You star opposite Michael B. Jordan, who is a producer on the film but also an excellent leading man. What approach did the two of you take to build that on-screen chemistry?
Denzel did something that I had never experienced on any film that I’ve been on before. He made us come to New York three weeks early so we could rehearse every day. We went into a rehearsal room as if we were doing theater. We practiced our blocking and went over the script and our lines together. Usually in film and TV, you show up on the first day, and boom, you got to have everything ready. That’s what we do chemistry reads for. Everything has to be good. But I think the fact that Denzel made us come early and we really took our time working through the script before the first camera was even set up really aided in me and Michael’s chemistry. By the time it was time to film, we were already so comfortable as Dana and Charles. It made it effortless.
Denzel Washington is a screen legend. What did you learn from him as your leader on this project?
People always ask me this, and I’m like, “I worked with the master of my craft for four months.” I learned something new every day. I guess, off the top of my head today, one of the biggest things I learned was the importance of setting a path for a new generation. Denzel has had the rights to do this movie for, I think, 13 or 15 years or something like that. And he held it until he felt like it was the right time. And the fact that he was like, “I’m going to give this opportunity to these younger actors because it’s now their time, and it’s my duty, and it’s my job to do that,” that was really special because he could have done the movie back in like 2006. He could have been Charles. And the fact that he wanted me for this part, I have been in a couple of movies. I think I’m pretty okay at my job. But for his first movie that he is directing, that he is not starring in, he chose me, and I think that speaks to how legends, because he is one, how legends and icons get to a point where it’s like, “Okay, it’s time for us not to pass the torch but to share it, the torch.” That’s exactly what he did with this.
The film hops back and forth between the more joyful moments of Dana and Charles’s relationship and her painful mourning period following his death. What did you pull from when working on those more emotional scenes?
Dana was it. I relied heavily on Dana and just my own spirituality. I talk about God all the time because that is something that is really important in my life. It was a lot of prayer because putting myself in those shoes can be difficult and emotionally draining, and having to do it over and over and over again, I think people forget when they see a scene that it took hours to film. I have to do that same thing when the camera is here, when the camera is there, when the camera is behind me, and then after that’s over, I have to go do another scene where I’m probably extremely happy. It’s emotionally draining, so I really leaned on God and my spirituality for that side of it, but when it comes to actually doing the part, it was Dana, hands down. By the time we started filming, me and Dana had gotten so close and formed such a strong relationship. Just the thought of her being hurt by anything would make me crumble. So she would talk about what that felt like, what grief felt like at the time also having a newborn. She was navigating the saddest moment and the happiest moment of her life at the exact same time, and that is a crazy path trying to find that balance. At 6 a.m., you are crying your eyes out in the bathroom, and then at 7 a.m., your son just took his first steps. How do you navigate through that? So it was Dana.
I’m sure there were a lot of heavy days filming, but can you recall a particularly joyful day on set?
We shot at The Met. They shut The Met down, and we got to shoot inside and outside, and that was super fun. There is this scene (it’s not in the movie, but you can see it in the trailer) where I am strutting across the street. And usually, they would put music in post, but Denzel had music blasting while I was strutting, so onlookers and people were just like, “What is she doing?” I would just do it over and over again. It was so funny because Dana was there that day, and she would come up to me and be like, “Girl, I have never walked like that.”
The film comes out on Christmas Day. It’s definitely a tearjerker, but what do you hope audiences take away from this film?
I hope that audiences see our movie and are not afraid to fall in love. People are getting prepared for heartbreak with our movie, but that’s not the moral of the story. The moral of the story is to love anyway and to love the people while they are here. So I hope that’s what they take away from it.