On Thursday, April 20 Oprah Winfrey joins Dr. Oz to share the riveting, untold story behind the immortal cells of Henrietta Lacks. Her cells, more commonly known as HeLa cells, have changed medicine forever because they have continued to reproduce since her death over 65 years ago. This allows scientists to watch the cells, learn how cancer spreads and how it could be killed. Oprah, HBO movie co-star Rose Byrne, author Rebecca Skloot and Oz discuss the science behind the immortal cells and their new HBO movie.
On what inspired Oprah to help share Henrietta Lacks story, Oprah shares: “You were actually the first person I asked, because I had been in Baltimore all these years and never heard of HeLa or Henrietta Lacks and I remember back in the day I said, Dr. Oz, have you ever heard of this thing called HeLa? And you said, of course I’ve heard, are you talking about HeLa cells? Of course. And I said, well, do you know about Henrietta Lacks, but you didn’t know about Henrietta Lacks. The woman that they come from, so I thought if you didn’t know, I didn’t know, that was one of the things that actually inspired me to purchase the book and get this story told, ’cause I thought it was an important story. Frankly, I didn’t know and I lived in Baltimore all those years. And you didn’t know.”
On the character of Deborah Lacks, Oprah explains: “So this woman, Deborah Lacks, had this longing to know who her mother was and from the very first phone call says, you know, she like to dance and what kind of colors did she like and, you know, she wanted to find out. And by finding out about her mother, she really learned about herself. It filled this big void inside herself.”
On what about this role caught her attention, Rose Byrne says: “I was intrigued. I mean, in the book she’s intentionally a one-dimensional character, because Rebecca is a journalist. She never intended to have herself in the book but she’s part of a long line of people who’s come to the Lacks family and wanted something from them and also been taken advantage of and she was in a long line of these people and she was the latest one and she realized at a certain point she was in the story. But on purpose she’s quite one-dimensional in the book so that was challenging to try to bring dimension to her and texture and be complex.”
On Dr. Oz’s HeLa cell sample for Oprah, Oprah reveals: “That’s why it’s called ‘The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks,’ because those cells are living on and on and still are being reproduced as we speak.” Dr. Oz: “I brought you a little of Henrietta. That’s her. There are millions of Henrietta’s cells in there.” Oprah: “We did not even have the real cells in the movie, Dr. Oz. This is fantastic.”
Video credit: ZoCo Productions, LLC.