The Harder They Fall star talks how she got into character, representation in westerns and going toe-to-toe with Regina King.
When it comes to representation in the media, it’s clear more needs to be done. From its portrayal of stereotypes to lack of recognition, the industry needs more education on how we can better represent and illustrate various people in society, and director Jeymes Samuel understands this. Opening up his boundless and epic western with the words “These. People. Existed.”, Samuel makes note that this is not a biopic, but a clear-cut story about a group of people that have been almost entirely ignored for over 100 years.
Challenging the idea that all cowboys were square-jawed white men, Samuel debuts an almost entirely Black cast for his roaring ride through the Old West, using Regina King, Idris Elba and Jonathan Majors as his story-tellers. Immersing us into the world of ragtag hot heads and rapid high octane quickdraws, the film follows rugged outlaw Nat Love (Jonathan Majors) and his loyal crew, as they seek cold-blooded revenge on the fearsome and nefarious Rufus Buck (Idris Elba). The film is a treasure cove of exceptional acting talent, with the likes of LaKeith Stanfield and Zazie Beetz all turning in dazzling supporting performances.
Zazie plays Stagecoach Mary Fields, a prestigious and formidable saloon proprietor, who’s driven by survival and her loyalty to Nat Love. Partly based on a real woman who lived in the west during the 1800s, Zazie talks to us about how she got into character, representation in westerns and going toe-to-toe with Regina King.
Check out the interview below…
Hi Zazie! Congratulations on The Harder They Fall, It’s such a fresh and unique film and one that certainly doesn’t adhere to the spaghetti western formula. What drew you initially to the role?
I was approached by Jaymes, who’s a wonderful creative spirit to join this cast. I was sent the script and talked to James and I felt like he had a really specific vision, and overall he’s such a creative spirit, if you talk to him he knows all about cinema he’s like an encyclopedia, and he loves Westerns. He’s also a musician and he created a lot of original music for the film and he’s very multifaceted and so vibrant and that’s what really drew me in. It was also an exciting opportunity to revamp the genre of the spaghetti western and introduce it to the world in a new way and to give it a modern twist and element of authenticity. You know, black people did exist in this time and place and I don’t think people realise this because it’s not shown in our films and in our media and honestly, when I was approached to this film I did research on people who lived during this time and I was surprised to learn 25% of people living in the west were black people and I don’t think people realise that. I think its a really cool opportunity to make this a celebration and highlight that black people were there too and were part of the story and part of the narrative.
Do you think this film will contribute to the discussion on the still ongoing imbalance of representation in Hollywood?
I definitely think this is going to contribute to the discussion. I think Hollywood is revisiting its casting and representation in regards to people of colour across the board – Black, Asian American, Indigenous and women obviously. I think Hollywood is definitely starting to have that conversation and I hope this contributes to it. What I love about this film is that it’s not just the people in front of the screen, but also behind the screen. We have a black director, black producers, black crew and just diverse crew! It’s not just black and white obviously. We can focus a lot on the faces in front of the camera, but it’s also about having female producers and women in leadership! I hope this is an example of how we can make something great that’s minority-led and that more films like this aren’t out of the question.
Stagecoach Mary is such a fantastic character. She’s an extremely successful, accomplished woman, who also allows herself to be vulnerable and courageous. Did you form the character mainly from the pages of the script or did you conduct your own research on the real life woman?
I would say a lot of her character came from the story and the script which is of course a fictional script. We all carry the names of these people that did exist and that was more of a motion to say, to any naysayers that black people did exist and these are their names and you can look them up but none of these people lived at the same time or knew each other. Jaymes and I were talking and he wanted them all to come together like the Avengers, featuring this all-star cast, playing all these people in history but in a fictional space and a fictional tale. I did a lot of general research about Mary, but I also read a lot about the other characters such as Nat, Bill and life during this time and black people during this time and the kinds of people who were moving to the west and exploring stories of people who aren’t in the film as well, just broad tonal work and carrying the spirit of the people surrounding us.
You mention Nat who’s played by the incredible Jonathan Majors, and you two have such great chemistry on screen. Was that a natural chemistry or was that something you had to work at?
Thank you! Jaymes is really good at rehearsals, so every single scene I was in, we rehearsed and took the time to run through scenes multiple times and run it through with our scene partners. I grew up loving theatre and that’s one thing I sometimes miss in film is having time to rehearse, and Jaymes gave us that which is a really great way to build trust and to get to know each other and understand how we’re both approaching these characters before throwing it all out on screen and figuring it out in the moment. Jonathan is a really detailed actor and loves to into the minutia of his characters and he really helped me in my exercise as well because I like to journal as my character and we talked a lot about Nat and Mary and we were able to build trust in that way. He’s such a great actor and on-screen I could really trust his instincts and take it and run with it.
Another great scene partner you’ve got is Regina King who plays ‘Trudy’, and that’s where a bit more of the physical side of the character comes out. Mary gets a fair few beatings throughout this film, and you give a fair few back! Did you do your own stunts?
It was complicated because COVID made things complicated and we tried to find time to work together and keep it safe, so the physical stuff we filmed towards the end and took time to rehearse. We found common rooms and just went at each other with a stunt team and there’s some certain things with a pitch fork, and honestly my biggest fear aside from me getting hurt, is that I do not want to hurt people. With stunts, you have to be so careful because shit can go wrong! Especially when you’re on camera there’s an added element of adrenaline and you get hurt even if you’re careful and there’s some pitchfork stuff and I was like I do not want to be stabbing Regina in the face!
You work in tandem and it was really nice bonding for me and Regina despite our nemesis attitudes in the film.
When Stagecoach Mary is first introduced, you have a little musical number. Was that your voice and if so, would you like to do more singing in future projects? Yes! Yes that is my voice, and we pre-recorded that in Jaymes’s house. It’s pretty cool actually, because a lot of the sounds that are layered are Jaymes clapping and I think Idris came over and did some of the voices of the men, which was really cool. I grew up loving musicals and I love musicals. I wanted to do broadway that was like my first big dream and I kind of felt like I don’t really have a broadway voice, I don’t know If I am skilled enough to be on broadway but I love to sing so much and I think I have my own unique voice that isn’t like an Idina Menzel belt, but it’s it’s own unique little thing and maybe I can do something and I’d love to sing more.
The campaign for Broadway 2022 starts here! Finally, what’s next for you?
I’m shooting Atlanta right now and that’s coming out soon and I have a secret project, I can’t talk really talk about that, but I’m lined up for next summer to shoot. Mostly, I’m starting to develop my own stuff, I’m starting to get to the space where I’ll start pitching and I have the time right now to develop them, as I don’t have anything lined up after Atalanta – so we’ll see!
The Harder They Fall is released on Netflix, November 3rd