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AUP EP. 45 The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey

AUP EP#45 TRANSCRIPT

Transcribed: Cameron Blackwell

Completed: 3/19/22

Cortney Wills: [00:00:04] Hello and welcome to Acting Up the podcast that dives deep into the world of TV and film that highlights our people, our culture and our stories. I’m your host, Cortney Wills, Entertainment Director at theGrio. And this week I’m sitting down with Samuel L. Jackson and Dominique Fishback to talk about their latest project, The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey. Based on the acclaimed novel by bestselling author Walter Mosley, The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey stars Samuel L. Jackson as the titular character. This limited series from Apple TV Plus is really something to see. I’m going to give you the official synopsis before we get into it. Based on the acclaimed novel by bestselling author Walter Mosley, The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey stars Samuel L. Jackson as an ailing man forgotten by his family, his friends and even by himself, suddenly left without his trusted caretaker and on the brink of sinking even deeper into a lonely dementia. Ptolemy is assigned to the care of orphaned teenager Robin when they learn about an experimental treatment that can temporarily restore his memories. It begins a journey toward shocking truth about the past, present and future. I have got to say I really didn’t know what to expect when I first heard about this series, but I knew that it was something that Sam was going to be an executive producer on. And gosh, the end result is really astounding. While there are so many fantastic roles that Samuel L. Jackson has taken on over his career, I would argue that this might be his best one yet. The range required for him to play this character, who throughout the course of the series kind of transitions from being, you know, in the throes of senility and memory loss and dementia to a man who is all there and together and even further back through flashbacks, we get to see him as a younger version of himself as well. And so all of those things, while it was the same character, it was kind of like a whole bunch of different versions of the same character, and the performance is truly impressive. Equally impressive is Dominique Fishback as Robin, and that’s no surprise because Dominique has never disappointed, not in one thing she’s ever done, and this project is no different. She goes toe to toe with Samuel L. Jackson, and like she says during our talk, it’s like they’re just playing tennis back and forth, rallying that ball, and it is really something to see. I talked to her about what it took to cultivate this character and really bring her to life, and this girl is serious about her craft. This is a woman who takes acting extremely seriously, and that’s evidenced in her performance as you’ve been living under a rock. Dominique Fishback is an American actress and playwright who always delivers when it comes to her roles on The Deuce, Show Me A Hero, and, of course, who could forget Judas and the Black Messiah? He also appeared in the 2018 film Night Comes On, as well as The Hate You Give that same year. In 2020, she played a street smart teenager in Project Power alongside Jamie Fox and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. And in 2021, she starred in Judas and the Black Messiah alongside Daniel Kaluuya as Deborah Johnson, the partner of Fred Hampton and the expectant mother of Fred Hampton Jr.. Her first film that comes on premiered at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival, and that same year she played Kenya in the Hate You Give, which I also loved. Hi, it’s so nice to see you again. I see you. My God, Dominic, you are just such a talent. I remember telling you that years ago, and you just continued to like, make me so happy with every role you take on. You just elevated and Robin is no different. Tell me about what what you brought to this role because it felt very personal. [00:04:12][248.2]

Dominique Fishback: [00:04:13] Thank you. I appreciate that. Yeah. I mean, I’m so fortunate to hear people say those things and it’s also like you never you never want to disappoint people, I never do. So I’m just really thankful that you felt that because all you could do is your best ideas show up as as you are. And I, you know, I journal as my characters and this time I couldn’t like I- there was so much resistance. I couldn’t. And then I felt the character was like, Well, you can journal, some girls journal, but l don’t journal, I don’t do that. So I was like, sheesh. And then it’s like a little bit nerve wracking to say, all right is about to be an experiment, I guess, to just show up and not really match out and write out every single thing and kind of be present. What I did do was I created this PDF, which happen to be twenty eight pages that I sent to Sam and Walter, just pulling quotes from the book and different things that didn’t make the series at that time. After reading the script and saying, I think this is really important, here’s why and I took her name, for example, to find out her dream. Robin reminded me, obviously, of a bird that flies and because of her trauma and triggers, she hasn’t been able to like escape like a plane ride wouldn’t be far enough for her to go. So how could she leave Earth without leaving Earth, without leaving the Earth? And it will be going to space. Right? Like get in a rocket ship and like she went up into space? And maybe she’ll meet her own E.T. and find home. And before she can do that, she meets Ptolemy, who is in a, in a sense, his own E.T. because he has his mind is now in different timelines, you know, and it really intrigues her. And as she does find home, I use I used astrology to find out how her disposition, especially when it comes to like talking about her feelings and talking about death. That was really important. Like, she’s very nonchalant, says “Oh, he’s dead, he died. I just told you.” It’s like because she has seen so much in her life that she’s not going to respond the way we think somebody responds when we talk about death. But I only knew that because of the the PDF and deciding that her know she’s a Scorpio. And what does that do? And she has a Leo thing. It was like a Leo ascending. And that means that she has that fire that you need, right? And like, there was like a lot of, I think she was a Libra moon, which gave her balance with that compassion was able to come in. So I really just had a lot of fun. I had a lot of fun with, you know, and then I love to share. So I was really happy that Sam and Walter looked at my PDF. I don’t know if they read all twenty eight pages, but you know, I pulled things from a book and that was it was just a lot of fun. [00:06:50][157.5]

