Shahadi Wright Joseph Talks About Bonding With His Family ‘They’ And Telling A Horror Story From The Jim Crow Era


[Editor’s note: The following contains spoilers for Them.]

From the creator Little marvin, the first season of the original anthology series from Amazon Studios They takes place in the 1950s during the Great Migration when a black family, Lucky (Deborah Ayorinde) and Henry Emory (Ashley thomas) and her two daughters, Ruby (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and Gracie (Melody hurd) – move south to the white neighborhood of Compton. While the malevolent forces from another world threaten the family, it is the actions of their next door neighbors who will do their best to protect their way of life as they know it that is far more dangerous.

During this one-on-one phone interview with Collider, Joseph talked about telling a horror story that takes place in the Jim Crow era, how to bond with it They family compared to bonding with it U.S family, preparing for the level of work it would take to bring this character to life, how much he grew on this project, and put the role aside once it was all done. She also talked about wanting to show her rank as an actress and her desire to also write and produce her own work.

Collider: How was the bonding with your They family is compared to bonding with your U.S family? Did it feel like you had two very different families there?

SHAHADI WRIGHT JOSEPH: Definitely. I’d say it wasn’t necessarily easier. It was two different experiences, just for the two different time periods. I feel like it was easier to have a dynamic as a family during Us because it was closer to who we are as people today and we could relate more to the characters. With Them, you have to step away from the character and become this totally different person to have an accurate representation of what that experience was like in the ’50s. So yeah, I’d say they were very, very different.

When this project initially came your way, what was the tone for it? Before you could read it, what did they tell you about what it would be like?

JOSEPH: All they told me about the project was that it was going to be a horror anthology series that takes place in the Jim Crow era. I immediately had some initial thoughts on what it would be like, and I was very drawn and drawn to him, as soon as I found out. I was very, very excited to start working on it and to have the opportunity to work on this with Little Marvin and Lena Waite and the rest of my Emory family. It was just fantastic.

This show requires a lot from its younger cast. When did you realize what you were getting into? Was there a time when you wondered if you could do it?

JOSEPH: That moment was probably after I had read the first three episodes. I remember finishing those and was impressed. I was excited to start working on it, but I had a moment where I thought, “This is going to take some hard work. This is really going to take a lot out of me. ”I had time to prepare, but there wasn’t such a big gap between the first booking of the role and the shooting. I really did my best to make sure the character was still lovable, sensitive and true to life. the experience of the black teenager.

The cast of them

Image via Amazon

Now that you have finished the project, how does it feel to reflect on it and see how it all turned out? How does that feel, not just as an actress, but as a young woman? How much do you feel you have learned about this and how much do you feel you grew as an actor?

JOSEPH: I feel like I grew a lot, just by doing this project. It almost feels like an immersive history lesson, stepping back in time to this time period that of course I don’t know anything about because I was born in 2005. You really have to take a second to move to that time period, and that can be difficult for an actor. I really did my best with all the challenges, that the script was giving us and that the story was giving us. I got a lot of help from my Emory family. We work together to help each other get through that whole process.

There are so many identifiable racist images in this, from the behavior and language to the use of the N word, the ape comparisons, and the Blackface imagery. What was the most difficult for you to deal with, on a personal level, and what was it like filming some of those scenes?

JOSEPH: My hardest scene was probably Ruby Lee at school, just watching her struggle with the fact that they clearly don’t want her at school, based on the small factor of her skin color. That was very, very difficult for me, just because it was so real and so raw. That’s something the character really experienced, so it was very difficult for me, emotionally. You have to go really deep to create an authentic performance, so I did my best with that. Little Marvin and Lena Waite said I did a good job and I appreciate those comments from them.

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What was it like filming the scenes where you were surrounded by cheerleaders in the basement and contortions happen all around you?

JOSEPH: It was really creepy. That scene was so stressful to film. Oh my gosh, I was so scared. We shot that scene so many times that I can’t even count. I was a little nervous because they told me, “Okay, you’ll stand in the middle and dance, and then they’ll walk away and dance for just 64 counts.” I was like, “Alone?” All these people were looking at me. There were so many people around, so that made me nervous. But I saw the scene and it was beautiful, and I’m glad I got out there and I did.

It’s such a heartbreaking and moving scene.

JOSÉ: That means a lot. It was also difficult to read, just watching Ruby go through those things. It was difficult, but I’m glad you appreciated it.

How did you feel most deeply for Ruby and all that she is experiencing and going through? Were there ways that you felt more connected to her?

JOSEPH: When I really felt the most for her was when Doris said, “You are so pretty, for a colored girl,” and she takes it as the greatest compliment in the world. You can see how far down she is, in this rabbit hole that is self-hatred. It really broke my heart.

Did you have a lot of conversations throughout this production, especially with the more challenging content in the script?

JOSÉ: Yes. I feel like that’s what I really loved about the production. Lena and Little Marvin really gave us a lot of freedom, when it comes to our characters, our nuances, and our dynamic between us. They gave us a lot of freedom with the comfort of our lines, and how we would say and do things as people. After all, we know Black’s experience very, very well. We have been experiencing it for a long time. We understand what feels good and what doesn’t. We had a lot of conversations, like the Emory family, the way we were taking it all in, and the process of going through all these crazy, dark scenes. I was really grateful to have them.

There are times when everyone has their own scenes and moments, but they had each other, as a family. What was it like for you four to have each other to get through this?

JOSEPH: The moment I really knew that we were becoming a real family is when I started to feel so lonely when I wasn’t filming with them and I was just filming my scenes at school. I would literally miss them and miss shooting with them. We have definitely become this true family. We have transformed our own lives and our own families together to become this incredible group. I am so happy to have the opportunity to work with this amazing cast and have this amazing family to back me up.

Image via Amazon Studios

This show is less about the otherworldly malevolent forces out there and more about the danger of what may be right next to you. What was it like being in that neighborhood and doing the scenes with all the neighbors?

JOSEPH: The actors are incredible and completely professional actors. Watching the scenes felt so strange because you know these people are such kind, caring, and selfless actors, and then watching them yell racial slurs at us was quite awkward at times. I really had a great time working with our neighbors. I remember, after we finished a scene, there were so many apologies and a lot of, “Oh my gosh, I’m so sorry. I feel so wicked. I feel so bad. “I really have to applaud them for their professionalism. They also know how real this is to their race, with their experiences and what they are capable of, as a people. They understand. So, I really appreciated their work and efforts. , During all the process.

Once you knew how the season would end and where it was all going, what was your reaction to knowing how the story about this family would end?

JOSEPH: Once I started to get to the end, it started to get really bittersweet for me, just because you’ve grown up and created this character for longer and really stayed with that person for months and months. And then you really have to let that person go in the end and that can be difficult. There was a lot of sadness, but it was also a relief, just to let someone go. It’s not necessarily healthy to hang on to such a character for so long. There were mixed emotions.

You were part of a high profile movie like U.S, you gave the voice to a character to The Lion Kingand you’re making a big impression with this show. Have you thought about the path you would like to take in your career? Have you thought about types of projects that you have not yet been able to do and what you would like to do?

JOSÉ: Definitely. Number one, I would love to get out of horror, after this project, just because I don’t want to pigeonhole myself into one genre. I can do more and I have scope. I’ve always loved writing, so I’d love to write a project and potentially produce one too one day. That is definitely on the wish list.

Can you also talk to Lena Waithe about getting into stuff behind the scenes?

JOSÉ: Exactly. I’m glad I have resources and have people around me who have such a big vision.

They is available to stream on Amazon Prime Video.

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