Creators and Cast Discuss What’s Going On With Romantic Drama REALLY LOVE
There’s a new love story in town, and it will move you. From writer-director Angel Kristi Williams and writer Felicia Pride, financed and co-produced by MACRO (Fences), comes Really Love, an apparently simple film about the vast complexities of the heart, and soul. Featuring breakout performances by Yootha Wong-Loi-Sing (Hunter Street), and Kofi Siriboe (Queen Sugar), plus strong support from actor (and musician) Tristan Mack Wilds (The Wire), Really Love delves into the society and issues of gentrifying Washington, D.C. (mainly), yet in both cultivating and examining the relationship of a passionate painter and an ambitious attorney, its keen and nuanced emotions prove universal. It was my pleasure to converse virtually with all of the above, shared here for you.
We begin with Angel Kristi Williams and Felicia Pride together (Ms. Williams having just directed an episode of Ava DuVernay’s Colin in Black & White; Ms. Pride serving as story editor and writer on Queen Sugar and Grey’s Anatomy), and I ask how they managed to balance in Really Love so many complexities such as parents, friends, patrons, careers, and economics, yet also to keep it focused.
“The first draft of Felicia’s screenplay that I read was exploring all of those things,” reveals Ms. Williams, adding wryly: “I was just trying not to mess it up.” She smiles. “I was trying to keep all of those things that she was commenting on intact. Obviously, there’s the film that is in the script, there’s the film that you make during production, and then there’s the film that you make in the edit. Through each phase of that process, the story just got better. It grew and eventually it told me what it wanted to be. The blueprint was always there, though: what was important to Felicia, and what was important to us.”
Offers Ms. Pride: “When your intention is to show life as real as possible, and also when you’re trying to show the play of two ambitious people, those are the things that just come up, and they’re all interconnected. It’s hard to disconnect love from ambition, it’s hard to disconnect family from love and dreams. They’re just so interconnected that they came together in the script.”
As Ms. Pride also works as a novelist, I ask her about transcribing that kind of detail into a screenplay format.
“In novels, you can write what you can’t see,” Felicia explains. “In screenplays, you can’t write what you can’t see, so it’s about finding other ways to go deep and go interior that can be shown onscreen. And then a lot of that is also understanding the balance between how far you go as a writer, and where the actor will pick up in terms of the emotionality and the interior that you’re trying to show, and the subtext that you’re trying to bring to this screen. So finding that balance was the biggest challenge.
“But I also love the fact that you can be very minimal when it comes to descriptions, and focus on the connection and the play, and the ‘up-against’ I like to call it, that actors are doing in scene work. I love that you’re able to focus on that in screenplays, and strip away a lot of the things that you may not need, that you actually need in prose.”
I suggest that we’ve seen Girl Meets Boy, and Boy Meets Girl, but we don’t usually see Artist Meets Attorney, so how did that concept emerge?
“I feel like that was a lot from D.C.,” Ms. Pride notes. “I was an artist in D.C., and D.C. has a lot of culture in art, but it also has a lot of tradition. You have government there, you have politics, you have foundations, you have nonprofit, you have a lot of money. So I think it’s that sort of experience that I had of being an artist but bumping up against lawyers and people high up in the government and that sort of thing. Feeling out of place and feeling like I needed to validate my dreams, and then trying to date and all those things. I think it’s very germane to D.C. in that way.”
Excellent. Turning to the leads of Really Love, Yootha Wong-Loi-Sing and Kofi Siriboe, I observe that in real life people are always talking over each other, but to complement its realness, this film and its performances also bask in silence and contemplation.
“Shout out to Felicia and Angel, first of all,” states Mr. Siriboe. “That was really owed to their rhythm. As writers and creators and leaders of the film, we followed their rhythm, their cadence. That’s something Angel emphasized from the jump: we really want to take our time and let the spaces speak and not feel like we have to fill them up with words or anything. Naturally, we took that lead and Yootha and I developed our relationship. And once you get to know somebody, you’re taking each other’s lead and it becomes like a dance.”
Ms. Wong-Loi-Sing expands on the topic: “I felt like Felicia and Angel were very clear on what that tone should be. It was beautiful to see all of that contemplation, because I feel like a lot of times in real life, conversations can be nonverbal as well, there’s a lot being said in silence, there’s a lot being said in body language, the eyes. But in film we seldom see people comfortable enough, taking the space with silence, because it could feel like it’s empty or void. That was the amazing risk that they were willing to take, and that was a challenge for us. But as he said, that’s something that you can work on, and you just let that grow, and just trust in the process and take the leap in trying to let go of the concept of filling conversations onscreen with words constantly, because it’s a visual.”
“Trust in our audience,” adds Kofi with Yootha’s concurrence, “giving them space to have their own emotions and fill it in with whatever comes to them.”
Their respective characters feel complex but are also surprisingly vulnerable, so I ask them what previous work prepared them for Really Love.
