Q&A: Carmen Ejogo stars in the film “It Comes at Night”
Carmen Ejogo has established a distinguished career in both feature films and television. She is best known for her leading role of civil rights activist Coretta Scott King, playing opposite David Oyelowo in Ava DuVernay’s universally acclaimed “Selma,” as well as for her mind-blowing lead role as Sister in “Sparkle,” alongside Whitney Houston and Jordin Sparks. Ejogo was seen most recently playing the key role of Seraphina Picquery, President of the Magical Congress of the United States of America in J.K.Rowling’s “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” alongside an all-star cast that included Eddie Redmayne, Colin Farrell, Ezra Miller, Jon Voigt and Samantha Morton.
Ejogo also plays a key role in Ridley Scott’s highly anticipated prequel, “Alien: Covenant,” with Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender and Katherine Waterston. The story follows on from 2012’s Oscar-nominated “Prometheus,” as the crew of the colony ship Covenant discover what they think is an uncharted paradise, but actually is a dark, dangerous world whose sole inhabitant is the synthetic David, survivor of the doomed Prometheus expedition.
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To see a trailer for “It Comes at Night,” visit: www.youtube.com/w…
Ejogo currently is filming the second series of Starz’ acclaimed drama “The Girlfriend Experience,” from executive producers Steven Soderbergh and Philip Fleishman. In one of two parallel storylines, she plays Bria Jones, who, after discovering disturbing information about a regular client, is forced to relocate to a remote location in New Mexico. Unable to shake her desire for risky relationships and the finer things in life, Bria navigates her new penniless and surreal existence by forming eerily intimate transactional relationships. While Bria’s ghosts from the past continue to haunt, her new connections with men redefine the meaning of the girlfriend experience.
Earlier last year Ejogo won plaudits for her lead role opposite Ethan Hawke in the independent feature “Born to be Blue,” depicting jazz legend Chet Baker’s musical comeback in the late ‘60s. She made her U.S. film debut opposite Eddie Murphy playing Veronica “Ronnie” Tate in the 1997 comedy “Metro.” She then went on to star in films such as Kenneth Branagh’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Love’s Labour’s Lost”; “What’s the Worst that Could Happen?” opposite Martin Lawrence; Neil Jordan’s “The Brave One” opposite Terrence Howard and Jodie Foster; Gavin O’Connor’s “Pride and Glory,” opposite Ed Norton; and Sam Mendes’ 2009 indie hit “Away We Go,” opposite Maya Rudolph.
On television, Ejogo garnered the attention of television critics and audiences for her portrayal of Sally Hemings, the title character in the 2000 CBS miniseries “Sally Hemings: An American Scandal.” She first took the role of Coretta Scott King in HBO’s critically acclaimed “Boycott,” opposite Jeffrey Wright and Terrence Howard. That earned her a 2001 Image Award nomination for Outstanding Actress in a TV film or miniseries. She also starred in HBO’s Emmy nominated “Lackwanna Blues,” where her role as Alean earned her a second Image Award nomination, also for Outstanding Actress in a TV film or miniseries. Ejogo also has starred as FBI agent Becca Sunjata in the ABC television series “Zero Hour,” opposite Anthony Edwards.
She recently sat down to reflect on her career and latest film.
Kam Williams: You’re really enjoying a renaissance in recent years, after taking a break to raise the kids. You were in “Selma,” “Fantastic Beasts,” “Alien: Covenant,” and now this film.
Carmen Ejogo: Yeah, I feel very fortunate to be able to have the kind of career that I want. It’s not always so easy with children.
What interested you in “It Comes at Night”?
CE: Coming into it, we knew we were going to be working with a visionary director in Trey Edward Shults, having seen his first film, “Krisha.” It was so striking and original that you just knew that any movie he made was going to have a unique stamp on it. So, it wasn’t that difficult a decision to be a part of this film, although it was still a very ambitious, high-risk experiment in many ways. But that pushing of boundaries was part of the project’s appeal, quite frankly.
How did you manage to produce a masterpiece on a modest budget?
CE: It wasn’t about money, really. It’s more about a strong script, excellent ideas and a great application of those ideas. Trey exhibited resourcefulness at its best as a director, and we all became one unit with the same intention. Sometimes, with the right attitude, you can actually be inspired by the absence of a budget.
Your co-star, Joel Edgerton, was brilliant as your husband in this film, as he was in “Loving.”
CE: Yes, he’s phenomenal in this. Like so many people, I’m just discovering him in real time. He’s quite a gift and an immense talent: writer, director, actor. He’s quite a special human being in many ways.
Riley Keough is also in this film. Had you worked with her before?
CE: No, although she was at the helm of the first season of “The Girlfriend Experience,” and I’m going to be taking on the role for the second season. We talked about the show on set, but I hadn’t yet signed on. I had much trepidation until Riley and I had some conversations about it. So, she’s part of the reason why I ended up going for it.
What message do you think people will take away from “It Comes at Night”?
CE: I think Trey’s intention was to leave it enough open to interpretation so that multiple messages might be taken from it. But there was no agenda or particular intention other than the film’s being an examination of human nature at its best and worst, and of what the family unit can descend into when survival and tribal mentality kick in. Personally, I feel the film is deeply relevant to what’s happening culturally at this point in time, in terms of people fearing anyone from the outside and choosing to isolate.
You often manage to end up in very interesting movies. How do you recognize a great script?
CE: I’ve often wondered about that myself. At the end of the day, I really go with my personal taste and with what’s on the page in terms of character. But beyond that, there’s a complexity about the scripts I tend to respond to. I’ve not lost my curiosity about how the world functions. And a script that can embody that and thematically explore bigger questions in a way which seems fresh is likely to get my attention. Frankly, I also have an eye for what will appeal to an audience, as opposed to a self-indulgent exercise that isn’t taking the audience into account.
How did you prepare for the role of Sarah?
CE: I definitely tried to fill her back story, which I don’t do for every role. Sometimes, it doesn’t feel necessary. But with this one, I felt it was important to have a sense of Sarah’s relationship with her husband because where you meet her is a place of such deterioration and lack of communication. I needed to understand how they’d arrived at that point. I also felt it was worth exploring Sarah’s relationships with her father and son. And because Trey wanted the picture to have a sense of timelessness, I felt quite excited by the idea of Sarah’s aesthetic being the subject of a Dorothea Lange, Depression-era portrait. Traditionally, you didn’t see people of color in this kind of movie I was watching while growing up. So, there was something very interesting to me about the idea of a mashup, a reinterpretation of the genre.
Given that you sing, would you be interested in doing a musical on Broadway or on screen? If so, would you like to do a revival or an original like “La La Land”?
CE: All of the above. Yeah. Music is so much a part of my being. I haven’t gotten to explore it much in recent years.