Features / Film

BAFTA Film: The Sessions – Highlights and insight from the ‘Supporting Actor and Actress’ nominees

As Award Season continues, and the nominees announced for this years BAFTAs, we wanted to further insight from Monday night’s latest BAFTA Film: The Sessions, that took place with the superb nominees from the Supporting Actor and Actress category – Following the impressive one for Outstanding Debut by a British Writer, Director or Producer last week.

The Sessions took place virtually with host Rhianna Dhillon, alongside nominees Daniel Kaluuya (Judas and the Black Messiah), Alan Kim (Minari), Clarke Peters (Da 5 Bloods) and Paul Raci (Sound of Metal) on Monday, with the other being led by host Miranda Sawyer and nominees Niamh Algar (Calm with Horses), Maria Bakalova (Borat Subsequent Moviefilm) and Ashley Madekwe (County Lines) on Friday.

Head down for a snippets of insight and genuinely intriguing thoughts regarding both the films, and their place within how it all came together – this is great stuff!

Rhianna Dhillon, Daniel Kaluuya – Judas and the Black Messiah, Clarke Peters – Da 5 Bloods, Paul Raci – Sound of Metal and Alan S. Kim – Minari


On meeting Fred Hampton Jr., Chairman of the Black Panther Party Cubs, and Akua Njeri for the first time 

“I just pulled up to Chicago because my heart wasn’t settled if I hadn’t reached out to the family. So I just went on that trip and then we sat down, me, Dominique [Fishback] and the producers and we had an eight hour meeting at Chairman Fred’s house and Mama Akua was there. 

They would just ask us, “What are your intentions? Why are you making the film? Why does this speak to you? What do you think the meaning of art is?” I remember Mama Akua asking that. I felt like why not? I just think it’s like they have to live that. He’s going to be with me for a very long time because I was part of this moment. But they have to live that day in day out. Chairman Junior has his name. That means that they’re going to ask you what are your intentions. Of course, I was just respectful. For me it was like, they really did help streamline the script of the truth.” 

On staying present during filming scenes of his character Chairman Fred Hampton giving his powerful speeches 

“I started out in improvisation. I always had this saying when I was doing improv, ‘When you’re in your head, you’re dead.’ I feel like being present is being in your body, out of your mind. You know what I’m saying? It was like I just wasn’t thinking, I was just there. 

Things were just coming through me because certain scenes I was saying his actual words verbatim. Then the whole cell is 450 people in a location similar. I’m dressed like him. The whole scenario is there for him, and for that spirit to come out, almost like you do in a ritual, and you just have to be there. You know what I mean? I deal with the prep and then I have to forget all the work I’ve done. Then I just have to trust and just be there. That’s like just being in your body. A lot of the takes, I don’t really remember the takes.” 


On his mother’s reaction after seeing the film

“Oh, that’s really easy. She cried. I told her, ‘Why are you crying, it’s just a movie. You don’t really cry in movies.’”

On advice given to him from his cast members 

“Don’t rush, and just be yourself. I’m not sure if this was actually one, but try to blend in.”

On his favourite actors

Well, first is Sonic the Hedgehog! Then second is Steven [Yeun]. 

On what film he’d like to make next

Anything that doesn’t include romance or horror.


On working with co-writer/director Spike Lee 

“I think that for most directors 90 percent of their job is in the casting. I think that he cast this very well. We’re all men of a certain age and a certain experience of politics in America. We’ve all come up through that time of the Vietnam War. I think what he would allow us to do was to use the script as a skeleton, and put the meat on it. He allowed us to free associate. He allowed us to improvise. There were times when your heart got so full.

