[Interview] Jodie Turner-Smith for AFTER YANG
Courtesy A24

Jodie Turner-Smith is an English actor, who has worked both in film and television, including shows such as “The Last Ship”, “Nightflyers,” and “Jett”. Her first lead film role was in Queen & Slim with Daniel Kaluuya. Her role in AFTER YANG is the mother Kyra who seems to be holding back sadness because she is prioritizing the happiness of everyone else over herself, as mothers do.

Recently, Nightmarish Conjurings’ Dolores Quintana spoke with her about her career and upcoming projects and, of course, her experience as an actor on the beautiful film AFTER YANG. One of the many interesting things that she points out is that different film sets and directors making different types of films have different atmospheres. It’s important to point out that it doesn’t necessarily make one or the other better, only different.

It’s a lovely film. How did you become involved with it?

Jodie Turner-Smith: Basically, the script had come my way before and I was in the middle of doing Queen & Slim. I just had no bandwidth to even read it. It [Queen & Slim] was quite intense. [It was] my first time starring in a movie. I was like, Whoa, I couldn’t even give my full attention. Afterward, I went on holiday, and when I came back from holiday, my team wrote to me and said that the project came back around because they had to cast the role but the actress that they cast in the role was unable to get a visa, as is wont to happen to some actresses and actors when they’re trying to enter the United States, and they come from certain places which is very shameful. So, sadly, for her, she couldn’t be in the film. But that gave me an opportunity to audition for it. I flew to New York to audition for this film. Some things happened that made it so that I didn’t end up getting there when I was supposed to get there but Colin waited for me. He read with me and he was like, “This is our Kyra.” Kogonada saw the tape and he agreed. That was Thursday and I think I started filming on Monday. I’m gonna have to jump straight into that project and it was just so wonderful. It was wonderful. I loved the script, first of all, and then when I saw who was involved and who was attached, and I was just like, to go from having Daniel Kaluuya as my leading man to having Colin Farrell as my leading man, like, whose life is this? What is life? It was just, it was quite a ride of beauty and gentleness and compassion and spirit and it was amazing.

Courtesy A24

How did you relate to the character that you’ve played? What is it about her that you kind of latched on to because you gave a great performance. I was wondering what you related to in her as a character?

Jodie Turner-Smith: Well, for me, it was this idea that Kyra was going through something that she wasn’t talking about, which I think is such a human experience. You know, when you don’t feel seen, inside of your home, inside of your relationship, when you feel like you can’t be seen because you’re trying to carry everything and something else is more important, especially for women. We think that being a mom is more important. Being a good wife is more important than my struggles, the things that… We are often expected as women to be just so resilient, no matter the heartbreaks.

For Kyra, I felt like this was what that story was about for her, just not feeling seen, and not being able to talk about that. And then Yang sees her. Yang, this person who she’s been regarding as just a machine, who is convenient for what she needs to get done for her family. He kind of holds a mirror up to her and shows her that she was never alone. She’s always been seen, and not just by Yang, but by the rest of her family as well. I thought that was really beautiful. I just feel like the idea of desperately wanting people to see us and feeling so alone in our pain and our trauma is so common and so human. And, the reality is that pain is not unique. You know, we are all experiencing it. It’s just always so hard for us to see past what’s hurting us to understand that someone else will absolutely understand what I’m going through.

What I was going to say about your performance is that it seems on the surface, so reserved, but there’s so much going on underneath. And I was wondering how you worked with the director, and the other actors? Because it is such a quiet piece and in a low-key way, but I think it’s much more effective for that. How do you, you took that performance that reserve, and worked with the director and the other actors?

Jodie Turner-Smith: Yes. So, Kogonada is such an incredible director. He really creates this gentle space on his set for you to just express. He’s not a director… First of all, in the script, there’s not… Some scripts have a lot of stage direction or notes in them [that say] this is what’s going on internally for your character. He’s just not that kind of a director. He really very much trusts his actors to fill that in. So, I feel like there was this space of warmth and compassion and trust that was created on set that made me feel like I could do anything and bring what I was, whatever I had sort of conceived of Kyra to the table. Then he would direct me farther in or in a different direction.

