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Trunktober: Cargo

CargoFeatured

This October we’re focused on one thing and one thing only… watching as much horror-related programming as possible to prime the pop culture pump in celebration of Halloween. Our consuming will be taking place nightly, and while there’s no rhyme or reason to how we’re going about choosing our scary screenings, we’ll do our best to tell you how we did it so that you can watch them as well.

Title: Cargo

Directed By: Ben Howling/Yolanda Ramke

Starring: Martin Freeman, Simone Landers, Anthony Hayes, Susie Porter, Caren Pistorius

We Watched On: Netflix

Trunktober Approved Because: We were leery of this film at first. We didn’t want to dig it, even though we love Martin Freeman in almost everything he’s in. Like bread left in the toaster too long, we are thoroughly burnt… when it comes to anything zombie-related. But then something incredible happened. Howling and Ramke make a zombie movie that isn’t about zombies. Sure, they’re there, heads in the sand, but really this is a film about family, desperation, and the most nerve-racking ticking clock we’ve experienced for some time.

Biggest Scare: For parents, especially those with little ones, the biggest scare is the premise itself because it makes you wonder what you would do if placed in the same exact situation. If you were in a zombie apocalypse, and you had been bitten, how far would you go to make sure your child was safe before you turned into the living dead and tried to eat them? Seriously, it’s scarring!

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Wingman Wednesday

Trevor Long

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PHOTOGRAPHY: James Lee Wall/GROOMING: Faye Lauren

There’s so much to love about the Netflix series “Ozark,” and like a gift that just keeps on giving, Season 2 saw Trevor Long’s role in the captivating storyline expanded. That was great news for the Rhode Island native who plays Langmore crime family patriarch Cade, but it was even better news for the viewers because everything he brought to the screen was 100 percent binge-worthy gold.

We recently sat down with Long to discuss the many “Ozark” surprises, how he breathed life into Cade, and why you won’t find him sitting down with a psychic for career advice.

TrunkSpace: “Ozark” took a lot of people by surprise and had them binging like they’ve never binged before. Was the success of the series a surprise for you or did you know that you were involved in something special even in the early going?
Long: It was definitely a surprise. That said, in the back of my mind there was this feeling that this could be great. Just knowing how good the writing was and, of course, the talent they had lined up, but I was pleasantly surprised how it took off.

TrunkSpace: What about in terms of your character Cade – did you know his role within the story would be expanded heading into Season 2 or did that come as a pleasant surprise?
Long: I really didn’t know too much. However, Jason Bateman graciously hinted at it when I saw him at the premiere after Season 1. He basically said, “Get ready to work, you’re getting out of prison.” So, from that I knew I would be at least in it a bit more than Season 1, but I had no idea that I would be in it to the extent I was until about a month out from shooting.

TrunkSpace: As Cade’s story has expanded, what have you been enjoying most about his path and how that has impacted your day to day on set?
Long: I really enjoyed the colors they brought in his story out of prison. It was a lot of fun to explore this sort of wildness and unpredictability that Cade expressed. The writers gave me a lot to play with for sure. Being on set was like being with family. It was always a lot of fun, even if the material was really dark. We just had to have that lightness when sitting around and waiting. It was a lot of heavy material to live out.

TrunkSpace: We read that you did a lot of research to bring Cade that “Ozark” authenticity that seeps throughout the entirety of the series. What was it about him that you felt needed the research to get right, and what was the most difficult aspect of that journey?
Long: I knew Cade was so different than who I am on so many levels – someone who was so destructive and abusive to his daughter was something I certainly had to face inwardly in my imagination and interior emotions. But the outward physical aspects of Cade were what really propelled me to research. His accent, for instance, and even how he moved physically. I knew I had to have his rhythms right, so I tackled this by watching a lot of documentaries and even movies such as “Winter’s Bone.” I also read a lot of books by southern writers that depicted low lives in order to catch their essence and to color my imagination. I love doing this kind of stuff as long as I don’t become too lost in it. I take what’s essential. I guess the difficult part was to truly embody Cade in a very truthful and honest way that brought me alive.

TrunkSpace: Many of the scenes in “Ozark” are very heavy, and we would assume, could be emotionally draining for the performers involved. Did you have days where you felt like you needed to do an emotional download after a particularly rough day of shooting?
Long: Oh, of course. I did that by hanging out with the Langmore’s off set. We were like a very happy, funny, and dysfunctional family. We became very close. Laughter was essential to keep from burning out.

TrunkSpace: What’s great about the series – and Cade in particular – is that there is a lot of gray area with the character for the audience to fill the gaps on backstory and internal motivations. Was that a conscious decision, to leave bread crumbs for the viewers to follow on their own?
Long: To be honest, yes, but that credit really goes toward the writers. They beautifully kept the audience guessing, and myself as well. It’s such a privilege when the writing is that good to just let it take you where it wants to. I just got to keep it as simple as possible and stay out of the way.

PHOTOGRAPHY: James Lee Wall/GROOMING: Faye Lauren

TrunkSpace: What can you tell us about your new film “Seeds,” which if we understand it, you also produced? There’s some freaky imagery in the trailer!
Long: I can say it seems to be a pretty uncomfortable film to watch, and that is something we tried to achieve. I did help produce, but that really entailed bringing together a lot of elements that I had access to from many years in the business, such as people I could call on and bring in to help the process.

TrunkSpace: Seeing you in “Seeds” reminded us of our own high school wrestling days. Did you have to suck some weight to play Marcus in the film? Was that something that the script called for or was it a physical trait that you brought to the character through your own journey of discovery?
Long: (Laughter) That’s funny. Yeah, I felt I had to lose some weight. It was not indicated in the script, but I instinctively came to know that Marcus should not look like this healthy, fairly strong guy. So, I dropped down to about 155 pounds. Normally, I am about 185 pounds, so the weight loss was pretty significant for me. I felt that this guy had to look and feel weak from his emotional decay and the actual physical anguish he inhabited. All of these things affect me as an actor in how I express another’s life. It can be as subtle as just a very different pair of shoes. I live for that kind of stuff.