Cortney Wills: [00:06:51] What do you think- I mean, to me to hear you say that you would go to Sam and Walter and say, like, “Yo, I think this is really important. I think we should put it in.” Oftentimes, I’m talking to the actresses who say things like that to me. I’m talking to them 20 and 30 years into their career, and they’re at a point where they have kind of come to feel that agency. (Yes.) And you seem to kind of have it out the gate. Why do you think that is? [00:07:15][23.4]

Dominique Fishback: [00:07:16] Well, well, one thank you to them because they did it before me and they did in a time where they were, where they couldn’t, where it wasn’t so easy. So I honor that. So I don’t make it feel like I’m just whatever, you know, I honored that they’ve set the path and they’ve knocked down doors so people can actually hear me and hear what I’m saying. So I want to acknowledge that. And also, I started acting when I was 15 and a theater company called MCC, where you had to write and perform your own work. They said, Our voices matter. Our truth mattered. And then they had us do talk backs with adults, with kids, with different, different people, so we knew how to advocate for ourselves. And so I knew from a young age that my voice mattered and what I had to say mattered. I’ve been doing it a long time. I know I play 17, I look 17, but I’m 30 years old, so I know I have something to say and I’m very clear and with any creative that I’m working with, I say from the begining. If you if you feel like you like my work, then please know I’m going to give, I’m going to ask for notes. I’m going to read the script over. I’m going to have ideas, I’m going to want to text, I’m going to want to talk about it. And I hope that you could be- recieve that, you know, I’m going to be upfront from the beginning because that’s what makes a better collaborative experience. So the producers and everybody said, we know how Dominique works. We really want her. So we want to hear what she has to say. And that’s also empowering to go to a place where you know that they want to hear what you have to say. [00:08:38][82.5]

Cortney Wills: [00:08:38] Yes, oh my gosh. And that is something I think you consistently bring any time you I’m watching you as a character on screen. I feel like there’s a back story there, whether we ever get to it in the script or not. You kind of come with this energy that tells me you’ve been where this character has been in this project. There’s a fight scene. I won’t give too much away. [00:09:01][22.6]

Dominique Fishback: [00:09:01] That’s my favorite. [00:09:02][0.4]

Cortney Wills: [00:09:03] Right? Oh my god. Oh my God. My favorite fight scene. But I mean, I was like, I could feel like the energy. Another scene early on in the series where you decide to leave the house that you’re staying at, Marcia’s character says something like, “You know, yeah, that’s our job. Like to make sure that these Black men don’t go crazy.” And I thought that was so loaded. I thought that that was so loaded. And your character’s response to that, to me, felt really loaded. What were some moments for you where you kind of felt, you know, like you were really living in that character because onscreen, it seems like every single second? [00:09:43][40.1]

Dominique Fishback: [00:09:44] Thank you so much, I think for sure. For sure. The fight scene, you know, because if I’m going to represent like girls that grew up in neighborhoods like mine, that’s a huge part of it. You know, what I’m saying? Like, you do get scrappy. So I was like, nice that I get little energy, my little Brooklyn out. That was nice. But then that that scene as well, I had so much resistance to that line. I’m like, “Why would you say something like that?” And I have to use it right? I have to use it and like, but I’m so I was so taken aback by it, Robin was so flabbergasted by it that she can’t even speak she has to look and she goes “Are you?” You know, and then and then like just different moments when she’s taking care of of Ptolemy or when she gets the guy, there’s a guy that comes around and sees starts getting- being able to soften. And I think that that was really beautiful. I think she got to have a lot of layers in the series. [00:10:41][57.1]

Cortney Wills: [00:10:41] And lastly, gosh, you you share screens consistently with some really heavy weight actors, and this time it’s Sam Jackson. Talk to me about what it was like for you to- I mean, most scenes, it’s just the two of you. (Yeah.) So I would imagine that had to be like a masterclass. [00:10:59][18.3]