What I’m getting from speaking with the actors was that the set was really kind of a family experience and that you did have a lot of latitude in your creative expression. And your present. Yeah. I was wondering if that is an experience that you’ve had before? Or if it was kind of a new, impossibly scary experience?

Jodie Turner-Smith: Honestly, I hadn’t had that experience before. My first movie was Queen & Slim and it was a different energy on set. We were doing something that was so tense, so intense. Then also, a lot of times, I feel with films when you are a minority, Black filmmakers, there’s so much pressure to be perfect. So that energy, and then for me, it was my first film. So, there was so much pressure I was putting on myself to be perfect. I didn’t feel like I could be comfortable in that way on set. Do you know what I mean? I had a whole different conception of myself in that movie.

So, when I came to AFTER YANG, which is my second film, Kogonada created this atmosphere that was like a family. It was super gentle, letting you make what choice you want, it was totally different. And it was exactly what I needed. It was like the therapy I needed after Queen & Slim. It was like the gentleness, the exhale, the back rub after Queen & Slim because it was a big topic. It was scary in so many ways.

Are there types of roles that you’d like to branch out to from here? Queen & Slim, as you mentioned, was very different from AFTER YANG. What would you like to work on? What type of aspirations do you have as an actress?

Jodie Turner-Smith: I mean, I want to do everything. I love drama. I absolutely love drama. I love sci-fi. Action can be a lot of fun when you work with the right people. I’ve just started to dip my toe into the world of comedy. I did a Noah Baumbach movie last year and now I’m doing Murder Mystery 2. And, it’s a whole different beast, comedy, that it’s its own scariness. I’m just Bambi in all of this. I want to do it all. I feel like the world could be my oyster and I want to approach it that way. At the same time, I’m literally flying by the seat of my pants. I really don’t have a grand plan of how it’s going to work. When I see material that resonates with me, or people that I want to work with, or stories that I feel like, Oh, I really want to tell that story, then I jump for it.

Courtesy A24

In your work, are you more impulsive? A lot of actors like to plan a lot of what they do. Are you more of a person who is an actor who is more instinctual and impulsive or more of an actor who plans what they do?

Jodie Turner-Smith: I feel like acting is a mixture of both, right? Because you sort of make the plans, right? You map it out for yourself. You say, “Well, this is what I think the story is and [this is] what I’m going to do here and how I would respond.” Then hopefully, you let it all go and be alive in it when you get on set. Because all the preparation you do doesn’t involve the person who’s going to be in front of you bringing their preparation and the director and the weather and the blocking. You can block it out for yourself at home and then you go to work, and it’s a completely different thing.

Then you go in, and you say, “Well, this is the idea that I had of what I want to do,” and that might not be what the director wants, and you have to be able to let that go or argue for what you want in a way that’s constructive. Pitch what you’d like to do and see if that works. If they don’t want that, then you want to throw that away. So as I said, I’m inexperienced, so I like to approach everything with this idea that I have so much to learn. I know everything and I know nothing, nothing at all. So, don’t get attached to anything, be prepared to hear no, and just go with the work prepared so that you can be ready to throw away anything that doesn’t actually work on the day.

I think that’s a great way to look at it. That flexibility. So you mentioned that you’re working on another project.

Jodie Turner-Smith: I’m working on two other projects, actually. The announcements came out, so it’s not a secret. I’m doing Murder Mystery 2 with Jennifer Aniston and Adam Sandler, which I’m very excited for, directed by Jeremy Garelick. It’s just a great group of people. I’m definitely enjoying that. We’ve already started filming some of that and we’re going to finish the rest of it in a couple of weeks.

Then I’m here in Miami, because I’m working on Bill Lawrence’s new show for Apple, which is called “Bad Monkey”. Which is also going to be such a laugh. I mean, this is television and not film, which I think is its own level of fun. Because I think there obviously aren’t a lot of differences between TV and film. But I think now that television is so much more like film than it ever was and there’s so much available. Then [with television] you have a lot more time to tell the story. So it can be really fun. So yeah, I’ve laughed a lot already this year, and it’s only February 10th, so [gives thumbs up].

AFTER YANG is now available in select theaters and is now streaming on Showtime. To learn more about the film, check out Dolores’ interview with Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja.

Dolores Quintana
Follow Me
Latest posts by Dolores Quintana (see all)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *