15 Minutes with Teyana Taylor

The actor and musician speaks with LAMag about her upcoming movie “A Thousand and One,” motherhood as super power, and her love of performing in L.A.

Teyana Taylor is probably known for her critically-acclaimed music and dancing, having collaborated with the likes of Kanye West, Beyonce and Lauryn Hill. The artist now takes on a new challenge as the lead role of Inez in A.V Rockwell’s powerful A Thousand and One.

The gritty drama follows unapologetic and free-spirited Inez, who kidnaps her 6-year-old son, Terry, from the foster care system. Set over the course of a decade in a rapidly changing New York, the mother and son set out to reclaim their sense of home, identity and stability.

LA Magazine: What drew you to the role of Inez?

Teyana Taylor: Man, It was an energy! I didn’t even have the whole script, it came across my desk and it was just the audition side, the synopsis and a little tiny bit about who Inez was. But I was instantly drawn to her, to the point where once I read it I literally told my videographer “Pull up the camera, I’m doing this right now!” I didn’t need any preparation, I didn’t need time to practice because I just felt her within me. So at that point, I treated the audition as if this was a role that was mine to lose and I put in the work until I got it.

This is a movie centered around motherhood and New York, it must have been quite difficult to separate yourself and the character…

The only time it got a little bit difficult was when it was time to turn myself and the character off to then be supermom at home. Me and Inez, we’re mirrored souls—we didn’t have the same exact struggles but mentally and emotionally, we were dealing with a lot. I was a survivor, and so was Inez.

In the midst of getting and doing that role, I was dealing with my postpartum depression and with the loss of a lot of friends. I went to funerals during my lunch breaks. It was a lot. So If anything, it was a bit therapeutic to be a bit weak for once. I had always been the strong friend, the strong mommy, the strong wife, the strong daughter… I feel like as Black women we are forced always into survival mode and to be strong. With Inez, I was able to have a moment of weakness, a cry out loud. I think that’s why the emotions felt so natural when you watch it.

You said that weakness was therapeutic, did it give you a cathartic perspective on the female relationships in your life?

Yes, absolutely because I’ve seen women in my life going through this, including my mom and my aunts being single parents. I’ve seen this all before and now I had to tap in and live in that. It was like being able to see it firsthand and get an all-access pass to all the struggles and sacrifices that my mom and other women in my world had to make. It was eye-opening. It was an amazing thing to see but also just all the quiet cries that I was going through and the quiet wars that I was dealing with, I was able to just let it all out.

I knew that when I got home I had a newborn to raise and I had a six-year-old to raise. Once you are in Mommy mode you are automatically a superhero, your cape is on! Your superhero costume is on at all times. So I feel like being Inez, I was able to actually strip down from all of that and just pour all my emotions and everything I was going through into this character, even though Inez was a superhero in her own sense.

That idea of mothers as superheroes is important but it still feels like that role in society is a given and underappreciated.

Yeah, it’s a real thing, and being a mom is a big job. It’s a really big job, even when you have a significant other. So imagine doing the big job as a mom and not having that support, not having that help, not having that person there. It’s just double the weight.

Whether it is through your music or acting, do you feel like you thrive under this introspective creativity? 

Yes, I think I do thrive off that because I have a lot in my heart to let out. I think it is just a woman thing in general, we are so strong so we bottle up so much, which is the reason why when you see us in films you really feel it, because it’s all raw emotion whether you’re in a happy space and you had to go back and visit a time when you weren’t. All the emotions are always genuine when you see a woman on screen.

One of my favorite quotes from the movie was “damaged people don’t know how to love each other.” With that kind of intensity and drama in the script did this role linger with you?

It definitely lingered with me because when you are a character for so long, day in and day… It’s like going from eating meat and then saying “I’m going to be a vegan tomorrow.” You gotta gradually get into that. So I had to gradually come out of that. I have so many years of my own private wars and battles and pain and different things like that, that I just I’ve always been great with balance. So I would think about Inez often, it would then make me think about just the bigger picture of everything and just how to be more appreciative. So it was more so accountability than it was being this character after the movie, there wasn’t none of that. It was just a lot of thinking and reflecting.

The movie also tackled issues of gentrification in Brooklyn and Harlem. Were there parts of the city that you grew up in that you didn’t really recognize anymore?

Yeah, I’ve seen a lot of it. I also saw a lot of stores that I used to go to at a young age that are still there, it was definitely a bittersweet visit. To see a lot of change, a lot of the history was gone and a lot of that rawness and the things that made New York New York had been taken away, it was almost like snatching your whole childhood away. So it was definitely a bittersweet situation because, of course, everybody evolves, everything evolves and the world evolves, so you want to see the change for the better. But is it really a change for the better if the people that are in there are being pushed out? The change is not for me and the people of my kind, so what is it for?

You had a show at the Hollywood Palladium over the summer—what is it about the city that you love to come here to perform?

L.A. loves music! I think because this is where everything is, whether it’s the performing arts, all the productions and concerts, people have a different appreciation for the music and the art of performing. It’s always a good time when I come to L.A., always so warm and always so much love and appreciation for my art.

Focus Features will release A Thousand and One In Theaters Nationwide on Friday, March 31, 2023.

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