There were things that you just can’t put these moments into words and put them onto a script. One of the scenes was when Paul, when Delroy, he begins to lose it on the boat. That was a really long scene. I hope that at some point in time in the future, there is the director’s cut of that. Because there were scenes that were like that, like what I am referencing, where it became very physical. Delroy was losing it and I had to hold him back. We were all over the boat. We were falling all over the boat. We were just going for it. Somewhere in the back of your head, you’re hoping someone will say, ‘Cut.’ But the other side of it is that you’re hoping someone doesn’t. Because where this moment is taking you is someplace magical. For Spike to say, ‘Go ahead. More. Keep on going, keep on going,’ is how he gets a performance. The truth from us. We all know, that first take. It’s just the first ingredient. You’re just getting your feet wet. If you’re an actor that keeps delving into the character, there are directors who allow you to see that, who know this, who understand that part of the process. Spike is one of those.”

On how his character (Otis) keeps the film anchored and the audience 

“Love. That’s what anchored him in Vietnam, his love for his brothers. That’s what anchored me in the character, my love for the craft and for the story, and for the men that I was working with. I would like to think it’s easy for me because I’ve spent my life loving. There’s nothing to be afraid of. You might see the camaraderie of men, patting each other on the back or fist-bumping. What you don’t see, the hug or the support that men need and do often give to each other in times when they really need it. We come up in a society where to be tactile is a terrible thing. I ain’t buying it. For me to reach out to Paul, to Delroy when he’s losing it, and for Delroy to feel like this brother’s got me, I got him. With any of the actors that I see on the screen, if it comes to that moment, I’ll be there because it’s about love. That’s what roots Otis and I think that that’s what vibrates with the audiences as well.” 


On what made him decide to do the film 

“I could tell it was sensitively written. But what jumped out at me was the portrayal of deaf people as addicts. Which if you look at the film history of deaf people being portrayed on the screen, not authentically, played by hearing people for one thing, when there are plenty of deaf actors out there that are highly talented. The thing that deaf people have said to me about it is, “Thank you for showing us as addicts.” They’re always the ancillary character, you see them in the elevator, or they’re comic relief. Deaf people want to be shown as – we have the same foibles, the same struggles that you have – we just can’t hear. 

So that was what was refreshing to have a deaf sober house. When deaf people go through addiction programmes, there are hearing programmes and as an interpreter, I would follow and shadow them through their experience. But to have a deaf sober house, the other way you’re almost set up for failure. But there is a deaf sober house here in Los Angeles called Awakenings; deaf owned, deaf run, deaf counsellors, deaf addicts treating other addicts. So I thought it was so refreshing. That was one thing about the script but Darius Marder just did a fantastic job researching the culture that I grew up in.” 

On growing up with deaf parents 

“I grew up in Chicago, Illinois, in the ’50s. My mother and father were deaf. I used to go to the Chicago Club of the Deaf with them. I thought Santa Claus was deaf because the Santa we had there was deaf. My first language is American Sign Language. I learned English secondly. See, I saw English as very foreign to me. I learned English when I was three or four years old, something like that.

But think about it how dark that time was when my parents were advised by their hearing parents, ‘Don’t you dare have children. You won’t be responsible.’ My mum and dad had four. They were blue collar workers from Chicago. They bought me a radio. They had a TV going on. I had record players from well-meaning aunts and uncles with the 78 RPMs in those days. I listened to Frank Sinatra, The Spike Jones band, and I was talking at a very early age, but I was signing first. So that’s my growing up with deaf culture, with the deaf community that really taught me the meaning of unconditional love. My father felt very oppressed by the hearing men. There was no technology. There was no phone or captioning for TV, for movies.

I’m a legally certified interpreter working the court system for 35 years. But imagine as a boy trying to go into a courtroom and there’s no interpreters and my dad’s got a ticket. ‘Deaf people can drive?’ Yes, they can drive. Listen, when I was a kid, I would say, ‘My parents are deaf.’ They’d say, ‘Oh, I’m sorry, they’re dead.’ No, they’re deaf. ‘Oh, they’re deaf.’”

