*Tessa Thompson admits she was ‘really terrified’ to tackle the role of Irene in Rebecca Hall’s directorial debut “Passing,” based on Nella Larsen’s 1929 novel of the same name.
“Passing” follows two women — Irene and Claire, played by Thompson and Ruth Negga. The duo pass as white as they reconnect after they were friends in their childhood, and they become obsessed with each other’s lives.
“I think we learn over the course of the book that maybe she’s not the most reliable narrator,” Thompson told Steve Pond during TheWrap’s Sundance Virtual Studio presented by NFP and National Geographic. “I found trying to understand her really fascinating. I guess my experience of the book was so intertwined with living inside of her skin already. Just, I think, because the way that the book is, in a way, and it scared me, truly — the idea of playing her really terrified me. So I thought, that’s probably a good thing to do then.”
“I came to it around 13 years ago, around a time in my life when I was beginning to ask more questions about some aspects of my family history on my mother’s side,” she explained. “My mother’s from Detroit, Michigan and her father was African-American white-passing and probably his parents were also white-passing … And when I read this book, I think I had, for the first time in my life, a historical context and an emotional connection to these things. I didn’t know my grandfather, I know my mother and it’s a complicated legacy and this book gave me an access point that was very moving to me. And I knew that it could make an extraordinary film.”
André Holland stars as Irene’s husband, who wants their kids to be aware of America’s history of racism, while Irene wants to shield her children from the horror of it, according to the report.
“That was one of the things that really grabbed me about the project is that this man really wants to keep his kids safe and see them grow up, period,” he explained. “I think for me, the thing that attracted me to it, in addition to getting to play this character and to speak these words, I mean, so much of filmmaking is about being in community with people who you admire. For me, these three fantastic women on this call right now are three people who I really greatly admire and who I learned about. So it was really meaningful to me.”
Watch the discussion about the film via the YouTube clip above.
“Passing” premiered at the Sundance Film Festival on Saturday.