Shahadi Wright Joseph & Anika Noni Rose Discuss Complex Characters in ‘THEM’

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*THEM (streaming on Amazon Prime starting today, April 9) is a limited anthology series that explores terror in America.

Set in the 1950s, it centers on a Black family that moves from North Carolina to an all-white Los Angeles neighborhood during “The Great Migration.” The family’s new dream home becomes ground zero where evil forces – both next-door and otherworldly – threaten to taunt, ravage and destroy them.

The series stars Ashley Thomas (“Top Boy,” “24 Legacy”) and Deborah Ayorinde (“Harriet,” “Luke Cage”) as Henry and Lucky Emory, a couple that moves with their two daughters Ruby (Shahadi Wright Joseph – “US”) and Gracie (Melody Hurd) to East Compton, CA for Henry’s new job. However, Compton isn’t so friendly and before they can even settle in their new white neighbor Betty (Alison Pill) begins a terror campaign to “make this place worse than wherever they came from.”

EURweb correspondent Jill Munroe talked with series co-stars Wright Joseph, Pill, and series guest star Anika Noni-Rose (Ella Mae) about portraying their complicated characters.

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Shahadi Wright Joseph on dealing with the racial aggressions her character Ruby endures:

Shahadi Wright Joseph: Number one, a lot of the scenes were hard to read in the script at first. But I feel like preparing for this, I take myself out of the picture as Shahadi, the actor out of it, and really get into being Ruby, which was difficult. I have never experienced the type of blatant racism that Ruby has. But, I am Black. I have some idea about what it’s going to be like. So, I say that it was most definitely a heartfelt challenge for me. Whenever I would see Little Marvin (series creator) on set, I would tell him; I have a bone to pick with you. Why did you write this? I felt like I had the most difficult scenes to do. But I have to say, Deborah’s scenes were very hard, especially when watching it. But I really felt for Ruby.

Anika Noni-Rose was excited when she read the script and the role of Ella Mae:

My immediate thought was yes, thank you. I was very excited by the concept and just how different this world is and was. And yet, it’s recognizable because it’s still steeped in truth.  I loved this character. I liked exploring the space that she is living in, which is currently a very small space. Not physically, but her mental space has become very small because she has become so damaged. She’s very tight… she’s really holding on by a thread when we meet her. I think that both she and Lucky were so happy to see another of themselves in that neighborhood and in that space where so much ugliness has been heaped upon them. And she’s been living in this neighborhood much longer than Lucky. So, I think Lucky sees her as potentially a life preserver. But finds very quickly that Ella Mae can’t save anyone else. She’s not able.

Allison Pill on what made her want to portray the role of “Betty”:

Well, it’s twofold; when I first read the script, I thought this is incredible—this way of telling a story, combining the real world, historical, and therefore contemporary terror. Combined with the horror tropes with a twist, I thought it was an incredible way into the story. And into telling a story about race in this country in a way that I hadn’t seen before. I was excited by that.

via Amazon Studios

In terms of “Betty,” I’m really interested in how white women get away with what they get away with. Including myself, in terms of the ways, we manipulate and use our perceived vulnerability or sort of the historical perception of vulnerability to our advantage to police other people. So, coming at it from this, how do you say the most hateful things you can imagine with a smile. And sort of exploring that aspect of white womanhood and my place in it was really interesting to me. Having LM (Little Marvin) write this character who is not reductive and not easily classifiable. Besides being the villain. She’s not one-dimensional. There is other stuff going on.

THEM is created and executive produced by Little Marvin and executive producers Lena Waithe, Miri Yoon and Roy Lee of Vertigo Entertainment, David Matthews, and Don Kurt. THEM is a co-production from Sony Pictures Television and Amazon Studios. It debuts on Amazon Prime today, Friday, April 9.



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