Photo by BAFTA/Shutterstock – Miranda Sawyer (host), Ashley Madekwe – County Lines, Niamh Algar – Calm with Horses and Maria Bakalova – Borat Subsequent Moviefilm


On figuring our your character backstory

We did it about 10 days before we started filming. Where we both [Niamh and co-star Cosmo Jarvis] had just landed in this small little town in Ireland and we sat down with a bag of cans on a canal and just talked through the scripts, and talked through these first experiences of how they know that they were in love and what tore them apart. It was just honestly just trying to come up with this blueprint that we as the actors could always fall back on and figure out in our head where they just came from. Cosmo, he’s such a generous actor, there’s a scene in it where his note to me was, where he comes back with Jack after he’d taken him for a full day and Ursula is distraught, and Cosmo to me was like “Physically move me in this scene, physically try to get me up that hill.” 

On working with Kiljan Moroney

Kiljan, it was amazing and he’s only five years old. He is not autistic and it was such an ask for such a young actor to convey this whole story because for me as an actor, it was always making sure that you check in with him at the end of the scene and make sure that he understands that this is playing, this is acting, because a lot of these scenes are so emotional and intense.


On acting in real life situations where there’s no second take

Maybe that has been the most challenging part because we didn’t have the ability to have a second take. It’s been okay, we’re either going to catch this one or we probably won’t have it. You just have to go for it. I mean, it sounds a little bit scary and crazy at the same time. But I think that Sacha as an artist is doing revolution through his art. I can say that’s how I see him, he’s trying to make the world a better place.

On dealing with feelings of Imposter syndrome

Of course, I’m feeling it. I’ve been feeling it since the very first day, despite the fact that I had unwavering support from Sacha, but at the same time, I’ve been right next to a genius who is a creator of these types of movies. Ali G Show, Borat, Bruno, The Dictator, and everything, and I’ve been freaking out. Am I going to be good enough to match him somehow? Really, is that actually happening to me? Because I come from Eastern Europe and I’m not speaking in my language and I’m trying my best, but the script is ever-evolving. Every single day, there are new lines and new ideas. I’d be like, “How do these people actually believe in me? Do I actually deserve that?” Of course, you’re going to keep asking yourself and I do believe that you have to keep asking yourself because if you completely calm down and say, “Yeah, I’m great. I’m fine.” I have a feeling that you’ll start going down. So appreciate everything that is happening, but keep working because it can always be better. Literally, always, we learn all our lives. So keep working.


On preparing for the role 

Henry Blake, the director and writer, wrote an incredibly authentic script that was sparse on language but rich on the world if that makes sense. He also was a wealth of knowledge about the subject matter. He worked in pupil referral units and with different youth groups. He knows a lot about that world and he was very, very informative and then also I just drew from my own experience. I had some knowledge of the county lines enterprise from the news and just from the environment which I grew up in. Yeah, I drew on a lot of my own personal resources.

On preparing for the psyically and emotionally challenging psychical fight scene between your character and her son  

Emotionally, I found it quite taxing. We didn’t do it many, many times because I think everybody was aware that at a certain point it wouldn’t be useful anymore to keep doing that and we would probably hurt each other. We rehearsed it way before we started shooting, at a week of rehearsal, so we rehearsed it and we were aware of the blocking and we obviously rehearsed it on the day. Some of it was choreographed but it was also shot mostly in one locked-off shot. So I felt a lot of pressure to hit those emotional beats for Henry.

BAFTA Film: The Sessions take place online from Monday 22 March until Thursday 1 April and activity is open to industry and public guests, with free tickets available now at events.bafta.org

Recordings of BAFTA Film: The Sessions 2021 are available on BAFTA Guru, BAFTA’s online learning channel www.bafta.org/guru and www.youtube.com/baftaguru

The EE BAFTA Film Awards will take place over a weekend of celebration on April 10 and 11 on the BBC.

Credit/Quotes: BAFTA


One thought on “BAFTA Film: The Sessions – Highlights and insight from the ‘Supporting Actor and Actress’ nominees

  1. Pingback: BAFTA Film: The Sessions – Quotes from nominated Directors Sarah Gavron, Shannon Murphy, Chloe Zhao, Thomas Vinterberg and Jasmila Žbanić | critical popcorn

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