Part 2 of our interview continues with the fallout via social and traditional media about her casting in the movie. If you missed part 1, check it out here to learn about Chattrisse’s journey and how she got casted.
The Public Backlash
C: To be completely honest, I see both sides of the argument. I do have the discernment to understand why it’s a debate for some people.
My agent, whose husband helps train actors who need to do certain accents, gave me this example: there was an audition for a movie about Mary, Queen of Scots, and the actors were told to audition with a British accent; my agent’s husband thought this was ridiculous. You’d think the Queen of Scots would have a Scottish accent, right? But no, not even – she was actually educated in France, which means she’d need a French accent for the movie to be completely historically accurate.
There are things [movie-makers] don’t always pay attention to, they want to get the movie made. There are going to be productions where it’s important to have an exact copy of something, there are going to be productions where it’s not.
Bradley Walsh, the director, made it a point to pull me aside and say “You’re here because you killed it in that audition. You are here because you are playing the character that we want on that screen. If I wanted a Missy Elliott lookalike, I would’ve put out an open call and lined people up…” And casting based solely on looks has no guarantees about a person’s acting ability.
They wanted an actor to portray a certain character; that’s what auditions are for. I went in, did what I needed to do; they were happy enough that they cast me. When I started to doubt myself, my agent reminded me of that. “If they thought you needed a dialect coach, they would have said get a dialect coach.” If you are an actor, your job is to act.
I read in Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg that it’s partially a gender thing. We [women] look at the qualifications for a job, and only if we feel that we have 80-100% of them do we bother applying for it. Men, even if they feel like they have a lower percentage of the qualifications, they tend to apply anyway. We hold ourselves back, we think we’re not good enough for that yet. But so many things you learn, you figure them out as you go.
By August, we were a little concerned because we hadn’t heard back from the hair and wardrobe department until fairly late in the game. I was like “I’m not cutting my hair.” Not that I wouldn’t ever cut my hair for a production, but it needs to be made clear at the beginning. You can’t decide that when I get on set. My agent was equally adamant about that. I told her, “Part of the reason people are upset online is they’re saying I look nothing like Missy and they want to know how that’s going to be handled. So it is going to be handled?” I went on set and we did a bunch of prep work for makeup and wardrobe.
A: How did you manage to keep a level head through the backlash?
C: What you focus on grows and expands. I have focused on the amazingly good things about this entire experience. Some people who I really care about were sending me negative clips; not to hurt me, but I had to tell them tell them, thanks but no thanks. Either they would apologize or say they felt I should know these things were being said. But what that random person online is saying is completely irrelevant, what other people think about me is none of my business. My business is handling my business.
Being aware of the negative, but not focusing on it, is key. When I came home from the first day on set, all I put on Facebook was: Today was a really really good day, I’m still not even sure I deserve it all. Still super grateful.
There are so many reasons this has been the gig of a lifetime so far for me. A DEFINITE career highlight. I’ve blogged about it a bit. [See it here]
I’m focusing on the positive and focusing on moving forward. What do I need to work on? What can I learn from this? The experience I gained. The people I met. [The] surprising amount of people who don’t know me from nowhere and wouldn’t recognize me sitting here right now, who took time to send me an encouraging message like: Looking forward to seeing the movie, or even I hope you do my girl Missy justice. That’s different from the people sending stupid things that I’m not even going to repeat. There are people who are quick to jump on something negative, but there are a lot of people who say “You know what, this woman might be dealing with some stuff right now, let me take 30 seconds to tweet her an encouraging message.”
A: That’s the funny thing about Twitter – there’s so much good, but there’s SO much bad.
C: Exactly. So a big thank you, to those who verbally, [via] phone, Facebook, Twitter, sent something positive into the universe about that. It’s very much appreciated. Not just for me, because clearly I’m not the only person in the cast dealing with this.
I got it. Izaak got it. Alex got it. Alex had people threatening her on Twitter … I mean, come on. It’s a movie.
Yes, it’s a movie about a person who means a lot to a lot of us, but a) 13 years have gone by and its about time a movie got made; and, b) if you are counting on a movie to educate future generations on music history, that’s your bad. It’s not a textbook, a course in a university – it’s a movie. It’s a piece of entertainment. Yes, it touches on the life of a real person and people who are still alive – but why have such high expectations about a biopic, and expect so little from, oh, I don’t know, your politicians?