TrunkSpace: The film takes place on the New England coast. We know you’re a New England boy. What is it about New England that makes such a great setting for horror films/thrillers? It just seems like a regional staple for genre projects.
Long: That’s an interesting question. I’ve never really thought about that, but now that you mention it I will start to. Maybe it’s that it has all those puritan roots, and there are certainly a lot of woods, and New England, as you know, in the winter can look and feel pretty downright depressing… spooky even.

TrunkSpace: Time machine question. If you could jump ahead 10 years to see what your future/career held, would you take the trip, and if not, why?
Long: Really? That’s tough. I would have to say no. I’m very impressionable. If a psychic tells me I won’t work as an actor for the next three years, I would spiral into depression. I’m also a firm believer that everything unfolds in the only way it can at that particular moment, no matter how much we think we are steering the ship. It will be whatever so-called destiny has mapped out for my career 10 years down the road. I’m always in favor of being surprised.

Seasons 1 and 2 of “Ozark” are available for streaming on Netflix.

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Trunk Stubs

Trunktober: The Babadook

TheBabadookFeatured

This October we’re focused on one thing and one thing only… watching as much horror-related programming as possible to prime the pop culture pump in celebration of Halloween. Our consuming will be taking place nightly, and while there’s no rhyme or reason to how we’re going about choosing our scary screenings, we’ll do our best to tell you how we did it so that you can watch them as well.

Title: The Babadook

Directed By: Jennifer Kent

Starring: Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman

We Watched On: Netflix

Trunktober Approved Because: Will Smith once sang, “Parents just don’t understand…” At the time, that may have been true, but now that the freshest of all Princes is himself a parent, he may understand all too well… at least in terms of that which makes “The Babadook” a terrifying concept. Parents have bad days, but what if those bad days had nothing to do with us? What if they had everything to do with a sinister storybook creature lurking in the shadows of your home?

Biggest Scare: The biggest scares exist off-screen. The thing that makes the monster so menacing is that you only see just enough of it to send your imagination off in directions you never wanted it going in the first place. Masterful and budget-friendly!

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Trunk Stubs

Trunktober: Train To Busan

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This October we’re focused on one thing and one thing only… watching as much horror-related programming as possible to prime the pop culture pump in celebration of Halloween. Our consuming will be taking place nightly, and while there’s no rhyme or reason to how we’re going about choosing our scary screenings, we’ll do our best to tell you how we did it so that you can watch them as well.

Title: Train To Busan

Directed By: Sang-ho Yeon

Starring: Yoo Gong, Yu-mi Jung, Dong-seok Ma, Su-an Kim

We Watched On: Netflix

Trunktober Approved Because: For those who don’t mind subtitles, this zombie flick from South Korea is a wild ride, though admittedly not quite as wild as those the fictional characters from the film are forced to take as passengers on a besieged train from Seoul to Busan. We don’t blame you if you feel burned out on anything related to the undead, but this movie has something that so many others in the genre do not… heart. (Probably because zombies are more focused on brains.)

Biggest Scare: There aren’t a lot of jump scares to lift you out of your seat, but the sense of impending doom is enough to make you uneasy for the duration of the film, particularly for those watching who are parents and would have to traverse the undead landscape with kids in tow.

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Wingman Wednesday

Rebecca Knox

RebeccaKnoxFeatured

A modern day Marilyn Monroe with a gritty edge, Rebecca Knox is an actress who demands your attention by the way she commands her space in any given scene. Memorable by making the most of every moment on-camera, her gaze itself could one day win an Emmy thanks to the way her eyes reveal so much about those she is inhabiting. Currently the New York native can be seen as inmate Tina Swope in Season 6 of “Orange Is the New Black,” available now on Netflix.

We recently sat down with Knox to uncover her kinship with Tina, what she’d miss the most if she were behind bars, and why personal branding is so important.

TrunkSpace: Do you view your role on “Orange Is the New Black” as a career game changer? Has Tina Swope opened up more doors for you within the industry?
Knox: Being on such a monumental award-winning show is definitely a game changer! I have made some great friends and contacts through this experience for sure.

TrunkSpace: When you first read for Tina, you instantly had a kinship with her. What was it about the character that you felt connected you to her?
Knox: Her attitude!

TrunkSpace: Tina is tough, but is any of that exterior a facade? Is there a part of Tina who is tough because she has to be due to her surroundings and those she associates with?
Knox: Definitely. She has to be that way to survive – although I think a part of her loves the fight.

TrunkSpace: We’ve seen how Tina deals with life in prison, but how do you think you, Rebecca, would deal with it? How would you handle the experience emotionally?
Knox: I’d like to say I would find a way to survive. Maybe not as violently as Tina does, but I would make the “right” friends, I guess. It’s hard to answer this question – I am so far from that place and I hope to always be. I can’t really fathom it.

TrunkSpace: Life behind bars means a life without a lot of things we probably take for granted. What would you miss most if you were in Tina’s prison-issued jumpsuit?
Knox: Spending any amount of time with my family. Open grassy fields and the beach where my parents live. My freedom.

TrunkSpace: We read that you were a fan of the show before you booked the role. Having been a fan, what was that first day on set like? Was it all one big “pinch me” moment?
Knox: It took a few episodes where I had that “pinch me” moment. I was definitely nervous at first but work is work so I pushed through.

TrunkSpace: There are so many great actors involved in “Orange Is the New Black.” Did you view your time on the series as just as much an education as you did a job? Who did you study and try to absorb from most?
Knox: Well, I am still on the series and we are currently filming, so I am still drinking it all in. I love being on set. I always learn so much.

TrunkSpace: The great thing about a career in the arts is that each day can be completely different and in many ways it’s impossible to plan for tomorrow. Is there something exciting about that whole “anything is possible” outcome? On the opposite side of that coin, can that same excitement give way to uncertainty?
Knox: Yes! If you are lucky, you can audition for so many different types of roles, try on their shoes and play. I think people get caught up in the nervous jitters and pressure of booking an audition that they forget it’s still an opportunity to act. There are always opportunities to act. I would be lying if I said it’s easy. Sometimes I am down on myself, and can be my own worst enemy – thinking things like, “I’m not good enough,” but a way I combat those feelings is with compassion for myself, and connecting with other actors around me. It helps a lot to have a community of people who understand those feelings.

