Janelle Monáe, Ruth Negga, Dev Patel and More: Eight Rising "Virtuosos" Dropped Serious Wisdom in Santa Barbara

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Naomie Harris (Moonlight)

On Deciding to Work with Barry Jenkins

I saw Barry Jenkins’ first film, Medicine for Melancholy, and it’s one of the most beautiful movies I’ve ever seen, and it was made for $13,000. I just thought, ‘If a filmmaker can make a film as extraordinary as that for $13,000, what’s he going to do with a proper budget and an amazing script like Moonlight?’ So what’s partly why I wanted to do it. I also wanted give a shout-out to my agent Esther, and my amazing manager Annie, because I did not want to take this role. I had pretty much said ‘no’ to it, and they said, ‘Whatever you say,’ but they were working behind the scenes to change my mind, and one of the ways they did that was by getting me to sit down with Barry. Barry is so charismatic; he is an incredible human being, and anybody who sits down with him would ultimately say yes to anything that he wants. That’s what happened to me; I got caught in Barry’s trap.”

On Playing a Broken Character

I think the brutality that she takes out on her son is really about her self-loathing, and the awful place that she’s in, and this reminds me of having to journey to get to those really unpleasant places. Ultimately, Paula is a character who is deeply in pain, and deeply lost, and to find that was a real challenge. I think the biggest thing that I know about characters like Paula is how much compassion they desperately need, and how it’s so hard to give another human being that which you have never received yourself, at that vital moment when you’re grown up and desperately need affirmation, love and nurturing. Many people don’t get that, and as an adult without those resources, it’s incredibly difficult to raise a child and give them what they desperately need, and it requires a community of people to help people like that. It is possible to feel, but it requires other people to help.

What I learned from playing Paula is that anything is possible. I really scared myself with this role, and I really loved it, but at many points, I thought, ‘Why did I say yes?’ And I cursed Esther and Annie. The most important thing as an actor is to provide a nonjudgmental space within yourself that will allow any character to come to you. In the beginning, I had a lot of judgment about Paula’s addiction because I didn’t understand it, it was so alien to me, and I had to go on a journey to understand what addiction is about, to find the compassion to be nonjudgmental.

In the final scene that I have in the movie, I’m supposed to be in the rehab center, and I’m lighting a cigarette, but I’ve never smoked, and I couldn’t actually light the cigarette. I was useless at it, so Barry, without telling me, told Trevante, who plays my son, to reach over and light the cigarette for me, and it’s this amazing moment in the movie. He reaches over, and it just brings tears to my eyes, because it’s the first time that my son is touching me in a loving way, and I just went with it, and I just improvised, ‘I’m so sorry,’ and I broke down. So that’s a good reason not to smoke, actually.”

On Performing Her Role Over Just Three Days of Shooting

“To be honest, in those three days, I didn’t have time to process that. I wasn’t really thinking about how great this is, I was just in the madness of it all. Because I never meant to shoot all my scenes in three days. I had visa issues. For some reason I couldn’t get a visa. It was originally going to be three weeks, and then it just kept getting condensed. I have to give another shout out to my amazing team, because it was touch and go on whether or not I would ultimately end up doing the movie.

I got a call after midnight one night, and they said, ‘You have to sign this release form for your visa.’ I got up and signed, and that’s the only reason why I ended up being in this movie, because everybody was working so hard to get a bleeding visa! It was very intense, and I really have to thank my director Barry, because he made it feel like it was perfectly doable to condense 15 years into three days, to shoot out of sequence, and jump backwards and forwards between different stages in one day.

He said, ‘I’m fine. I’m calm about it. You’ve got this.’ That made me think, ‘OK, he’s not worried about it,’ even though he was actually shaking and thinking, how am I going to get this done? He never conveyed that to me at all, so I had these amazing, special moments with the three actors who played my sons. They’re all incredibly special. They look so different, but they all have the same sensitivity, the same soulful eyes, and they’re such generous performers. I was incredibly lucky.”

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0 Comments

  1. Sarah

    February 28, 2017 at 3:07 pm

    One of the most talented groups in hollywood. The diversity is incredible and the talent they all share is greater than anything measurable. Cant wait to see what future lies ahead for this talented group of individuals. Keep up the great work!!

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