In Conversation With: The Cast of 'Nanny' (2023)

In Conversation With: The Cast of 'Nanny' (1)

Join us for a conversation with the cast and crew of the most acclaimed film at Sundance last year, Nanny. Featuring Nikyatu Jusu, Anna Diop, Michelle Monagham and Sinqua Walls, Keshav talks self-care while filming something heavy, caring for the things you craft and what you should walk away from the film with!

Keshav Kant
Hi, y’all look amazing. How are you all doing today?

Nikyatu Jusu
Great.

Michelle Monaghan
Good.

Sinqua Walls
Good to see you again!

Keshav Kant
Good to see you as well! I was going to ask you about the booked and blessed question again, but we covered that on the carpet for The Blackening. Plus, I’m seeing you all on the red carpet tonight so let’s jump right in!

The first question is pretty heavy since the film deals with a lot. There is workplace abuse, domestic violence, and predatory behaviour. I want to know how you all ensured you were keeping yourself safe because maintaining your well-being is a priority.

Anna Diop
Yeah, luckily, in that house I rented in New York, there was a Peloton bike. So I was at least able to work out and just like expend physical energy and sweat it out. But yeah, I just tried eating well and hoping for the best because it was a marathon of a filming schedule. But yeah, all the cliche things, taking care of yourself, were kind of my go-to’s.

Sinqua Walls
Holistic living. I mean, same. I think for me, I mean, I was able to navigtate the narrative in a way that was a lot lighter. So I was always able to come in and break up that tension and that energy, in the darkness, naturally, just because of where the story lended itself. Like Anna said, I mean, I lived in Brooklyn. So I feel like if you want to have peace, live in Brooklyn. They go the gym and then meditate every morning, it’d be great.

Michelle Monaghan
I was just, I was just gonna say that, Nikyatu really created an environment even before we started production to make sure that we were able to meet each other. I know, Anna and I had some really significant, valuable and vulnerable time together working with Nikyatu, in regards to our scenes. And that was a really beautiful time to really get to know each other and there was a deep respect that I think all of us had for each other going into the space. That we were able to be free and open.

We were very communicative. I think that Nikyatu kind of creating that nurturing space for us prior to is really helpful, because they were- it was an intense time once we were on set. And fortunately, you know, that nurturing extended into production as well. And, you know, it’s true, right? What they say is like you lead by example. And it starts from the top, and you know, Nikyatu to inhabited all of that respect for everyone and it in it, and it carried through and in all departments.

Anna Diop
So true, yeah.

Keshav Kant
I can only imagine. I follow Nikyatu on Twitter, and I remember getting that initial tweet that she was working on this. So just watching that journey has been beautiful. How have you been taking care of yourself? Because I know when you’re creative, you fall into the trap of; we’ll laser focus on “This is my baby. I have to make it happen.”

Nikyatu Jusu
That’s such a good question, and I actually had a masterclass at Sundance from Karyn Kusama and Casey Lemons, two filmmakers whom I have tremendous respect for. And what I didn’t expect them to talk about outside of craft was self-care in the process of making a film because it can be so deep. It can be spiritually, physically and intellectually debilitating to make your first film, especially during a pandemic.

So, I think the foundation was choosing collaborators with healthy spirits in terms of people who wanted to contribute to a healthy set. Toxicity is something that can undermine an entire production from the ground up. In that spirit, I’m looking for collaborators who share my values in treating people with kindness, regardless of their hierarchy on set. But outside of that, as everyone has said, you know, eat clean, eat real food. I tried to have healthy foods on set, even though I would show up and see the opposite of that. Moving your body, if you can, and just the things we’ve been doing for centuries to keep ourselves alive.

Keshav Kant
Absolutely. You know, and an extra scoop of guac doesn’t hurt anyone. It’s good for the soul. My second question is that film covers a lot in terms of the scope of the material and the scope of the experiences that are being discussed. Michelle’s character, at one point, has Aisha put on a dress and is very touchy-feely. Almost as if she’s treating Aisha like a doll. Morgan Specters’ character, Adam, has a display of essentially what is just trauma porn of people at their worst moments. It’s a lot. And you (Nikyatu) seamlessly wove everything in; what was that experience like for you?

Nikyatu Jusu
You know, again, it goes back to the collaborators. Once you hire people that you claim to trust, you have to let them do their thing. We spend a lot of time sourcing photography from actual photojournalists who photograph in war zones. Nicky Wu is a photographer who I’ve been friends with for a while, and that massive photograph of the African woman wailing is actually her work. So just thinking deeply at every step of the process, but having people who can make the theoretical tangible was so important for us, and we had that in every department.