TrunkSpace: You have such a memorable look. As soon as we caught sight of you on camera you were etched into our brains and we thought, “I WANT TO KNOW MORE ABOUT HER!” That is not something you can quantify. Do you think that personal branding is important for actors to consider and is it something that you have worked to achieve within your own career?
Knox: Wow! Well I’m blushing, thank you! In terms of personal branding, I only became more aware of it when I had to. Personal branding is definitely important. I found what worked for me and it has helped me. The more specifically you can present yourself, the more memorable you become.

TrunkSpace: Like we said, we want to know more about you. You have a very mysterious, edgy vibe that has us intrigued. So give us some good insight into who that mysterious, edgy person is. What are some fun facts about Rebecca Knox?
Knox: Thank you! I love being called mysterious. Hmm, well let’s see. I am a New York City native. I ran my very own record label, Jet Boy Records, when I was 18. I managed a punk band whose members were around 8 to 10 years my seniors. I was a really shy kid, and dealt with a lot of bullying growing up. I sort of came into my own when I was in high school, first to fit in, and through that process found myself… my edgy self. (Laughter)

Orange Is the New Black” is available now on Netflix.

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Wingman Wednesday

Irene Choi

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Photographer: Leslie Alejandro/Hair: Sara Tintari/Makeup: Aaron Paul/Styling: Cassy Dittmer

With her new series keeping stream-hungry audiences entertained on Netflix, Irene Choi is holding tight as the roller coaster ride that is her “Insatiable” journey prepares to leave the station for a second season. Playing the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad Dixie Sinclair in the quirky revenge dramedy, the scene stealer is enjoying the path her on-screen alter ego is traveling, which is not exactly new territory for the Harvard graduate who also played Annie Kim on the fan-favorite series “Community.”

We recently sat down with Choi to discuss why Dixie is more than your average mean girl, how the naysayers learned to love the show once they gave it a chance, and the reason she would have liked to see where Annie Kim’s fictional future led.

TrunkSpace: “Insatiable” is inspired by a true story. Does that mean that there is a real Dixie in the world? Because for those of us here with daughters who may meet a Dixie in their life one day, that’s kind of terrifying.
Choi: There absolutely is not. She is 100 percent made up, which is a relief. (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: When the material you’re working on is based on something that actually came from someone’s own experiences, does it have a different feel on set? Do people approach the material in a different way?
Choi: I would say in this case, no, just because it was really just sort of the premise, which was inspired by Bill Alverson, who is the real guy. But otherwise, the storylines were just completely in a very heightened fantasy world where people kind of go relatively unpunished for a lot of bad deeds that they do. We’re just these made-up characters in this universe, so at least for me, there was no obligation to mirror true life.

TrunkSpace: There’s been so many “mean girls” portrayed in film and TV over the years. Did you want to bring something different to the portrayal of Dixie and did the tone of the show allow for that?
Choi: Yeah, absolutely. It was also sort of written into the script as well. Even though the character of Dixie doesn’t really seem that complicated – she’s a villain, she’s a mean girl – it’s a pretty traditional trope in high school stories, but I think that’s one thing that’s a little bit different about her, is her background gives her a lot of layers. I think one thing, for example, is she is an Asian adoptee who’s living in Georgia. She has a single parent who happens to not really be a great parental figure. She has a line in the show, which is supposed to be funny, where she says, “I’m not Asian, I’m adopted.” It’s supposed to be funny because she’s stupid, but also it’s a little true, because she hasn’t really been exposed to her sort of ethnic and cultural identity. She doesn’t identify with it at all. So I think she has a sense of identity that she hasn’t quite formed yet, and as a result, she is also sort of misunderstood a lot by her peers. She actually doesn’t really have a lot of friends, which – and usually I feel like the mean girl in these stories usually happens to also be the popular girl – that’s not what she is.

TrunkSpace: There was a part, in the way you portrayed Dixie, that suggested her behavior was a bit of a defense mechanism.
Choi: Exactly, yeah. And I think in real life, as much as this show is such a caricature of reality and is kind of in this sort of revenge fantasy world, it does sort of relate to real life. Because I think in real life the bullies in high school, but also just in general, they’re not usually the people that are sort of at the top of the social totem pole. A lot of times, they are people who are misunderstood, and don’t really quite have friends, and are really sort of trying to figure themselves out as well.

TrunkSpace: Was there something kind of freeing about getting to play her and how nasty she is?
Choi: Yeah, absolutely. And I got a lot of freedom with playing Dixie as well. The directors were always very much like, “Just go balls to the wall with her.” There were absolutely some times where they would say, “Let’s try to keep this one a little bit more grounded or sincere,” but they were all incredibly generous with just sort of letting me play, and really explore that character as well.

TrunkSpace: We already mentioned the tone of the show, which feels fresh and unique, but at the same time, it’s that specific type of comedy that probably allows for a character like Dixie to work.
Choi: Yeah. Yes, as an actor, I think that’s definitely kind of a dream come true. It’s been really, really, really fun. And also, for me personally, it’s my first time as a series regular on a show, being able to play this character for a whole season, as opposed to doing these sort of one-off guest star episodes or just recurring. You don’t really get the time, nor do you get the material, to sort of really explore a character to its full extent, so that’s also been very exciting for me.

TrunkSpace: What’s sort of been the most surreal moment for you thus far since you wrapped Season 1 and it started streaming?
Choi: Oh, I guess there’s a lot of things. Basically for a really long time, almost about a year, I would tell people that I’m on this show, and no one had heard of it. “It’s a new show, it’s called ‘Insatiable.’” And they’d be like, “Uh, okay.” And then our trailer dropped, which got really sort of scathing reviews from a lot of people, and then it was kind of crazy. No one had heard of our show, no one had any opinions tied to it, and then all of a sudden everyone had heard of it and hated it. And I think that was sort of really alarming. And then when the show came out, the fans and the audience actually really, really loved it after actually having seen the whole thing, and then it was just… it was really sort of a roller coaster of emotions, honestly. It’s like one minute no one knows who you are, the second minute everyone knows who you are, and not in a good way, and then another minute it’s like everyone totally likes you. So that’s just just been a little bit… it’s definitely been kind of overwhelming. Not overwhelming, but it’s just been so unpredictable. But, that’s pretty much how this industry is. As much as I sort of have been trained to be always be prepared for the unexpected, it’s always just going to be surprising.

