Movie-to-TV adaptations are temperamental, hit-or-miss situations. But in the case of ‘Blindspotting’, StarzPlay’s latest dramedy streaming in the UAE from June 14, there is a twinkling promise.
A sequel to the electrifying 2018 feature of the same name, which chronicled three days in the life of Oakland resident Collin (Daveed Diggs) and his best friend Miles (Rafael Casal) — the two stars also co-wrote the movie — StarzPlay’s new dramedy series shifts the lens and mic to Ashley (Emmy-winner Jasmine Cephas Jones), Miles’ girlfriend and the mother of his six-year-old son, Sean (Atticus Woodward).
While the movie took on issues like gentrification, race, incarceration and police brutality, the new TV show takes a look inward and puts women at the front and centre of its story. And taking on that story is Cephas Jones, the ‘Hamilton’ star who originated the roles of Peggy Schuyler and Maria Reynolds on the hit Broadway show from the mind of Lin-Manuel Miranda, and is now taking on her first lead role ever.
Combining humour, pain, spoken word and surreal set pieces, ‘Blindspotting’ is storytelling that is both necessary and poignant and Cephas Jones says she couldn’t be more proud. Following are edited excerpts from a Zoom conversation with the actress:
‘Blindspotting’, the movie, came out three years ago. When you were done with that film, did you see yourself going back to the character of Ashley, did you think there was more to his story than?
No, I thought, you know, we did that movie and that was kind of the end to the ‘Blindspotting’ world. There was no talk of doing a TV show or a second film or anything like that. When we finished, we were just in all that we were able to make a movie and even have the opportunity to tell a story like this. So, when I found out [that there was going to be a show], I was really shocked and really happy that they wanted to continue the world of ‘Blindspotting’.
So how and when exactly did you find out that there was a TV show going to be made with your character, Emily? And what was your reaction to the news?
I mean, probably almost three years ago, I got a call from Rafael and Daveed. And they were like, ‘Would you be interested in doing this as a TV show? And would you be interested in leading it and having the story told through Ashley’s life?’ I was so honoured and happy. And I really couldn’t believe it. I was very shocked. And then I was like, ‘Oh, we got to get to work!’
How would you describe ‘Blindspotting’, the TV show, to someone new to all of this, someone who hasn’t seen the original movie maybe?
The TV show is about Ashley’s life being you know… Right at the beginning, her life partner Miles is sent to jail. And now she has to navigate this new world with her son, and she moves in with Miles’ mother and sister and she has a lot of tension to deal with. And the show tackles a lot of issues through comedy and heightened verse and choreography in the show.
And as an extension to that, how would you describe your character Emily?
I think she’s a grounded, loyal and a ride-or-die person. A woman that has a blind spot where she thinks she’s alone. And she has to go through this situation alone. I think she’s really, really strong. And loves her family deeply.
What was it like getting back together with the ‘Blindspotting’ team? I mean, you and Daveed, you go back all the way to ‘Hamilton’. And Raphael, also, you’ve known for a long time. So what was it like getting the gang back together?
It’s awesome! I mean, those guys, they’re like my brothers, and we’re constantly throwing creative ideas at each other. And we really value each other’s opinions. And we really just want to see each other win and do our best. And so every time I’m around that crew, I feel my best as a performer. And I feel like they have my back. So, to kind of lead a show for the first time. I think it was such a loving and safe space to create — be able to kind of let go. So, it’s always great to hang with them and be with them and create art with them.
So you’re leading a show for the first time. What were the biggest challenges?
I think the most challenging thing in a TV show like that is really your time. And how to do time management. There’s a lot asked of you and I think in this show, the emotional rollercoaster that actually goes on. Laughing at one point and [then] she’s crying, she’s funny, she’s intense, she’s angry. There’s a lot of different colours. The hardest part was making sure I’m doing everything right. And also taking the time to take care of myself and take a nap and just make sure I’m taking care of myself so I can actually perform to the best of my ability.
Miles’ mum in the show is played by Helen Hunt. What was that experience like, working with an Academy Award-winning actress?
I mean, Helen Hunt is amazing. She plays Rainey so effortlessly. And, you know, he also does a lot of homework and she just knows what she’s doing. Rainey is such a crazy character but her performance is so natural. And it’s always a learning experience, you know, to work with somebody like that. And she was always very supportive. She also had a lot of ideas, too. And we all learnt a lot from her as a cast.
I can’t let you go without asking you about ‘Hamilton’. You originated the character of Peggy Schuyler and Maria Reynolds on Broadway. And then five years later, ‘Hamilton’ was streamed into homes all around the world, in the middle of the global pandemic. What was that journey like for you?
I mean, do you have all day? [Laughs.] No really, it’s really hard to sum up what ‘Hamilton’ was like. It was a whirlwind and I got to share an incredible experience with amazing, amazing people. And that cast really has become my family. And to be able to, you know, journey through that whole experience again, last year through the movie — it was beautiful. Because I think for the first time, everybody was able to have some time away from the show, and sit back and really analyse and take in what we did. It’s hard to do that when you’re caught up in such a cultural crossover and in something that is huge, and so popular around the world — it’s really hard to kind of internalise that and understand what you’re doing. And I think, for the movie to come out in such a really hard time that the world is going through, I mean, was and is going through… It was just a beautiful moment to share with everyone. And it was great, because everybody got to see — everybody had a ticket to the show.
There are so many similarities between ‘Hamilton’ and ‘Blindspotting’ in the fact that they talk about serious issues, but they also use humour and music, and there’s a lot of warmth in the stories. Are these the kind of stories that you’re usually drawn towards?
Yeah, I think it’s what speaks to me in the moment. You know, recently, I’ve been involved in a lot of projects that mean something and have something to say. I think, naturally as an artist, that is what I gravitate to. And, maybe it isn’t even intentionally, I think it’s just what speaks to me at the time. And I’ve been able to work with people that are not just actors, but are rappers and poets and writers and wear many hats. And I guess it’s just kind of turned out that that’s also the art that comes out of that.
Don’t miss it!
‘Blindspotting’ is available to stream on StarzPlay in the UAE.