CS Interview: Janelle Monáe on social horror-thriller Antebellum
ComingSoon.net got the opportunity to chat with eight-time Grammy nominee Janelle Monáe (The Glorias) to discuss her role in the upcoming socially driven horror-thriller Antebellum, which is set to hit digital platforms this week!
With the film taking a mind-bending approach at exploring the real terrors of the past and its connection to the modern world, Monáe reflected on her own connection to the past and how it influences her as an artist and person, referencing William Faulkner’s iconic quote from 1951’s Requiem for a Nun, “the past is never dead, it’s not even past.”
“What I think this film deals with is how it’s all connected,” Monáe expressed. “There’s no way to talk about what’s going on today, as it pertains to white supremacy and systemic racism, without talking about slavery and how the racist policies we have today were not rooted in the same ideologies when we were stolen and forced to move to America. For me, I am constantly trying to make sure that we don’t forget about what happened to the lawyers, the doctors, the artists that were stolen and forced to live here and now as a result of that, we still don’t have the freedom to jog without being shot. Still as black women we are being silenced and experiencing violence disproportioned. It’s all connected and our future is going to depend on us analyzing what happened, how did we get here, and I think that’s what this film touches on, past, present and future.”
When it came to getting to the heart of her character, a woman with many similarities to herself, the 34-year-old star found that her biggest creative challenges was breaking down where she was at each point in the story and how to remain consistent with her diverse traits across the very different areas of the film.
“She is so layered and depending on where you are in the film, she had to adapt to her circumstances and I think for me, I had to figure out how to not get overwhelmed with the beginning, middle and end,” Monáe explained. “I had to break the movements up and figure out how to make sure that even though she was put in different circumstances, you still see at the core that she is a fighter, you still see that she is a thought leader and that she is willing to take risks and she still cares about her community. All of those things needed to be consistent throughout the film and the character.”
Though it results in some of the most difficult to watch moments in any film dealing with the subject, Monáe recalled that building an off-camera rapport with her antagonist costars was not only vital before the cameras began rolling, but also brought some brighter moments for her on set.
“With the antagonists, it was very important that we got to know each other as humans,” Monáe described. “I wanted to know what they stood for outside of being actors, I wanted to know about their families, I wanted to know about why they said yes to the project, because we were going to be getting on a plantation together. I wanted to know that this is a character you’re going to be playing and that in real life you would never do anything like this or want to be a part of it. You have to ask those questions, because this is sensitive for black people to put themselves in the portrayal of being an enslaved person. And we did, we had lots of philosophical conversations, we ate lunch together and what I love most is that the antagonists in the film always made sure that I felt safe and that I was okay. After each take, I just remember Jack, I remember Eric, I remember Jena asking over and over again, ‘Are you okay? Are you uncomfortable? Does this make you uncomfortable? Let me know, I want to make sure I’m being authentic to the character but not at the expense of your safety, physically and mentally.’”
Building the chemistry with her friends and family in the film also proved to be important to Monáe as it both helped her further get into the mindset of Veronica but also gave the audiences an extra emotional layer required for a horror protagonist.
“I think with my friends in the film, we talked and one of the things that was going to be important is that when this happens to Veronica, when she goes through this traumatic event or events, people have to empathize with her,” Monáe noted. “When she’s gone, her presence has to be missed and the things that help the audience, in my opinion, miss her is her interactions with her family. When you see that this woman is a mother, she is a best friend, she is a wife, she was and is loved by her community, it makes you root for her even more. It humanizes her in a way that feels familiar and something that you’d want to protect. You should want to protect human life anyway, but I think that seeing her in the context of her friends and family makes you want to root for her even more in this film.”
In Antebellum, successful author Veronica Henley (Monáe) finds herself trapped in a horrifying reality that forces her to confront the past, present and future – before it’s too late. Advocacy filmmakers Gerard Bush + Christopher Renz (Bush | Renz) – best known for their pioneering advertising work engaged in the fight for social justice – write, produce and direct their first feature film, teaming with QC Entertainment, producer of the acclaimed films Get Out and BlacKkKlansman, Zev Foreman, Lezlie Wills, and Lionsgate for the mind-bending new thriller Antebellum.
The film stars Janelle Monáe, Eric Lange, Jena Malone, Jack Huston, Kiersey Clemons, Gabourey Sidibe, Marque Richardson, Robert Aramayo, Lily Cowles, and introducing Tongayi Chirisa. Written and Directed by Gerard Bush & Christopher Renz. Produced by Raymond Mansfield, p.g.a., Sean McKittrick, p.g.a., Zev Foreman, p.g.a., Gerard Bush, Christopher Renz, and Lezlie Wills, p.g.a.
The movie will premiere as a Premium On-Demand release, debuting on all platforms on September 18. The film will be released theatrically in select international markets.