Photographer: Leslie Alejandro/Hair: Sara Tintari/Makeup: Aaron Paul/Styling: Cassy Dittmer

TrunkSpace: Whatever you plan for, it goes in the opposite direction.
Choi: Exactly. Just when you think you’ve planned for every sort of potential scenario in your head… like, no.

TrunkSpace: What’s really great is that you already have a Season 2, which in the world of television, is a rarity to have so early.
Choi: Yeah, which again, sort of ties into that sort of roller coaster of emotions because it was like, “Oh my gosh, everyone hates us, we’re definitely not getting a Season 2.” But then we did. So, yeah, it’s crazy.

TrunkSpace: You mentioned how much you have enjoyed getting to know Dixie over the course of an entire season. You’ve appeared on a bunch of great shows over the years. Is there a character that you wished you had been given more time with?
Choi: I got three episodes to explore this character on “Community,” which was great. I definitely would have loved an opportunity to explore that character further. That was also a villain. I guess I am personally drawn to villain roles. (Laughter) It’s kind of funny that people see me that way too.

But that was definitely a really fun one. She basically played the evil version of an existing character, who was Alison Brie’s character on the show. And because she was obviously a series regular and had a very deep woven story, I would have loved an opportunity to explore this other character that sort of played her evil version/nemesis kind of thing. I think she could have also, over time, developed almost an equally complicated story as well. So, that one was definitely really a fun one. I’m really thankful that I got to do the three episodes that I did, but it definitely would have been a lot of fun to do more.

Season 1 of “Insatiable” is available now on Netflix.

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Wingman Wednesday

James Chen

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Photo By: David Zheng

This is shaping up to be a defining year for James Chen’s career. Outside of his ongoing work on “The Walking Dead,” where he plays Hilltop resident Kal, the Yale School of Drama graduate also joined the Marvel Universe as Sam Chung in Season 2 of “Iron Fist” for Netflix and will be recurring as Ian Lentz in the new Dick Wolf-produced drama series “FBI,” which premieres September 25 on CBS.

And somehow that’s still just the tip of the iceberg.

We recently sat down with Chen to discuss how “The Walking Dead” prepared him for his super future, why the introduction of Blindspot is so topical, and the reason on-screen Asian stereotypes may finally be a thing of the past.

TrunkSpace: As far as Septembers go, yours looks like it will be one for the history books!
Chen: (Laughter) My man, it’s been an amazing year, I’m not gonna lie. You’re correct, September has been very busy and productive, and we just recently added another gig… I’ll be playing a billionaire race car driver on “Madam Secretary.” So yeah, I’m very grateful. It’s been very awesome. It’s the product of a lot of hard work and not giving up.

TrunkSpace: With so much of that hard work being released into the world this month, is there a different type of personal excitement at this stage of a project as opposed to your first day on a set?
Chen: Oh, it is, it is. Yeah, that’s a good distinction. I think like any first day – of school, first day at work, first day at a TV show – there’s excitement. I guess you could say it’s nerves, but I just like to call it excitement, because you’re meeting a lot of new people and going into a new space. Invariably it’s always wonderful, because everyone’s extremely collaborative, and at the end of the day we’re just playing. So that kind of thing facilitates just sinking into a good ease. There’s also a lot of technical things you’re doing in addition to meeting a bunch of people. You’re kind of just getting the lay of the land, and having conversations with the director about the scene structure, and stuff like that. But, something like the past couple weeks, “Iron Fist” being released last Friday, “FBI” coming out next week… yeah, you’re still working hard, having conversations with great people like you, just to basically tell your stories about what it was like on set.

TrunkSpace: When you joined the Marvel Universe for “Iron Fist,” obviously it must have been an exciting thing, but at the same time you kind of have to keep that excitement in check . Marvel projects are so shrouded in plot point secrecy that you’re really in a conversational holding pattern about it until it’s released.
Chen
: That’s right. I got to be honest though, I’ve been on “The Walking Dead” for four years, and they’ve got the best secret police game going on. They put the fear in you with those NDAs and stuff. (Laughter) So I was kind of trained and had some experience with that. But, it was tough, because you’d be gone for a while, and  I would run into my co-workers from set outside of work with other people, and it was like we’d be catching up and we’d have to kind of shield the conversation from people who are not in the know. (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: With a show like “Iron Fist,” which releases all at once, that must help ease that loose lips sink ships vibe, because once it’s out, everything is fair game. If the audience is willing to put in the work, they could view the entire season in one sitting.
Chen: That’s right, yeah. I like that idea though, that the viewer has to put in the work too, but it’s true. That wasn’t around four years ago… five years ago. I like it, personally, I guess from a sharing point of view, because we can talk about bigger picture stuff, like arcs, or how different parts from different episodes connected or didn’t connect, or what it means. I like that part of the conversation as opposed to it being drawn out over several months from installation broadcast. I like people having the full context of Sam Chung, talking about “Iron Fist,” to see how he and Colleen work in a bunch of different scenarios.

TrunkSpace: While the viewers understand the full context of Sam Chung, those who read the comic know that there’s so much story to tell there, should Netflix choose to go down that road.
Chen: Right. We know for sure that there’s just tremendous, exciting, tremendous, one more tremendous, potential in the development of Blindspot and his back story. And it’s so topical these days, illegal immigrant, right? Also, it’s extremely topical with him being an Asian male character, an Asian male superhero. I mean, after Asian August, with “Crazy Rich Asians,” “Searching,” “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before,” Awkwafina is getting her show green lit – it’s time!

TrunkSpace: And to be a part of this moment in pop culture, influencing the next generation, it has to be an amazing feeling.
Chen: It is, yeah. It’s so true. It’s interesting also, because growing up and initially my first phase in the biz, that wasn’t around, so it’s almost like… it’s hard to describe what it’s like. A part of me almost can’t believe it’s happening, because the stereotypes have been and are really awful, and degrading, and they’ve been so solid for such a long time, so it’s so refreshing. It’s so invigorating. And, kind of like what you said about as far as the next generation, I mean, you really feel like you’re making a meaningful contribution to the image of your people, which is so satisfying. It’s not like I’m selling soap for a commercial.

Photo By: David Zheng

TrunkSpace: The path of actors as a whole seems to has changed as well. If we went back 10 years, it would be a rarity for an actor to be talking about so many different television projects at once. It just seems like there’s more freedom to spread your wings and be involved in more projects than there used to be.
Chen: Right. I think with so much programming out there, there’s a lot of opportunity. I’ve seen an increase in both the quality and quantity of auditions in my particular demographic, for Asian men, which is kind of what I see as far as the auditions that come down the pike. But, it’s been encouraging and exciting too to see that they’re opening up casting and auditions for roles that aren’t specifically written to be Asian. There were a few of those back in the day, like a couple a year, but now it’s like we’re getting closer to that place where ethnicity doesn’t have to define who you are. You’re a person and you happen to be of a certain ethnicity.

TrunkSpace: Jumping back to Sam as a character, what was it about him in the early stages, the audition days, that you liked on the page?
Chen: Well, I loved kind of how Sam’s dialogue was very… this is going to sound weird, but it’s very casual and conversational. It was very everyday. He’s just simply having a conversation with someone, as opposed to… he’s not talking about something super Asian or stereotypically something or other, if that makes any sense. He’s just having a conversation with another person who happens to be Asian as well. There’s no commentary on the fact that we’re both Asian. Colleen is Asian and I’m Asian and we’re just talking about helping her solve a problem. So I love that aspect of the fact that we don’t need to comment on it, it just is.

I love how there is history in that opening scene in Season 2/Episode 2 of “Iron Fist,” when we first meet Sam. There’s just some great history, and backstory, and rapport between Sam and Colleen. It’s not heavy, but you can tell that they’ve worked together for a while. They’ve got great rapport. They tease each other. I’m fishing a little bit, and they share a little bit about their private lives and what they’re doing, just some teasing. So that’s exciting, and I think you can see that in the series. Obviously certain plot emergencies come through that maybe don’t make it a priority, but it’s one of the layers of their relationship, which I think is great.

TrunkSpace: And that is one of the things that Marvel Studios is so great at, which is building out the world so that the viewer feels like they’re a part it as opposed to being on the outside looking in.
Chen: Right. And I like that idea, because Sam has more of a management, supervisory responsibility for the community center and it shows, because I know where everything is and what’s going on. I feel like I have an ear to the ground and a hand on the pulse of what’s happening in the community, because the community center is like a hub, more or less. So I thought that was pretty exciting to kind of be right at the brain of the nervous system of what’s happening in Chinatown, or in our community. I thought it was great how the community center became a hub for us to meet a whole bunch of other characters who also happen to be Asian, like Mrs. Yang, or Danny’s boss at the moving company, played by my buddy James Lai.

So I thought that was great, the inclusion of more Asian faces, and culture, and depth in the series.

Chen in “The Walking Dead.”

TrunkSpace: From TV superheros to superheroes of TV, your next project is Dick Wolf’s “FBI.” Obviously Marvel is a big brand, but in the world of television, Dick Wolf is a brand unto his own.
Chen: Sure, it is. That man is a genius. He’s kind of like the Stan Lee of procedurals. (Laughter)

This is not a joke. I grew up and “Law & Order: SVU” was my favorite show on TV. God, man, everything about that, from just the “dun dun,” it was so just clicked for me. I loved it. I loved Mariska Hargitay and Chris Meloni. Then I actually got a chance to play a recurring character on SVU for Dick’s show a few years ago, CSU Adrian “Andy” Sung, and I got to meet and work with Mariska, and Chris, and Ice, and it was just fantastic. A lot of the directors on that show are repeat directors, so it was just awesome to build the rapport, to be on that set, to work on a show that I loved so much for so long. That said, I kind of feel like I’m returning home in a way. Maybe like the same family/different house, kind of feeling. You’ve got the feel of all the same things, and obviously, Dick’s running the ship, it’s just with a twist… an FBI twist.

Iron Fist” is available now on Netflix.

FBI” premieres Tuesday on CBS.

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Wingman Wednesday

Antonique Smith

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Antonique Smith joined the cast of “Luke Cage” in Season 2 as Nandi Tyler, a detective who has a complicated past with fellow officer Misty Knight, played by Simone Missick. As the layers of their relationship are peeled away, more and more of Nandi’s true intentions are revealed, creating a fascinating dynamic in an already fascinating series.

A Grammy-nominated singer/songwriter and accomplished actress who kicked off her career on Broadway as Mimi Marquez in “Rent,” the New Jersey native is ecstatic to have joined the Marvel Universe, and although Nandi isn’t part of the original comic book world, there is an interesting future for the character should viewers get to see more of her in Season 3 and beyond.

We recently sat down with Smith to discuss prophetic journal entries, the joys of playing a real badass, and why her career took various left turns instead of a single predetermined right.

TrunkSpace: All of the “Luke Cage” Season 2 episodes are now out there and being absorbed by fans all over the world. What has the experience been like for you thus far?
Smith: It’s been amazing. Back to back, within like 10 days, the show is up and everybody is going crazy over that, and then the next thing, the “Strong Black Lead” campaign dropped Sunday and it’s just been a beautiful week. Lots of love. It’s been really wonderful.

TrunkSpace: What’s the overall Marvel ride been like for you, from finding out you’re becoming a part of the universe to where you are today?
Smith: I’m a big Marvel fan. I think Marvel does it the best. I didn’t grow up really knowing most of their superheroes. I knew Spider-Man, but a lot of the other ones I didn’t know growing up, so for them to be able to come in the last 10 years, and not only introduce new superheroes, but billion dollar franchises… the quality of how they consistently make everything, from the movies to also the TV shows, is incredible. And so, I have just had goosebumps this whole time since I found out. It’s incredible. And then for us to come right on the heels of “Black Panther” is… it’s just had such meaning and is just beautiful.

I honestly wrote in my journal early last year, like in January. You know how you do kind of your New Year’s resolutions and you go through the year, and two of the things that I wrote down were, “I want to join the Marvel family” and “I want to join the Netflix family.” And I wrote it on two separate lines. So months later, I guess about six months later, I had joined the Marvel and the Netflix family at the same time, which is crazy.

TrunkSpace: They merged into one line!
Smith: Yeah. So people. write it down! Write it down, ’cause stuff comes true.

TrunkSpace: What’s is so interesting about Marvel as a company and why they have such success across the board is because they treat each project as its own thing. Each one has a unique feel and tone, and certainly “Luke Cage” falls into that game plan because it doesn’t feel like any of the other shows.
Smith: It does not. It has its own unique feel and I love it. I was a fan of the first season. I honestly think as amazing as the first season was, I think this season is even better. I think the characters and the storyline… everybody just brought their A-games and it was just so amazing.

TrunkSpace: And your character Nandi didn’t exist in the comic books. Did that give you freedom to make her your own?
Smith: It did actually. It did. It gave me freedom to play around and decide more how I wanted her to be and less necessarily having to stick to what the fans were gonna already expect based on her having been in the comic books already. So, it was fun. I got to kind of be creative with it.

TrunkSpace: There’s always that intense pressure when someone is cast as a well-known character, where immediately people are second-guessing the decision. “Is she right? Can she pull it off?”
Smith: Right. Well, I had to deal with that when I played Faith Evans in “Notorious.” The whole world knew who she was. So, there was definitely that pressure of nailing it and trying to be as authentic as possible so that the fans would be happy, because as you can see, when people don’t like what you did or they don’t feel you nailed it, they will go at you so hard and it’s like, “Oh my God!” (Laughter) So, I actually have already experienced that and, thankfully, that went well too. Everybody loved it. But, yeah, I’m glad I didn’t have to deal with that this time, although I look forward to that challenge in the future. If playing somebody or something comes up… I don’t mind that challenge. But it was cool not to have to do it.

TrunkSpace: And on the opposite side of that coin, what must be interesting is because fans don’t know who Nandi is or where her future ends up, they’re probably more curious of where her storyline is going to take her.
Smith: Right. That is very true. Everybody who has seen this season and seen what happens with my character, they’re still like, “If there’s a Season 3, I wonder what’s gonna happen with you in Season 3.” They’re already speculating about my future.

TrunkSpace: Well, if you do come back, things have been set up in a way that you’re going to return making a serious statement!
Smith: (Laughter) Yes! Yes! I look forward to that, coming back strong.

Smith with Justin Swain in “Luke Cage”

TrunkSpace: We know that you also come from the world of music, and with “Luke Cage” dropping all at once, is it a bit like putting an album out?
Smith: Yeah. It’s all there. Everybody can consume it at their leisure and enjoy it in whatever way. Some people want to stick to that watch-an-episode-a-week type thing, and then other people watch the whole thing in one day. So, it’s kind of like you put it out there, you give it your all, and then people just discover it and love it. And that’s been what’s happening the last few days. It’s crazy how many people have seen the whole thing already.

TrunkSpace: It’s always a surprise when you’re sitting down to get started watching something brand new, and tons of people have already finished the entire thing.
Smith: Right! It came out, like, Friday night… well, Friday morning in the middle of the night, and by Friday evening, a lot of people had already seen it.

TrunkSpace: Which is a testament to the show and the cast. “Luke Cage” is engaging people and capturing their attention.
Smith: Very true. Very true.

TrunkSpace: From a performance standpoint, what was it about inhabiting Nandi that you enjoyed most?
Smith: Well, let me just say, she’s badass, but there’s a lot about Nandi that is not like me. Honestly, based on everything I’ve done, you get to see a whole different side of me. The interactions and some of the stuff that I get into is stuff that none of my fans have ever seen me do before. And my family. Everybody was like, “Oh my God!” (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: And Nandi comes in strong, too. Who she is and what she is all about is sort of established almost immediately.
Smith: Very, very strong. That’s one of the things that was really fun about playing her. She’s such a badass. She’s very confident and she clearly holds a grudge. Misty has been riding high on Season 1, with her “Misty Vision,” and then she’s weak and vulnerable and so Nandi takes that moment to come on in and move her right out of the way.

Netflix/Strong Black Lead Campaign

TrunkSpace: You’ve had so many great moments over the course of your career. Are they moments that you can rank and compare, or, because you’ve come from so many different aspects of the industry, is it more like apples and oranges?
Smith: Yeah, it is a little bit like apples and oranges… kinda, sorta. The thread that kind of combines all of the stuff that I do is my passion and using my emotions. With this I, obviously acting is all about using your emotions, but so is singing. Maybe not for all singers, ’cause not all singers are singing about stuff that requires… it depends on the genre, depends on the kind of singing. But I come from that kind of big voice, diva, rooted in church place. And that’s all about passion and emotion and when I sing, I’m looking in people’s eyes and I’m trying to really touch them.

And that’s what we’re doing with TV and film. We’re really trying to touch you in some way, whether it’s making you laugh or making you cry or making you think. My music is the same. That’s the goal of both is to make you feel things.

I really just am spending my life trying to make people feel and hoping that maybe it heals them, or it gives them an escape from the, “Oh my God!” craziness we’re all living in. It’s so crazy. I think what we’re doing, with things like “Luke Cage” and the arts in general, is so necessary, because people need a way out of their current reality for at least a few minutes.

TrunkSpace: Finally, Antonique, if you could sit down with your younger self, the girl who was dreaming of the industry from afar, would she be surprised by how your career has played out?
Smith: Yeah, she would be surprised, because she would have had her own plan of how it was supposed to go – how little Antonique thought it was supposed to go. I was supposed to be a big singer first, and then acting would come second, so the fact that the pathway kind of made its own deviations from little Antonique’s plans, that would have been the surprise. I wouldn’t have been surprised at just being successful, in general, because I always believed that this was what I was supposed to do and that I was supposed to really touch the world with the different gifts that I felt I had been blessed with. So, that part wouldn’t have been a surprise to little Antonique, but definitely how it’s all happening.

TrunkSpace: So, it’s not the fact that you’ve gotten here, it’s that you took a left instead of a right?
Smith: Exactly. A lot of lefts. A lot of lefts instead of rights, for sure.

Season 2 of “Luke Cage” is available now on Netflix.

