*Interview contains spoilers*
Though he’s been acting since 2015 in series such as The Get Down and films such as Patti Cake$ and The Circle, actor Mamoudou Athie has since crossed over into the supernatural/sci-fi realm in both 2020’s aquatic horror film, Underwater, and the recently released psychological thriller BLACK BOX, which is part of Amazon Prime Video/Blumhouse’s “Welcome to the Blumhouse” series. For the release of BLACK BOX, I had the opportunity to chat with Mamoudou Athie who discussed everything from working with Director Emmanuel Osei-Kuffour to the challenges of bringing his character to life.
In BLACK BOX, from Director Emmanueul Osei-Kuffour, after losing his wife and his memory in a car accident, a single father (Mamoudou Athie) undergoes an agonizing experimental treatment that causes him to question who he really is.
Thank you so much for speaking with today about BLACK BOX. To start things off, can you talk a little bit about what drew you to the role of Nolan?
Mamoudou Athie: Well, it was certainly unlike anything I’ve ever done before. I’ve never really seen that opportunity to play someone going through such stress in that particular way, so that was exciting. And for sure, [Director] Emmanuel Osei-Kuffour. We spoke and I just wanted to work with the guy. I think he’s super talented but I also love where his head and heart are at and I just felt aligned with him.
(SPOILERS AHEAD) In this film, you are essentially playing two roles, that of Nolan but also that of the mysterious Thomas. What was that experience like?
Mamoudou Athie: 99.8% of the film I’m playing Thomas, he just doesn’t remember for a good portion of that. Then there’s like the bookends of the film. The very beginning of the film I’m playing Nolan, in that old archival videotape where I’m with my daughter (played by Amanda Christine), and at the very end, where it’s Nolan with his daughter, and it’s kind of the same…damn, I just realized it begins with an embrace and ends in an embrace with those two. Emmanuel man, I’m telling you that guys special, the guy has got it (laughs). So I’m really playing Thomas and he doesn’t remember who he is for a long time. He has these impulses, but he’s being told he’s someone else. Then he remembers exactly who he is but now there are circumstances that are foreign to him for a reason. So he’s not just someone who has completely lost it. So yeah, that’s was kind of a fun thing for me.
Since he’s been brought up a few times, how was it working alongside Emmanuel and what type of tools did he offer, if any, to better understand the circumstances that your character has found himself in?
Mamoudou Athie: Oh, he’s the best. He’s just so well prepared and has such a love and respect for all of the characters that he writes. He also really cares about his crew and the actors that he’s working with and wants to do it as fully as can possibly be. I love that kind of discipline and that respectful ambition to bring out the best in people, I think it’s awesome. He can’t help it, I think it’s the best, I love him. [In terms of research], not really. I mean, it’s not amnesia, he hasn’t forgotten…I mean, he certainly has forgotten something but that’s the result of being in another body and being told this, that, and the other. The head injury, for sure, there’s something to that, but we decided that in terms of what’s important for the storytelling, any additional circumstances like that, that was kind of portrayed, I felt like would be a little distracting for the story that we’re really trying to tell.
One of my favorite aspects of the film was the father/daughter relationship between Nolan and Ava. What was it like working with Amanda Christine, especially since she portrays this sort of “old soul”?
Mamoudou Athie: Yo, that’s what I’ve been telling everybody! There’s a scene near the end of the movie where I’m driving away and I leave her with my friend (played by Tosin Morohunfola) and I look back, and of course I didn’t see it on the day, but when I was watching the rough cut, but I was like, yo what, how old are you? (laughs). She’s incredible, I’m endlessly fascinated by her. She is fantastic in this movie. I have to also mention, of course, Ms. Phylicia Rashad, she’s also wonderful. I loved working with her, [she’s the] ultimate scene partner, you can’t ask for anybody more experienced and generous and giving than her. She’s the best.
With all the themes that this film presents, what are you hoping viewers will take away from BLACK BOX?
Mamoudou Athie: I get asked that question a lot and I don’t have an answer. I’m really curious to see what people take away from it though myself because I’m so mired up in just the filmmaking of it that everything else became not my business. So I’m really curious in seeing how people respond to it.
BLACK BOX is now available to stream on Amazon Prime Video. For more on the film, check out our review here.
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