Shahadi Wright Joseph on ‘Them: Covenant’ + Tackling Racism Onscreen

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Photo Source: Courtesy Amazon Prime

The following interview for Backstage’s on-camera series The Slate was compiled in part by Backstage readers just like you! Follow us on Twitter (@Backstage) and Instagram (@backstagecast) to stay in the loop on upcoming interviews and to submit your questions.

Shahadi Wright Joseph captivated audiences in her role as Zora and Umbrae in Jordan Peele’s groundbreaking horror “Us,” and she’s ready to do it again in the new Amazon Prime dramatic horror series, “Them: Covenant.” From producer Lena Waithe and creator and showrunner Little Marvin, the early 1950s-set anthology follows a family that moves from North Carolina to an all-white Los Angeles neighborhood and are met with a dark, evil welcome. Joseph, who is among Backstage’s official 2021 Emerging Talent portfolio, took over our Instagram to answer questions about her work as a young actor, advice for those trying to break into the business, and her latest project!

What was your first audition, and how did it go?
My first audition was for young Nala in “The Lion King” on Broadway. And it went very well because I booked it, and that was my first audition that I ever went on and the first role that I ever booked. And I’m very grateful for it because that is how I found my love and my passion for theater. 

What is your No. 1 tip for doing great on a self-tape audition?
I can give you three. No. 1: Always have a plain backdrop, wall behind you. It doesn’t have to be white, just not too distracting. No. 2: No loud noises in the background, they hate that. No. 3: Make sure that the person who’s reading with you is not too loud. They don’t like that either. 

What are your top tips for someone just starting in the business?
I have two words for you: open calls. Open calls are amazing. If you don’t know what that is, it’s basically an audition where you don’t have to have any background experience, no SAG card, you don't have to be in Equity, nothing like that. And it’s amazing, that’s how I got started, and the Backstage app can most definitely help with that. 

What are your tips on how to stay confident and not lose hope?
This is great that you asked that because I am still trying to learn this lesson myself. But I would most definitely say to keep going at all times, because there’s gonna be a lot more nos than yeses in this industry. That’s just the way it is, but all it takes is that one yes to get you your big break. 

How is it to be an actor in times of COVID?
I unfortunately had to shoot a little bit of the Amazon series that I’m in, “Them: Covenant” during COVID. So we had to wear a mask at all times, we had to get tested every single day, we couldn’t touch each other, had to stay six feet apat. You know, the whole deal. And we could only take our masks off when they were ready to shoot. 

How did you get your agent?
I found my agency through this workshop company called A Class Act NY. And basically what they do is they help you through a monologue, a song, something like that, and you perform in front of a bunch of agents, and then they call for interest after if they liked you!

Did you attend drama school? Do you have any tips for going into the audition?
Yes! I attend a performing arts high school here in New York. And a tip for going into an audition is, you always wanna be as prepared as possible, you know? You always wanna know your lines, you always wanna know your character backstory as much as possible, as much as they give you. Stay prepared. 

What was filming for “Them” like?
I would say that it was intense and also fun at the same time. Because, just as castmates, we had a lot of fun during the process. But it was also very intense and it was challenging as an actor. I feel like I really got the chance to grow during the entire experience. 

Why do you think horror is a good medium to explore social themes like race in America?
Social issues, specifically racism in America, is perfect for horror. It’s the best medium for it just because it’s absolutely terrifying, and it’s realistic, it’s something that people can relate to, and they go through it every single day. 

What is your top tip on how to act realistically and make it believable?
I feel like the best tip that I can give your for realistic acting would be to pull from your own experiences, because those are the most genuine. Those are the most authentic. So I say to pull from yourself to make the character seem more realistic. 

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