 

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Wingman Wednesday

Justin Swain

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Photo By: Jason Setiawan

As the title character from the Netflix series “Luke Cage,” Mike Colter brings a charismatic swagger to every scene he inhabits, but it is the supporting cast of characters who surround the hero with the unbreakable skin that helps to create such a unique and engaging world. With Season 2 recently dropping, fans of the Marvel Universe are getting an extended look at many of those characters, including Detective Bailey, played to likable perfection by Justin Swain.

We recently sat down with Swain to discuss finding his place in the Marvel Universe, understanding the complexity of its continuity, and why as an actor he’s always trying to be the best blue possible.

TrunkSpace: When a full season of a series that you’re starring in drops all on one day, is that a different experience than being a part of a show that releases a new episode week after week?
Swain: Yeah, it’s like having a gigantic movie explode over a weekend… all at once. It’s pretty crazy. It’s quite an event.

TrunkSpace: Because it’s within the Marvel Universe and part of a world where fans are so involved in every aspect of the storytelling, they must also always be looking for small details that even you might not expect them to be looking for?
Swain: Yeah. The response so far has been just incredible. People have been reaching out, on Instagram and everything, just picking up, like you said, on the little details along the way, showing how much they like it, and also at the same time, asking questions about the plot. I’m like, “You’ve got to keep watching. I can’t tell you what’s going to happen at the end. I’m not going to tell you what’s going on with Nandi, or what’s going to happen over the year with Misty. You’ve got to keep watching.” (Laughter) But it’s cool, the interaction on social media as people get into it over the weekend, has been really neat to watch.

TrunkSpace: When you step back and let it sink in, is it still sort of a pinch me moment to be able to say that you’re a part of the Marvel Universe?
Swain: Yeah. The whole thing, the whole ride of this, it has been extraordinary. Becoming a part of it, not knowing in the beginning what I was auditioning for, not knowing what I was getting into, seeing it grow, and then being able to work with such incredible people, it’s a real special experience. The way the people receive “Luke Cage” particularly, is flattering, and you also feel like you’re part of something really unique. That’s kind of what this whole weekend was about. We did the big launch premiere party on Thursday night. We got to watch an episode, and all the artists who performed at Harlem’s Paradise were performing at the premiere party, and there was the red carpet and everything… it was just overwhelming, and a pretty unique and fascinating experience.

TrunkSpace: What’s really cool, especially on the TV side of what Marvel’s doing, is that each project has its own feel and tone. Although they all go together, they all feel separate. Not to take anything away from the other shows, but “Luke Cage” really has a unique vibe to it, something that is entirely its own.
Swain: Yeah, not taking anything away from the other shows, but you’re right, I think they each have their own personality, and “Luke Cage” has a swagger, man. I think they use that word a few times when you’re watching it, and I think you can feel that swagger watching the show in the way that it’s put together, and the way you watch it. It almost has this kind of really cool retro feel to it – a little bit of a ‘70s vibe. If you watch closely, through the whole season, there’s a few different homages to a lot of those great ‘70s films and other filmmakers. If you really pay attention you can see specific shots. There’s something that happens at the end of the season that’s a direct homage to a great, great film, and a very specific moment. I think they use it so well. Props to the director, and to Cheo (Hodari Coker), and everybody putting that together.

TrunkSpace: You’re a writer as well. Can you appreciate just how much continuity the Marvel creators have to juggle, not only with the “Luke Cage” world, but for the overall Marvel Universe?
Swain: Yeah, as a writer, like you said, you look at everything you have to balance out, and so many different elements that you have to look at, make sure are represented, and maintain. You’re also balancing against a larger Marvel Universe. The amount of work and effort and planning that goes into that, and then to have it all coordinated from the top down by Jeph Loeb – he is the top of the pyramid – in the television world, to be able to do what they do, at the level they do it, it’s not easy. They make it look easy, and that’s what’s really cool about what they’re able to do.

TrunkSpace: And so when you first signed on, you didn’t know that Detective Bailey would be involved in the larger, longer overall story?
Swain: That’s right, it was like “The Princess Bride.” You’d go and you’d shoot an episode and, “Good night, Westley, sleep well. I may have to kill you in the morning.” (Laughter) That’s what it was like going to work, and luckily they kept bringing Bailey back. They were digging what I was putting on screen I guess, and also just the interaction with the rest of the cast. Every time they brought me back, I was like, “This is a privilege to be here.” And then to be able to take it into the second season, and to have Bailey change as much as he did, that was just the coolest gift, as well. I loved how they changed him, I loved what they did with him.

Photo By: Jason Setiawan

TrunkSpace: So knowing then what you know now, would you still have approached your performance of Bailey in the early going the same way?
Swain: I think that with more and more information, it’s good to be able to put that together, but Bailey himself as a character is learning about the world of this superhero almost in real time. It’s the same thing. That was an origin story, so Bailey was learning about it as it went. Again, it’s a testament to the writers, the natural evolution is for him to do what he does in the second season. You always want those little details that change up your performance. You can always look back, “Oh, if I only knew then what I know now,” but I think that’s in life, also. I like where they took it. What’s cool is, I think it’s a back and forth. I think it’s a dialog, whether you know you’re having it or not, with the writers’ room in some way, where I’m doing something one day on set, and maybe they see something they can build on or maybe they don’t, but hopefully they do and then they build on it and it comes out of the kernel of the character that you brought anyway. I think it’s a testament to them that they picked up on that, and they built it, and I followed their lead.

TrunkSpace: Does acting on a successful show like “Luke Cage” equate to more opportunities in your career as a writer and producer? Do the two help each other out?
Swain: I think that those worlds are quite separate in the entertainment industry. I think the biggest success that comes out of that is, each art form informs each art form. It’s like you’re looking at things as an actor and you say, “Okay, I know I’m playing my role here, and I know this is the approach to the character.” Well that informs how you’re writing multiple characters if you do get the opportunity to write something for a different program or a different show. The way you interact as an actor, you can transfer that when you’re writing characters. You’re playing those characters as you write them, and then vice versa, where it’s like you know when you’re writing something how everything fits, and it plays its own part in that gigantic puzzle piece. That helps me think as an actor, look at it and say, “Okay, what’s my puzzle piece in this particular project?”