Keshav Kant
Absolutely, that’s really wonderful. And how about for y’all? What was it like having to navigate those scenes shifting from topic to topic, scene to scene?

Anna Diop
Well, because Nikyatu created such an authentic space. I remember when you told me how you scouted for the hair salon my best friend Sally works in. You said you visited a dozen or so more of these African hair braiding salons. If you’ve ever been to an African hair braiding salon, especially in New York, but anywhere, anywhere, anywhere, there’s a distinct vibe that’s very difficult to replicate. And Nikyatu, I always say this about her; she’s married to authenticity.

As an actor, it’s like a dream for me, at least, to be working with somebody like that. Yeah, so she created the spaces and just plopped us in it. And then we could do everything more easily because everything was already so rich in authenticity, and she made all of our lives easier all the time. Yeah.

Keshav Kant
There’s, you know, a level of comfort that comes with familiarity. I split my time between a Caribbean/Desi part of Toronto and Harlem. So the barbershops, the braider salons, you learn how to navigate those spaces. So you just fall into some sort of like comfortable behaviours there.

I do have to say, Anna, Sinqua, and Michelle, you all did a beautiful job, but Leslie and Rose stole the scene for me. They were brilliant in their respective roles. So what was it like, you know, working with Leslie Uggams and then also working with Rose? Rose did the creepy child thing so beautifully. What was it like for y’all?

Sinqua Walls
You know what, I’ll speak to Lesley first because Anna and I got a lot of time with her. It was a beautiful moment, we’re in the kitchen and had the opportunity just to listen to wisdom from someone that has a legacy that I think people don’t always realize until she tells you her lineage.

She’ll tell you all these different things that she’s done and says them with such humility. I just thought about the moment I might have been sitting in the kitchen, where I was wondering if someone took a picture of Anna and me just sitting and listening. Like, wow, thank you for gracing us with all of this. It also brought to the character such calm, ease, and poise. We were going to match right in the scene every time, but she guided us through how our energy was perfect.

Anna Diop
Absolutely.

Keshav Kant
I can only imagine. Sometimes you speak to people who’ve done this for years, and when they share their experiences, you’re sort of enraptured sitting there thinking, please tell me more. But what was the flip side of that working with Rose because she’s a very young actor?

Anna Diop
Well, Nikyatu did chemistry reads for the role of Rose. We read with adorable five and six-year-olds, and Rose is just the most confident and still and focused and remains that way throughout filming; she’s unshakable. Yeah, she’s stoic.

Nikyatu Jusu
She was so stoic. I was convinced because I knew that I needed a five-year-old or a six-year-old who could handle what would be thrown at them, literally and figuratively, in this film. Rose is literally; we would have a weapon over her face, and I’m like, Rose, there’s a knife in your face. We need you to emote. But she was the opposite end of what would be a child who couldn’t handle the pressure. So I, as a director, prefer to have to bring a child up versus a child you have to calm down constantly and having to be a therapist on set.

I just didn’t have the bandwidth to do that. So I needed someone who could handle the pressure. And Rose was unshakable, as Anna said, mature, such an amazing spirit. Her mom is the best type of stage mom you could ever have because she was just so committed to getting Rose to where she needed to be, even on days when Rose was not on set. And so you want a parent who also gets what they’re putting their child into.

Keshav Kant
My last question for you is, what would you like people to know before they see Nanny? And what are you hoping that they walk away with?

Nikyatu Jusu
I’m always gonna make you guys answer this.

Michelle Monaghan
I mean, when I think about the movie, I think that people won’t expect it to confront them as much as it will. I think it really forces people to look inside themselves. Because this film is culturally relevant, I think that’s what’s so critical about it. But they’re going to be seduced as well. It’s haunting, and so it ticks all the boxes; it was such a different point of view. I saw its value, and I think that’s why people are responding to it. I think audiences are ready for it, and they’ll appreciate it and appreciate you, Anna, Sinqua, and Nikyatu.

For more from Keshav, click the link!

In Conversation With: The Cast of 'Nanny' (2)

Keshav Kant

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Keshav Kant, aka Mx. KantEven, is a med student tuned Executive Director of Off Colour!

You’ve probably seen her on Twitter and TikTok, both @MxKantEven, or caught her work on Off Colour's many channels.

From consulting on films & shows, manuscript review, conducting interviews, or hosting podcasts & panels, if there is some way to bring sensitivity and authenticity to diversity, inclusion and equity conversations, Keshav will be there.

Tags: Anna Diop, Black Representation, Black Woman, Nanny, Nikyatu Jusu, Sinqua Walls

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