Meet Noma Dumezweni, actor, mother, tour de force, recently last seen in The Undoing. We spoke with Noma about preparation, process, finding gratitude in strange times, and leading with kindness, consciously. Read on below…
BY ERIN WALSH
BLAZER Prada EARRINGS Jenny Bird
Erin Walsh HELLO NOMA!!! Thank you so much for joining our little collective of people paying it forward. I want to talk about your work including your latest project, The Undoing. First, let’s go back to the beginning. Can you tell us a bit about your background and your initial days as an actor?
Noma Dumezweni I didn’t go to drama school. For a few early years, as I began picking up work it used to bug me. I felt others knew a hell of a lot more because they had been. And they had, in a theory led way. I learned that I was doing it ‘on the job’ – an elder actor assured me this was the best way. I also had a mentor arrive in my life – still here 25years later – we speak at least once a week, he’s in his eighties now – and thank goodness for him! I’d say he’s taught me how to be in the world of storytelling, by being mostly curious of the work I choose. And trusting my gut.
EW Let’s talk preparation, I know you have spent many years on the stage- what is your process of finding a character? I would also be curious to know how that has evolved from your early days as an actor.
ND It changes from job to job. And theatre is different to film and TV work. I get lots of time to make mistakes in a rehearsal room. The best rooms are ones that feel open to experiment and therefore learning from what doesn’t work. In TV I have to be word ready, I learned that the bumpy way. There is minimal rehearsal. And if a day player, you are at the mercy of feeling inadequate because you are only there for a short time. Or it can be glorious! Both ways, camera or stage, are always about the people you work with and the energy that can be created to tell a good yarn! Preparation – I like dreaming, thinking about what I’m learning in the early days. Costume can change how you feel about a character. I love talking with costume designers about the possibilities of a character through the cloth and structure of what they wear and how it’s worn. My exploration can be till the very last night of working on something, have I and the other actors made a connection, or is it every man for themselves – not a good way to work at all!!! My way of working is how/what am I feeling at any given moment and if I don’t buy it.. there’s still work to do. I realize that I just want to be truthful in every given moment. Sometimes that can be heavy or a great laugh. So my prep, seems to adjust from job to job.
LOOK Prada BOOTS Paris Texas
EW For a role like Haley in The Undoing, tell me about coming across this role, inhabiting this role, and what we can expect…
ND I got an audition, after being sent the first episode, and loved reading it! Haley wasn’t in it for a couple more episodes, but they sent two advance scenes of hers, that I fell in love with! I really wanted to know who she was. Then I got the part – that blew me away, I kept expecting a ‘name’ to be chosen. Working with Susanne was where I got to meet the Haley that is now on the screen. I was nervous working with the people I was working with, I had to let that go. Susanne, got me stiller, and I can truly now say, in retrospect, more confident with Haley.
EW Do you leave the work at work when you are filming or in a show? Or are there bits that stick to you? I am curious about your Method and what you are able to leave behind, particularly with challenging roles and content…
ND It’s an interesting question. I can’t say that I’m a method actor at all! What I am is one who is curious to know what the truth of a person/character looks like. It may be a cerebral way at the beginning, then I love it when it becomes physically truthful. It’s the subconscious presenting ourselves. If I don’t feel it 360 degrees, something hasn’t arrived inside yet. So… exploring some parts are more of a visual experience, visualizing how I would like to see the character, or can ‘they show me…?’ How they would like to be in the world. I remember saying no to a job going on tour – the part was always crying and the world looked dark through their eyes. It was exhausting, I didn’t want to feel that for too long.
TOP Alexandre Vauthier SKIRT Brock Collection SUNGLASSES Le Specs HEADPIECE Jennifer Behr EARRINGS Jenny Bird
EW Tell me about your life when you are on Broadway or on the West End- we spoke a bit about the all-encompassing nature of working this way. What does it look like for you?
