritual connection to her enslaved ancestors.

"Before doing every scene," Winfrey explains, "I would say their names and say, 'I'm doing this for you.' And [in] a couple of scenes that were really hard for me, I would call them up."

Winfrey is quick to add, "I'm not hearing voices. It's a connection to something bigger than yourself."