Welcome to My Favorite Moment! In this series, IndieWire speaks to actors behind a few of our favorite television performances about their personal-best onscreen moment and how it came together.
The Starz adaptation of the 2018 feature film “Blindspotting” is one of the most audacious and thought-provoking series on television, led by the astoundingly capable Jasmine Cephas Jones. Reprising her role as Ashley from the feature, the series sees Cephas Jones play a woman struggling to raise her young son in the wake of her boyfriend Miles’ (Rafael Casal) recent incarceration.
The show’s blend of humor and social commentary has led to several beautiful and unique moments, including Ashley’s numerous spoken word verses to the camera, a crazy trip on mushrooms, and a date between Ashley and her subconscious version of Miles that’s totally romantic. But for Cephas Jones, who spoke to IndieWire via Zoom, her favorite scene comes in the series’ second episode.
Ashley, who spends her days working in a high-end Oakland hotel, has just been propositioned by a male guest and verbally berated by that same guest’s wife. Meanwhile, Miles has been sentenced to five years in prison. In her anger and frustration, Ashley enters the rude guests’ hotel room to give it a piece of her mind.
The interview has been condensed and edited for clarity, and rearranged to enhance the flow of conversation.
IndieWire: What is it about that moment that makes you consider it your favorite?
Jasmine Cephas Jones: There’s so many layers to that scene. We only did it a couple of times because we were running out of light; it was the second day of shooting the show. The second day is like a guinea pig of how are we gonna run the show? It’s the first time everybody’s getting used to each other, other people trying to figure out what the show is and how people work. It was a really long day, a 16 or 17 hour day, something like that.
You’ve got stuntmen in there, the special people [who] work with the special glass made out of sugar. The choreography of like, “Okay, so on this word remember, take the tennis racket and do it on this side.” It’s so much that you have to think about and people don’t realize that going into a TV show, or film, or theater, something that’s so grand and heightened and really out of pocket in a way that is not your normal circumstance. There’s two rooms, the bathroom [and] the bedroom, and then I go into the living room area. I did it twice in each room. So I only got really two tries on it and thank God.
Because of the logistics of the scene how did that work to maintain emotion, gracefully walk through the room, and perform the spoken word verses?
There [were] four main things I had to hit on certain lines. I rehearsed being in the space with the director, Seith Mann. But I didn’t get to trash anything or go through the choreography until the day of shooting. A lot of the day was me going in and out of the rooms with a fake tennis racket and going over the lines; “this is where I smash it here, and then you [have] to take the tennis racket and go around your body, and make sure you do it on this angle because it’s going to look better when it falls to the ground.” That’s how detailed these things are.
So there [were] four or five things that I had to trash, the TV, the picture on the wall, the shower, the mirror, the vase in the living room, and then right at the end there were this big ass cabinet [I] throw to the ground. That was so much fun. When do you get to do that? Never. But [it’s] a lot of pressure to make sure you’re trashing everything on the right word and make sure you’re doing it on the right angle, and when you’re caught up in the whirlwind of it all you have to be on point because you tend to forget, there’s so much feeling coming out of you.
How do you mentally prepare yourself not just for a physical scene like this, but one where Ashley is emotionally exhausted?
A lot of the verse scenes Ashley has, they’re very important moments for her in the season. They’re probably the most heightened, and when she’s the most emotional and sharing that with people. I look at these verses as Shakespearean monologues when I start. They’re not easy verses that Raf[ael Casal] and [Daveed] Diggs write. They rhyme and then they don’t rhyme. It’s very, very specific and they write it in a very specific way.
The first thing that I do with those scenes is I go right to the text and ingrain it in my head, so I don’t have to think about it. You tackle the thoughts, and the beats, and how you study it, and then you kind of throw it out the window and play. So a lot of the preparation is me studying, walking around my house and saying words all the time, and trying to do things while I’m saying these words out loud so I don’t get distracted. Usually, when I have big scenes like if I have to cry, or scream, or something that’s really intense I do the opposite before and I either like to meditate or seclude myself from everybody on set. I find a quiet room and I try to get as grounded as possible so I’m calm [and] be relaxed as possible so I can unleash whatever this anger is or this deep cry.
Everything that happens before that scene, whether it’s the racism, or the misogyny, that’s something that I don’t have to look for. That’s happened to me in my life, and that’s something that I recognize as a woman, as a woman of color. I don’t have to go find that, that’s definitely a feeling that, unfortunately, I know pretty well. And so you combine all those together and you get to represent for a moment and get to do the thing that so many women want to do and they don’t get to do because they’ll be called a bitch, or too bossy, or crazy.
Did you need a decompression period after filming something like this?
I go into the next room and I I give myself about seven minutes to come down because I’m still crying and I’m still feeling this emotion. I think it’s also healthy to give yourself, especially for something so intense like that, [time] to come back down to reality and get out of it so you don’t take it home with you. What’s even craz[ier] is that after we finished that we filmed me coming down the hallway. So that wasn’t the end of the day! We had to stop because we ran out of light. I took a break and then we went straight into the choreography of coming down the hallway. I remember being so tired at the end of the day, but also so happy that I did it.
“Blindspotting” Season 1 is available to stream now on Starz.