“It is very rare to have a leading role in a genre film being black”

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Mahershala Ali is not your typical Hollywood star. At 47, the first Muslim actor to win an Oscar (he has two thanks to Moonlight Y Green Book) has never headlined a movie. While waiting for Marvel to roll the new version of Blade replacing pioneer Wesley Snipes, Ali has brought the battered back to life True Detective and shattered stereotypes with his role as spiritual leader in the cult series Framework. With his first film as the protagonist, he breaks the ground again. The swan song, the latest release of Apple TV +, is one of the few Hollywood movies starring a black actor beyond the regulars Will Smith and Denzel Washington. The awards have once again demonstrated their weakness for him: Mahershala Ali was the big surprise in the Golden Globes nominations, announced last Monday.

The feature film debut of Benjamin Cleary, Oscar winner in 2015 for the short Tartamudo, allows the actor to play not one, but two characters. The swan song takes us to the near future to tell the story of Cameron, a terminally ill parent. His environment knows nothing and he will never be able to know it if he wants to accept the offer of the doctor who offers him an alternative solution that could save his family the pain of grief: cloning himself and being replaced by a version of himself, Jack, who shares their memories. Cameron must accept if he seizes the opportunity as he deals with his impending death.

The swan song It is your first film as a lead and as a producer. What was it that caught your attention about her?

The story seemed unique to me. It’s not something that would have crossed my path before. It’s very rare to have a leading role in a genre movie as a black actor, you know? That The swan song Having such a great dilemma and premise made me really drawn to the story and all the drama that could naturally arise from all the conflicts that the movie raises. It was very exciting for me. The last key was to meet Benjamin, the scriptwriter and director. I was impressed by him as a person and realized that his connection to the material was real. I understood why he wanted to write a story like this. I couldn’t refuse.

Why do you think it is so rare to see actors in these kinds of movies? Have there really been breakthroughs in the stories of the black community told in Hollywood?

Hollywood has progressed, of course. The industry is very different from what it was when I was a child. It has also changed since I entered the business twenty years ago. But the truth is that if you think of fantasy stories, it would be difficult to name five fantasy stories that have black characters as protagonists. It’s the same with science fiction. They do not exist. I’m not criticizing it, but it’s easy to see when something is a rarity. Having a black family at the head of a story that doesn’t talk about the experience of being black or conflicts stemming from race is still rare.

Cameron and Poppy are a normal family that has human problems, like so many other couples who deal with things like that. The difference is that they are black, but almost always being black is the main conflict in stories starring black actors. It is not true that we do not exist in other types of films, but how often do we appear from the point of view of the protagonist who carries the weight of the story? In Green Book he had a character that he had barely seen. It was rare to see someone who was empowered at that time. I’m always looking for something that’s something special or that doesn’t just wave a flag and say, “Hey, we have a problem here.” I want to contribute that way. I think it’s refreshing and can add something to the conversation or help create a space for other actors to have similar or even better opportunities.

Awkwafina plays a woman who has already gone through the dilemma of the protagonist of ‘Swan Song’.

You play two characters in the movie, but not in an unconventional way because they are actually the same person. How does that affect the work of an actor?

The script helped me a lot. It was very helpful that Benjamin Cleary was also the author of the script. I think he did a great job creating two versions of the same person who actually want different things. They share one thing: their desire to protect and care for their family, but one of them is also dealing with the end of his life and the other is eager to seize the opportunity to have a full life. The two are at very different points. Power dynamics greatly influenced how I behaved with each character. When it was my turn to play Jack, I saw him as a kind of little brother to Cameron. In that sense they were very different characters and I never had a problem separating them. There were other little details too. Cameron has very serious health problems, so it was clear to him that he could not have the same kind of energy. You touch things a little slower, you move slower, you breathe differently. Jack has a halo of hope in all his appearances.

There are many themes in this movie: pain, love, death, the idea of ​​letting things go. How did doing The swan song?

I think it is a very recognizable story that connects with many of the things that make us human. That is why I believe this deeply personal and unique story at heart is something universal. We have all experienced loss or pain in some way, or we have struggled to be satisfied with our lives. Cameron is not. He has a job that he is not totally inspired by, but he is good at. You are in a relationship that has been through difficult times, but you have been working on it to save your marriage. Try to be a good parent. I felt deeply connected to all of this. As a husband and father that I am in real life, I feel the responsibility to be as present as possible in my son and in the life of my partner.

Mahersala Ali and Naomi Harris reunite after 'Moonlight'.

Mahersala Ali and Naomi Harris reunite after ‘Moonlight’.

It’s been five years since Moonlight, a movie that changed the lives of all of you who worked on it, what was it like to meet up with Naomie Harris after sharing only one scene there?

Working with Naomi again was a dream. She is a very committed actress and a leader. He is very Brave. By brave I mean we had to do really difficult things in the movie. There were many things that were not written and we created situations on the fly. Ben was looking to capture special moments that later appeared on film as a flashbacks. There were a lot of ideas that we had to say yes to and get down to business. We never rehearse, but she always was. I felt very safe. We supported each other and we were always there for the sake of the story. She is an extraordinary ally. I discovered it already doing Moonlight, but it was a very brief experience [Naomie Harris solo tuvo tres días para rodar sus escenas en la película de Barry Jenkins]. It was a dream here because we had time to revel in the characters and just relax with them and try to bring them to life.

The film is told from the point of view of Cameron’s character. Did you wonder how Jack would see things, someone who was just born and suddenly has a chance to live?

Jack feels that he has a right to live life because in his mind he has indeed been living that life. When he woke up, so to speak, he didn’t see himself differently from Cameron. They both have the same memories, so I think Jack understands better than anyone what Cameron is going through. The problem is Cameron’s, and this is what can go unnoticed. The character cannot share this dilemma or this opportunity with his wife. Since he cannot talk to Poppy about what is happening to him, he has more doubts than if he could really talk to her about something that also affects him. Jack witnesses Cameron having doubts as to whether or not what he can do is right, basically because he cannot speak to anyone who could give him advice that will comfort him and allow him to move on. Jack knows how delicate the situation is for Cameron, but he doesn’t know how to approach it and make the decision easier for him. It is a very complicated situation.

Cameron and Jack in 'Swan Song'.

Cameron and Jack in ‘Swan Song’.

This film mainly talks about how to deal with grief and loss. You play a character who has to accept his own death. Has your perspective changed The swan song?

I don’t know if Cameron is necessarily an example of how to handle pain per se, but I feel like by watching Cameron’s journey, you can realize how a part of himself comes to life. My favorite moment in the movie happens towards the end when Cameron is sitting in his office and seeing what Jack has done with the art on the walls. It seems that he is making changes in his career and regaining his passions. Cameron is not necessarily disappointed or sad at the time. He is more amazed. I remember sitting there like Cameron and looking around the room and just taking it in.

What the movie taught me is that I, too, have a Jack who tries to help improve my life. Right now, that’s just a voice saying “you don’t need to do that”, “that will take you in the wrong direction”, or “you need to get out of this job and move on to this one.” “Maybe it’s time to move out of town. , or you need to improve your relationship. ”All these ideas trying to get you on a better path. I don’t think we need a death sentence or a ticking clock to motivate us.“ Let me become a version of myself. Let me find fulfillment in my life. “We live in a time when we should be much more sensitive to the fact that life is something wonderful and finite. We don’t know if we will see the end of this day, much less tomorrow.

Swan Song is now available on Apple TV +.

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