Janelle Monáe reflected on her multifaceted career at a Screen Talk hosted by BFI London Film Festival programmer Grace Barber-Plentie. The conversation, which took place ahead of the European premiere of “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery,” included the musician-actor citing Johnny Depp’s career as one she’d like to emulate given the “transformative” characters he has played. Monáe stressed that it was only Depp’s acting career that she admired, and not Depp as a person.
“When I think about careers, this person’s life as an actor, only… Johnny Depp has a very badass career,” Monae said, citing Willy Wonka and Sweeney Todd as “dramatic roles” she aspires to play in her own work. “Whatever the Janelle Monáe version of them is, maybe it’s something even better, I want to be able to do those transformative characters that people are dressing up as for Halloween.”
Monae also reflected on the notorious Best Picture mix-up at the 2017 Oscars between “La La Land” and “Moonlight,” which marked Monáe’s feature acting debut. She attended the 2017 Academy Awards with both “Moonlight” and “Hidden Figures,” in which she played NASA mathematician and engineer Mary Jackson.
At the Oscars ceremony, it was accidentally announced that Damien Chazelle’s musical “La La Land” had won best picture following an envelope mix-up, which then led one of the film’s producers to correct the mistake and invite the cast and crew of “Moonlight” to the stage.
“It was the Twilight Zone,” Monáe recalled of the infamous moment. “It definitely felt like a science fiction. When they announced the name and you had the ‘La La Land’ folks come up, and then we were just in the audience, I think we just always felt like, ‘Wait, this is ours, is it not?’ And then it just felt crazy to snatch. It was a lot to consider.”
She added of the aftermath: “Even backstage we really didn’t know if we were supposed to be celebrating or not. It was just a weird feeling. It felt like a glitch in the Matrix.”
Discussing her growing film career, having also starred in “Harriet” and “Antebellum,” Monáe said she is “deliberate” about the fact that “the Black experience is not monolithic.” She explained of her two 2016 roles: “We can be at NASA, doing an equation, sending white men to space, Black women to space, we can be astronauts. We can be in the ghettos, taking care of young black queer children who are trying to make sense of life and who need a safe space.” The artist added that she believes “you can change people’s perceptions” and “remind people to further investigate”.
Monáe went on to say she is looking to centre “more joy and more fun” in her current and upcoming projects. She said many of her screen roles to date were “rooted in some deep stuff,” adding, “Race. Fighting against something. I’ve been in this space where I’ve had to do a sort of retrospective of my life, of what I’m requiring of myself, my team, my relationships. Right now, I’m the most free of opinions. This is the life experience I want to have and we’re going to fucking create it.”
Throughout the conversation, Monáe acknowledged Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis” as a major influence on her career, as well as Tim Burton’s filmography (highlighting “Beetlejuice”) and Judy Garland in “The Wizard Of Oz.” In “Glass Onion”, Monáe plays Cassandra “Andi” Brand alongside a wide ensemble cast including Kathryn Hahn, Leslie Odom Jr. , Daniel Craig, Jessica Henwick, Edward Norton, Kate Hudson, Dave Bautista and more. The film will receive a one-week limited theatrical release on Nov. 23, before dropping on Netflix globally on Dec. 23.
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