Kelvin Harrison Jr. and Ronke Adekoluejo are giving fans a close-up look at the relationship between Joseph Bologne, a violin virtuoso of 18th century France, and his mother Nanon in Chevalier, in theaters now.
Shadow and Act Managing Editor Trey Mangum spoke with both Adekoluejo and Harrison about their roles, with Adekoluejo saying she was worried about how convincing she could be as Harrison’s on-screen mother, considering they aren’t too far apart in age.
“I was definitely worried…I was like, ‘They are going to fire me at any moment because this isn’t hitting,'” she said. “…I just did a lot of research in the sense that Black women actually look incredible when they age, also there is somethinga bout an inner knowledge of your life and you allow that to communicate. Your lived experiences don’t have to be visible on your skin, but they can be visible in your eyes and your speech and the rhythm in which you speak. So I tried to explore a lot of that, how she held herself, where she was in her body.”
She added that the relationship they were able to create on screen reminded her of her own experiences with family.
“The relationship that Kelvin and I got to explore and create was so pure and honest that it reminded me–I’ve got a little brother, who I ended up raising for like, four or five years,” she said. “It reminded me of that relationship because you have to allow them to be adults because they are, but also have to check them at any moment.”
Harrison said that when it came to learning more about Bologne, he had to go back to the resources many of us have probably used at some point in college.
“I googled him and I didn’t get much. And then I was like what is the best way to find…because we’re dealing with someone who is a big part of history…so what I did is I went to JSTOR, which is what we used in college, and…I got some scholarly papers and I looked at the citations and [found] their research materials…and then I went from there,” he said, adding that he also read the book director Stephen Williams and writer Stefani Robinson read to create the film, Gabriel Benat’s The Chevalier de Saint-Georges: Virtuoso of the Sword and the Bow.
“That was also a big part of all of our process[es] in getting to know Joseph,” he said.
Harrison, a skilled musician in his own right, played all of the music for the film, which meant weeks of practicing–not just on his violin, but on his stage presence.
“It was hard because it was just so much work. I just couldn’t get over how many songs there were and I really doubted myself in the beginning but I pulled it together,” he said. “…[I[t was the discipline and the work ethic involved [and] being just so hands-on about every element–about how I wanted to perceive or convey how he felt about his music and how he felt about his power in certain moments, and so there’s a lot of elements. Yes, there’s learning the notes…doing it is one thing, I can stand there and just play it, but then you have to add the rock star element to it and keep it entertaining for modern audiences.”
Chevalier is in theaters now.