It’s like painting, right? You mix together all these colors, you make something beautiful. When you’re an actor it’s like you’re going to be the best color blue you possibly can be, because that’s the part you play in the gigantic portrait. In that case you’re like, “Okay, I’m going to be the best color blue in this particular painting.” So I think the art forms inform and help each other, and helps you learn and grow as an overall artist.

Season 2 of “Luke Cage” is available now on Netflix.

Follow and interact with Swain on Instagram here.

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Wingman Wednesday

Rudy Martinez

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Photo By: Ryan West

Beneath his love for acting and a talent for puppeteering, Rudy Martinez is a storyteller at his core. Whether he is giving life to characters on screen or creating them from scratch with the written word, the California native is most at home when he’s entertaining. The “Jane the Virgin” alumni can currently be seen in Season 2 of “Dear White People,” available now on Netflix.

We recently sat down with Martinez to discuss the ways his “Dear White People” experience differed from previous jobs, how he was able to play up his character’s social awkwardness, and why he’d have no problem expressing love for a kitchen glass.

TrunkSpace: You’ve worked on a lot of television in the past. Has “Dear White People” been a different experience for you when you compare it to past roles and projects?
Martinez: Yeah, definitely. This was, I want to say, the biggest project I’ve done because my character had a whole story arc and I was featured in several episodes. I really feel like I played a big part on the show. It did change some things for me. I’ve been getting a lot of messages from fans who’ve reached out, especially since the show, because it deals with a lot of various issues – I would say first and foremost race and race tensions in America and also LGBT issues. I’ve been getting a lot of people who’ve been just letting me know what the character and what the show has meant to them and that’s meant a lot to me.

TrunkSpace: The show feels very timely in that messaging as well.
Martinez: Right. I totally agree and I think that Season 2 particularly, a large chunk of the show deals with the sort of… that because of the prevalence of social media these days, there’s these sort of anonymous racist Twitter trolls and Facebook trolls who are being given a bigger platform. Season 2 takes a critical look at that.

TrunkSpace: And what’s nice about Season 2 is that it steps out from the shadow of the film that it is based on and becomes its own entity.
Martinez: That’s right, and I really love seeing the backstory of a lot of the characters and getting more in depth with that. I really love that aspect of the show.

TrunkSpace: Now, your character, Wesley, he’s a bit socially awkward. Were you able to tap into that side of him and use it to make him as likable as he ultimately became?
Martinez: You know, I definitely think that I can be socially awkward sometimes, so I was definitely able to play myself in some instances. I really feel there was a lot of the part that was just so well written and the comedy was well written also, so it was an exercise for me and a little bit of a challenge to really nail that. I put a lot of work into it and ultimately, I was unsure how it would come off on screen. Then, when I watched it I was like, “Oh, thank God that played!” (Laughter) Yeah, the sort of awkwardness helped pump up the comedy a lot.

TrunkSpace: A personality trait like that must help you find the laughs within the performance and not just the dialogue, correct?
Martinez: Yeah, exactly, which is something that I love doing. I’m a theater guy, so I do a lot of physical theater and stuff. I studied clowning in college and things like that and so I was able to make the physical stuff work, too.

TrunkSpace: Your character is also dealing with a new love and discovering another human being, which everyone can relate to. When you’re in a story arc like that, where it’s so reliant on chemistry, how do you personally go about trying to establish that on screen? Is it all about homework beforehand with your co-star?
Martinez: There’s not a lot of interaction, actually, with my co-star before we start rehearsing and shooting. The rehearsals happen on this minutes before the actual shoot, so you don’t really get a lot of time. We did do a chemistry read together and I think that the director, Justin Simien, and the producers wanted to see who had natural chemistry together and I think that’s important, too.

In terms of portraying that sort of attraction, I was joking with friends and I was telling them that I love playing smitten and in love. It’s just my favorite emotion to play. I could pretend to be in love with anything. I could grab a glass from the kitchen and just pretend I’m doing a monologue and improvise a monologue and be in love with anything. It’s just, there’s something about it. I love using that emotion in my arsenal, so I was really just glad to be able to do that.

TrunkSpace: You’ve appeared on a number of great shows over the years, some of which ended their runs prematurely. Is there something nice about being able to be on a show where the entire season is both produced and seen without having to worry about it finding its audience so you can close out your arc?
Martinez: Yeah. That was actually really nice, and not only that, I think that the show has a lot of fans that have come from the original movie and from Season 1. It’s definitely something, doing a show that, first of all, you don’t know if it’s going to get picked up. There’s that whole thing. The nerves are in high during pilot season. And then it gets picked up, and then, ultimately if you’re on a show and it gets canceled, there’s that big letdown. For this, coming off of my experience with other shows, I kind of compartmentalized what my experience would be like on “Dear White People” and thought, this could be it, it could be just this chunk of episodes. Then, it comes out and the fans come with it and there’s a lot of support. It’s definitely a great feeling.

Photo By: Ryan West

TrunkSpace: Is that part of a defense mechanism as an actor, having to not look too far into the future with a particular character or project?
Martinez: Definitely. Definitely. I think actors face that every day, whether it’s in an audition where you feel like you really nailed it and then you don’t hear back… it’s always the ones where you think you didn’t really get it or you weren’t that enthusiastic about it and then you hear that you have a call back or you book it and it’s like, “Oh wow!” You, as an actor, you do have to do that a lot. Just going from past experiences, you have to let some things go.

TrunkSpace: How do you personally handle the heartbreak of a show not being picked up or learning that a series has been canceled?
Martinez: Friends, you know? There’s always something to celebrate or commiserate and I think that you give in to it. You let yourself do what you need to do and then you pick up and move on. Then, over time, that process becomes a lot quicker. I think that your first letdown in Hollywood, it can last months, but as it goes along, you grow a thick skin and you learn to move on.

TrunkSpace: You’re also a puppeteer. Which love came first, acting or puppeteering?
Martinez: They’re a little one and the same. Maybe my first performances were when I was a child acting out puppet shows for my family. I was obsessed with “The Muppets” so I would take socks and stuff and make fake Muppets and do little performances for my family, so I think that maybe that was my first love. Underneath that is my love for telling stories and improvising and pretending and just giving voices to characters that aren’t me. In that respect, they are one and the same.

Dear White People” is available now on Netflix.

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