ND Theatre is a deep love! It’s the route, beginning, middle and end to my acting life. Being in the West End and on Broadway on one show for nearly three years was extraordinary… it changed my life. If I had been told at the offset that’s how long the gig would take – it would have been a no from me. It’s late nights when you doing a show, I’m a mother, that took a lot of time away from her, but with the help of family and her loving father, we all did it. I learned to choose that one has to be clear about why one is doing a job, it never works when it’s only about money. What I do now know in my life is that it has to be about an experience… and Lord, that was true of the wonderful journey I went on with Harry Potter & the Cursed Child! Thats why I’m able to be here now. And enjoying the space that TV and film allow me to be with my Homelife. I wouldn’t change anything, I just know how to manage it better – and the child has seen me move in the world with more joy than not.
We can carve new routes for others to experience a possibility in their own lives.
EW I imagine this year as a mother must have shifted your schedule a bit, and allowed for more time at home with your daughter. What does your work/ home/ family life look like these days? And how do you balance your work with the mothering?
ND This year’s gift, for me, has been the time with my newly recent teenager. We got to really sit our true grooves with each other, and I kind of joke – thank God, we like it other! Doesn’t mean that we don’t get snippy with each other, or time on our own, yet this girl has me in the depth of my marrow! She’s navigating school in this time and of course how she connects with her friends has been a big thing. The choices of work are still about how I can make OUR lives work in good tempo.
NECKLACE WORN AS HEADPIECE Jenny Bird BLAZER Schiaparelli Couture TIGHTS Fogal BODYSUIT Matteau
EW Anything you found to be surprisingly wonderful about this crazy year?
ND Time and space. Im very aware how lucky I am to say that. In the mildly melancholy moments it’s more about being grateful, as I know this has also been an horrific time for others, The many ways that can transpire.
EW What did you find to be most challenging?
ND The fact that it could be a year until I give my mother, sister and especially my 8 year old nephew a hug.
EW Tell me a bit about your own role as an artist. What do you consider your own responsibility to be as an individual with a platform?
ND I’ve oddly been thinking about this… And first I have to say, it’s not about the platforms – I think of social media when you write that, which is not it for me. I think I’m here to show others that the expectation of one’s life expands in relation to how much you trust yourself, your gut, in the face of others’ expectations and wants of your life. We can carve new routes for others to experience a possibility in their own lives.
EW What are some of your favorite ways to contribute, some of your favorite causes?
ND As a refugee child, I’m drawn to that plight in the world. It can be overwhelming, but there are some extraordinary groups who deal on the ground with humility and respect and I’m in awe of them. So I support by talking about them, and financially when I can.”Women for refugee women”, ‘Walk with Amal’ – this is already going to be stunning, she’s a seven foot puppet, made by the amazing handspring puppet company, making her way across countries, highlighting our humanity. And my friend Kelly Hunter MBE has created an amazing way to connect with children/families who have autism, through Shakespeare and the ‘heartbeat’ – really amazing – Flute Theatre
EW Favorite way to unwind?
ND Spliff in good company or on my own. Quiet. Walking. I unwind also just knowing I can stay in bed in the morning!
EW Favorite place in the world?
ND Don’t know yet, what I know…NYC is up there.
EW Current obsession in terms of film, TV, reading?
ND Watchmen was great, I finally caught up with it in November. Better Things is an extraordinary piece of work from Pamela Adlon. I still scroll too much on the phone.
BOOTS Paris Texas
Never take it for weakness the sense of looking people in the eye and knowing that they felt heard.
EW What do wish our readers to know about you that perhaps that may not have known?
ND Don’t know… maybe there’s no importance to know. That answer would have been different in each decade preceding.
EW What do you hope your legacy to be?
ND Oooh! That’s big. Legacy. That I lead with kindness, consciously. Never take it for weakness the sense of looking people in the eye and knowing that they felt heard.
EW Noma, What’s Your SBJCT? What really drives and moves and motivates you?
ND Our human existence. I get spiritual on that. That fact THAT we exist blows my mind on a daily basis. Let’s lead with faith in ourselves and leave the fear of “other’ in the bin. The leap of faith into yourself, changes everything. Its everywhere!