This is the week when Pariah starts to roll out and I can’t say emphatically enough that when this film comes to your town, you must see it.
I was able to speak with the star of the film Adepero Oduye last September at the Toronto Film Festival. Here is our interview.
Women and Hollywood: How did you get into acting?
Adepero Oduye: I was in college and pre-med on track to be a doctor and I realized I didn’t want to do that anymore. I thought about what I wanted to do and I took an acting class my senior year and loved it. It was the kind of thing where it was challenging but I still wanted to do more. I graduated and was like I’m going to be an actor. My mother did not understand. It was as if I was an entirely different person.
I didn’t know anyone who was an actor so I just started looking at Backstage. My first audition was an open call and I had no picture and no resume – that’s how clueless I was. I just thought I could show up. Slowly but surely I gathered information and just learned and did a lot of things to get experience.
WaH: What have you done before this film?
AO: I had done a lot of student films and a lot of shorts. I did some wacky theater.
WaH: So you’ve never technically trained to be an actress?
AO: I didn’t get an MFA or anything like that but I studied with Austin Pendleton and Wynn Handman. I also studied with a teacher from the Atlantic Theater Company Acting School. I decided I didn’t want to do the MFA route. I liked the way I did it because I got a little bit of everything and was able to take what works and put it together and form something that works for me.
WaH: What kind of opportunities has the exposure in this film done for you in terms of your career?
AO: I’m able to read some scripts now and more people know my name, as opposed to before where it was like who are you and what have you done. I’m hoping it will open doors.
WaH: What was it like working with Dee? Working with a woman director?
AO: I think she was the first female director I ever worked with at the time of the short. She is very trusting. She doesn’t impose a lot. She’s just very trusting but very open. In terms of the short, she would give me materials and asked if I had any questions. I just asked everything. On set she was very trusting. Unless there was a specific challenging part she kind of just let me do and let me be. There were moments where everything was overwhelming and she would just give me space and she would clear out a room and just let me release whatever I had to release. She gave me my moment. She never rushed me. I felt very, very safe to go where I had to go. It was challenging. Your body and mind is literally like don’t go there, but I felt extremely safe and taken care of.
WaH: Between making the short and the feature you have lived with that character for so long. Did she live inside you?
AO: I think more so in the beginning. It was very clear for me that I related to her thing of not knowing who you are and not feeling like you belong. You’re doing so many things for other people but you’re not doing anything for yourself. I related to that a lot and I think a lot of people do. But at the same time I’m at a place in my life where that’s not really much of an issue. I know more. I can access that and then go on with my regular life knowing that I do know who I am. Working on Pariah really made clear for me what my life purpose is and that is profound. Where I belong is acting. I know that for sure now and it’s because of Pariah.
WaH: My next question was going to be what did you learn about yourself from the process…
AO: I just remember this one moment after the short was done and the first time we screened it and I remember this older white man came out of the theater and he looked at me and he had no words. He just kept on touching his heart. And that is why I became an actor. I remember the first movie I saw that made me do that. And here was this man who was completely opposite of me and I just thought to myself that is the beginning of a dream come true. It was really cool.
WaH: What’s next for you?
AO: I’m reading more scripts and I’m writing stuff. My intention is to do more films.
Pariah is in select theatres on December 28.