“There are levels,” considers Yootha, “it’s like you’re climbing the stairs. It feels like every single project is getting you ready for the next one. You’re learning to tap into all those things that can help you transform to that level of vulnerability in your character. For me, one specific part that kind of helped me get to a place of extreme vulnerability was a film that I did years ago, The Price of Sugar, that was my first film, and I played [an enslaved person], and I had barely any dialogue. But I was one of the leads, so I literally had to act with my eyes, and just my body, and all the physical vulnerability as well.
“Stuff like that just was the first step of opening my mind — physically, emotionally, spiritually, because I was playing [an enslaved person], that element came to me as well: that pushes you to think about what your ancestors have been through, and it adds a whole different layer. But this was just the next step, and more personal, and more current and recognizable for my own life, and how I navigate this life as a woman.”
(Please pardon the brackets, as of course Ms. Wong-Loi-Sing may use any term she pleases; this writer simply takes a recent cue from those seeking more progressive definitions for sensitive topics.)
“Basically every project leading up to this project influenced it in a lot of ways, kind of like life,” concludes Mr. Siriboe. “Every moment leads you to the next one, it just fell in line, and everything was inspiring at this point. So yeah, she said it, she said it all.”
Beautiful. And we proceed to another member of the Really Love cast, Mack Wilds, who plays one of the burgeoning couple’s closest friends. The word fits: Really Love feels real — which is how we open our portion of the interview.
“It’s weird, right?” acknowledges Mr. Wilds. “Whenever a movie’s about to drop, we always get the butterflies, the anxiety. But there’s something about this film, about how real it feels, or how tangible it feels, that I’m very, very excited about seeing what people say about it.”
And while Mack wouldn’t be the first to juggle music and acting, certainly he has his own spin on balancing the two careers.
“It depends on the situation,” he ponders. “I think there are times when they blend into each other, or one inspires the other. But there are times when I’d like to make sure if it’s a specific acting project that I want to focus on, and then I have an album, I want to make sure that they’re separate. Especially if they don’t seem like they would connect in any way. When I was doing The Breaks, and I was coming out with AfterHours, the show and the album sounded sonically different, so I had to keep both of them separate.”
Since everyone in Really Love feels like someone you could meet, I repeat the question about previous work informing Mr. Wilds’ performance; or was it a new thing?
“This was more of a new thing,” he clarifies. “This was more informed by actual life. When we first got back into Baltimore, I wasn’t new in the city. I grew up from like 15 to 17, lived in Baltimore, and would travel back and forth to D.C. And then spent a lot of time in D.C., so much so my wife is from D.C. So we kind of just blended into our characters very naturally. I was giving everybody the lay of the land, where to go, where not to go, where to eat, where parties were, etc, just really cultivating an actual friendship. So the character came from us spending time together.”
And what about Mack’s character and Kofi’s character really seeming to share backstory?
“I mean, me and Kofi have known each other for years now. That was just real life friendship. But once we actually got on set, there were a few things that we started to create, you know, handshakes, etc. But for the most part, what you guys saw was our actual relationship, like that’s my brother, without a doubt.”
Time is fleeting, so I ask what Mr. Wilds may have learned from Ms. Williams (or vice-versa). He responds quickly and confidently:
“Patience. I think the biggest thing, as a director, as an actor, one of the things that we kind of either take for granted, or we don’t necessarily always lean into is being patient, taking your time. Don’t rush it, you know, find the right pace. Nothing too fast, nothing too slow, just make it feel real, organic. And that takes patience. Working with Angel, one of the biggest things that she taught me, especially being on a set, you only have 18 days, it seems like everything is gonna fly by and we need to get so much work done in such a little bit of time. Be patient.”
But closing time for this article draws nigh. I mention to Angel and Felicia the spirit of Marvin Gaye throughout Really Love. (Not on the scintillating soundtrack — though there’s a fascinating cover of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, whose spirit might lend itself to another kind of romance!) Rather, there’s Marvin Gaye imagery, his name graces an establishment (since closed, alas, but immortalized on film), and especially Mr. Siriboe’s onscreen appearance — multi-colored beanies and beard — which sustains an individual statement, yet also channels Mr. Gaye.
“It was in the screenplay,” enthuses director Ms. Williams. “Felicia described [the lead] as Marvin Gaye: ‘he had a Marvin Gaye swag.’ So the hat, the beard, you know, D.C., it was all on the page. I got excited because the embodiment of Marvin Gaye, for me, at least, reminds me of my father. You know what I mean?” (From a different angle, but yes.) “It’s this very sort of regular dude. Beautiful, but also not too clean, not too polished, not afraid to get their hands dirty. Just fine without trying. She probably described the character in that way. Kofi just embodied that. I think he read it too, and he was like, ‘Oh, I get to channel Marvin Gaye. Okay, let’s go!’”
Really Love is now streaming on Netflix.
Images courtesy of MACRO and Really Love
These interviews have been edited for space and clarity.