Almost all her life, 40-year-old Danielle Deadwyler has been used to the story of Mamie Till-Mobley.
The actress — a self-professed ‘child from Atlante’ — tells of her first encounter with Till Mobley in elementary school. Till-Mobley embarked on a mission for justice following the murder of her 14-year-old son, Emmett, in 1995.
However, that early acquaintance didn’t prepare Deadwyler for the feelings that emerged when he first read Till’s script, written by screenwriter and director Chinonye Chukwu.
“I saw the script come in over email. And I was like, ‘Oh, God. I can’t process this right now,” Deadwyler said in an interview with EW ahead of Till’s premiere in Los Angeles last October.
“It was a little bit of fear. It was a little bit of anxiety and nervousness about going there in general, right? And so, I had to slow-step into taking all of it in.”
Deadwyler is best known for his critically acclaimed debut on HBO’s Station Eleven.
She said she put the self-tape audition aside for a few weeks. Finally, after three or four readings, she landed the role of Mamie.
“I’m a child of certain civil-rights legacy institutions in Atlanta,” said Deadwyler. She reminisced about her time as a Southern Christian Leadership Conference volunteer with Martin Luther King Jr. as director.
“I didn’t know it at the time, but it’s kind of energy and spirit working over [the film]. That’s what got me into it. I came into it with a personal legacy.”
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Significance in Filming
Early in production, director Chukwu and executive producer Whoopi Goldberg chose to focus on happiness: Something that may be absent in the wake of a tragedy.
“There is joy in doing a certain kind of work in bringing an awareness to folks,” Deadwyler noted. “The responsibility is in telling the story tight, and in sharing the story appropriately. She was pissed. There’s a loss that is not ever returning. That is a visceral experience.”
Deadwyler also talked about the significance of filming and other things it involves.
“I don’t get to relinquish those feelings, because I’m a Black mother in America with a Black child,” she said. “This is something that persists. It was happening before I even got the movie, happening during the movie, happening after the movie.
“So, sharing this experience – dialoguing with folks about the whys, the hows, the whens, and the wheres – is just as significant as making the film. You want to get all of it right.”
All that they did lead to the fire behind Deadwyler’s eyes as you witnessed her turn from a grieving mother to an activist. But she confessed that her track to the character was not easy at first.
“I did immediately go to the mourning because that’s all we know, right?” she recounts.
“We know this very black-and-white binary understanding of her experience. We know that she made a significant choice that was the catalyst for the civil rights movement. And we saw the image of his body; we saw the various images of her in deep mourning.
“But you don’t necessarily see all of the triumphant awareness and the brilliance – and, specifically, the power that she began to stand in.”
“This story focuses on Mamie’s POV. And we have to understand that even at the nadir of your life, in the darkest moment, you have will. You have the possibility to come out of that darkness and becomes something greater, to do something greater. There is power even there, in the darkness.”
Till is currently available in theaters.
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