The young love between Zeke (Justice Smith) and Mylene (Herizen Guardiola) drives much of “The Get Down” as a narrative, but its sweetness was born in an audition room — and at first, Guardiola was very uncomfortable with it.
“I didn’t want to kiss him! I didn’t know him. I don’t just kiss people I don’t know. I don’t care what the situation is,” she said.
Smith, Guardiola and co-star Shameik Moore spoke with IndieWire at a recent Netflix press event, and the trio featured in the drama created by Baz Luhrmann and Stephen Adly Guirgis elicited a giddy energy – even after a full day of interviews – as well as a lot of honesty.
It’s clear this is a group that has clicked after spending two years of intense work and study together. “That’s why we’re so comfortable with each other, ’cause we were seeing each other every single day almost for two years,” Guardiola said.
“We’re lovers. Different types of lovers,” Moore added. “We love each other.”
“We do love each other. I really do love these guys so much. And I miss them. I’m really happy that we can all hang out,” she agreed.
That First Kiss
But, in the beginning, there was that issue of Guardiola having to kiss Smith the first day they met.
“She hadn’t acted before that,” Smith said. “When I was reading, Baz [Luhrmann] was like ‘put down the scripts,’ and we had to do this cheesy thing — this hand thing instead. But then eventually Baz was like, ‘this isn’t working.’ And then just told Herizen–“
“‘Just kiss him already,'” she said. “‘Cause I didn’t want to kiss him. I didn’t know him. I don’t just kiss people I don’t know. I don’t care what the situation is.”
“I didn’t realize how weird it was, until she made it weird,” Smith observed. “I’m like, ‘oh, kiss that person?’ Okay, cool, I’ll just go…'”
Here, Moore interjected: “With me, I just would’ve been like ‘cut that out. Come here.'”
Since those early days, Guardiola has gotten more used to that aspect of the gig, though “I’m still gonna have to know something about the person before I kiss them.”
What Mylene and Shaolin Have In Common (And What They Don’t)
Both Guardiola and Moore acknowledged that their characters have something major in common: a sense of duality, driven by how both Mylene and Shaolin (Moore) are torn between two worlds.
“She’s dealing with having to choose family and love over career. And that’s like one of the most difficult decisions you have to make. Especially as a young girl who’s seeing the world as it really is. It’s harsh, it’s mean, it’s scalding, and she really has to be strong in her conviction with herself,” Guardiola said. “And she has to make mature decisions that she probably never had to make before. She’s also struggling with wanting to have her father’s approval, but realizing it’s not gonna to happen, so she has to let it go.”
The way Moore experiences this is more grounded in the relationships Shaolin has developed since the beginning of the series. “I think Shao has street knowledge, and he’s used to moving by himself, protecting himself — but now he does love his best friend, and he’s also found love for Boo and Ra and Dizzee differently than Books, but he does love them as well. The real situation with Shao, is to protect Boo and to be a good brother to his brother,” he said. “And also get what he feels like he needs to be given in order to survive. And how to do that, is confused sometimes.”
That said, much like how Mylene and Shaolin don’t exactly get along, it wasn’t necessarily easy between Guardiola and Moore initially. “In the beginning, we actually did have that like ‘ughh’ thing about each other. So it was kind of realistic. But like, now we get along,” Guardiola said. “And I just like, I know what to do with him. I didn’t know what to do with him before, now…”
“She thinks she knows what do with me,” Moore said.
“I’ve always just been in the middle of both of them,” Smith noted — in fact, he was literally sitting in between them for the interview, something IndieWire noted at this point.
“That’s just like the show too! That’s just like the show,” he laughed.
“It’s not like we wasn’t cool…” Moore said.
Agreed Smith, “No, no, not at all!”
Here’s the way that Moore explained their dynamic: “Justice is the kind of guy to be like, ‘yeah it’s okay. Herizen, yeah, Herizen, what’s wrong?’ You know, he’s like that. With me, you know Herizen will be like ‘nye-nye-nye’ and I’ll be like ‘cut it out.’ She’s spicy, you know and I’m like kind of like a rock.”
“It’s like two bulls in a pen sometimes,” was Guardiola’s response.
What the Future Holds
During production, the cast got used to not knowing what might be coming next on an episode-by-episode basis, but what might happen beyond Season 1 is also a mystery. One thing they know: It’d probably push them into a more ’80s era. “They would probably start B-boying a little bit more. Probably. Shao would move from behind the tables, eventually,” Moore said.
That would mean more training, but it wouldn’t be as complicated as it was at the beginning, noted Smith. “It would be easier than like going in completely fresh, like we did with the first episode… That’s what I liked about the show, is I was so new to hip-hop and I was definitely new to rap — if anything that was the most intimidating factor of the show. But because hip-hop was so new to that time period, I was discovering rap and rhyme in the same way that Zeke was discovering rap and rhyme. It gave me a safety net, where I was like ‘I don’t have to be that great.’ Because Zeke is just learning about this.”
Beyond those basics, all three actors weren’t sure how long the series might go on for, or how it might end.
“Shao could be dead,” Moore noted, given the show’s flashback structure, which features a present-day version of Zeke (played by Daveed Diggs, and dubbed by Nas) reminiscing about his youth in the Bronx. While we thus know Zeke makes it to the the present, the ultimate fate of the other characters is unknown.
Guardiola told Moore that “It would be nice if there’s like a Season 5 or something, and at the end of everything, you see Shao in the wings, in the back. I would cry. I would be like, ‘Yes! They made it true!'”
“That’d be dope,” Smith agreed. “But now, they’re never gonna write that, because you said that. So now the writers are like ‘we have to think about something else!’ They’ll be like ‘that’s what we were gonna do!'”
And in general, they don’t have an idea of exactly how long the show might last, though Moore stated that he thought “It’s probably going to be three [seasons], tops.”
And on this, Guardiola could agree. “I think we should keep it short and simple, and make it an iconic thing.”
“We can’t play [our characters in the] ’90s and 2000s. You know what I’m saying?” Moore added. “Because we already look old. And, like, I have a cool beard.”
“We’re already playing like 16, 17, 18-year olds and we’re in our 20s. How long can we–” Smith said.
“I think I’m gonna look like this for a ton,” Guardiola interjected.
“–I mean, this is all hypothetical. But if it happens, it happens. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t.”
IndieWire noted that this was “a very zen attitude.”
“Well, this is that type of show,” Moore said.
Smith nodded. “Yeah, you gotta have that attitude.”
“The Get Down” Season 1 Part 2 is streaming now on Netflix.