But for the camera, because I trust debbie so much, I knew that she was capturing texture. So I was giving everything that I could, knowing that she might get a raised eyebrow or she might not even be focused on my face. She might do a whole take of a closeup of my hands, rubbing together, like picking my nails or me inhaling and exhaling. That’s not only a texture, but it really adds to the vibration of the scene. It’s so hard to play and to watch that scene when I’ve seen it back, the whole film is very uncomfortable. I know that debbie and the whole crew made conscious efforts to ensure that every single movement was being captured. So, in that edit, we can paint the picture of, “This is uncomfortable” as an audience member, but as an audience member, we have a responsibility to sit with it and remain uncomfortable because these are uncomfortable situations. They’re real-life situations that audiences should be forced to watch, actually. So, whilst doing the spinning disc, I was confident that we were capturing what was necessary to paint the right picture.
The uncomfortability that you’re talking about … of course, the entire film is charged, but especially your scene, where you and the professor are arguing over what instigated a white kid to carry out a school shooting feels so direct and in your face. The rest of the film has a kind of ambiguity, yet a poetic rhythm. But this is so to the point, so concrete. I’m wondering if you could talk more about how you read the themes of the scene?
Uncomfortably. [laughs] Very uncomfortably. I read the themes as what they were, which is important to note as an actor. So that you’re on the same page as the director. But also I’m thinking about what the audience, what the world is gonna read out of this. I didn’t want any of the themes to be watered down by my performance or like shied away from. I wanted it to do with being a woman, being a student of a certain age, being a Black person in the world, being someone who has, you know, anxiety issues, who has authority issues, to really be displayed in the most blatant way because I do believe that this film is literally like a direct presentation of what it can be like in some of these spaces. With this section being the only section with a white actor, it was a really great opportunity for me to heighten the themes and really ride with them so that they were like on the tip of my tongue every single time I spoke her lines.
It was really simple in the end actually, because it felt like we were just so in it. We went straight in it and it felt very real to the point where there’s one section where Demetri’s character says something not very nice or supportive to this woman, and I had to take a beat and speak to debbie offset and just gather myself because it was very triggering to hear those words on repeat.
When you’re doing it on stage, you know, one time a night, eight shows a week, you’re getting to spread out the feeling of how those words land in you as a Black person and as a Black woman. But to hear it take after take, I had to really stop and pause and look at Demetri and remember that he’s a lovely person. [laughs] It was a struggle. I broke down at one point because I reminded myself of just how important this work is to get out in the world. Even though it’s uncomfortable for me, it’s more uncomfortable to not discuss this, it’s more uncomfortable to not have our culture be spoken up for, and way more uncomfortable to be silenced. So I chose not to silence my character and let the themes run for themselves and let her uncomfortability sit with us.