Dominique Fishback: [00:11:00] Yeah. I mean, ultimately, I knew from the beginning when I met Sam after I got the role. He said “I saw you in Project Power and I made a phone call that I- that we found our girl.” So when you go into a project like that and with the producers and everybody believing that you can do something and wanting, you really wanted you there, then you have kind of no choice to be confident in the fact that you and in a place that you belong. And so it wasn’t really about nerves. It was just about being present and playing tennis with each other, you know, back and forth and that kind of thing. [00:11:37][36.4]

Cortney Wills: [00:11:38] I love it. This was so fantastic to see you in and again, just watching you work has been such a highlight of my career. [00:11:48][10.1]

Dominique Fishback: [00:11:49] Oh wow, thank you so much. That means a lot to me. [00:11:50][1.2]

Cortney Wills: [00:11:51] You’re welcome, my dear. You take care. You too. Bye, bye bye. I never know what I’m going to get when I talk to Samuel L. Jackson, but this time I was most concerned with what it took for him to really demonstrate. All of these layers of his character and the physicality of this role was very interesting. Usually, when we’re talking about physicality, we’re talking about like, how much did you have to train to, to be a superhero or to play this athlete, but this was very different depending on the mental state of Ptolmey Grey at any given time. His body movements were different, his mannerisms were different, like just the way that his face moved, the way that his shoulders, you know, sank or didn’t, was so important in portraying what was happening on the inside. And I think that Sam nailed it here. And it turns out that has a lot to do with the fact that he has personal experience with people suffering from dementia and Alzheimer’s, and he really kind of pulled from those experiences to inform this character. I will be shocked if there are not some Emmy noms in the future for both of these actors, but I think this is Samuel L. Jackson’s year to take the small screen by storm. Gosh, I’m so grateful to get to talk to you about this project because I think that it’s one of my favorite ones to watch you in. It really struck a nerve with me, and I think partially because I felt like your portrayal was so realistic of someone going through dementia. (Oh, thank you.) One thing that really stuck out to me is is not so much. What was evident when Ptolmey was forgetting things. But when he came back, I saw my grandmother battle dementia and Alzheimer’s, and for me, that was kind of the most crushing part. It wasn’t when she was gone, it was when she would come back and kind of get that something was off. And I think that that’s a tough thing to portray, and I think you did it really, really beautifully here. And I wondered, I wondered if that occurred to you, if that was intentional. [00:14:03][131.9]

Samuel L. Jackson: [00:14:04] Oh, well, yeah. The intent was to create a whole human being that. Was around. That when I remember instances of talking to my mom or sister or, you know, even my grandfather at times that when they were present, they were present. But when, I talked to him about something that they were supposed to know. Or I thought they were, like prepared to talk about and you could see them trying to search. Search for that thing that they knew they were supposed to know and the frustration of what that is and the pain because they want to give it to you and they can’t. And then it turns to another thing which turned to another thing. So I remember the layers of what that looked like on their face and in the body language and all those other things that I was able to access, but only physically, because you never know what’s going on in the mind of a person who’s, you know, clowding or the lights going out. So I used that from time to time when, say, Reggie was talking to me and he’s talking to me about something and- [00:15:19][75.7]

Cortney Wills: [00:15:21] you said you, you kind of noticed when they were searching for something that they were supposed to know. [00:15:27][6.7]

Samuel L. Jackson: [00:15:29] Yeah, and, well, the frustration of wanting to give you an answer and not being able to, you know, is a very distinct thing, and it goes from being a facial thing to a physical thing in their body to turning to even anger at a specific point because, you know, it’s like “I don’t know what I told you” or, you know, or “I said–” and it’s one of those things that I remember very clearly, especially with my mom who’s very strong willed. And I wanted to put that out there. I also wanted to to to leave that space for when you’re talking and your voice just becomes a background to them. And you can see that happen when they go, when they just go somewhere else and they space. And you. Omar played it so well when his his disappointment at not getting an answer to a question that he really wanted the answer to that you’re the only person I can talk to about this and you’re not. Even. Here. You know, and I mean, it is a brilliant moment between he and I. [00:16:46][76.5]

Cortney Wills: [00:17:06] Yes, it was like I said it was it was instantly recognizable and not just what I was looking at, but how I felt it was very recognizable. [00:17:13][7.1]

Samuel L. Jackson: [00:17:14] But hopefully, you know, people will hold on to this and not be triggered by those early moments of what happens in this to realize that, OK, you got to go on a journey with these people. And there’s a fantastic thing that’s going to happen. He’s going to get this miracle drug that there is not such thing. But this story allows us to go into a miracle drug that allows him to be clear for a moment so you can see who he is and what his life was and how we get to this place. [00:17:41][27.5]

Cortney Wills: [00:17:43] Yes, Dominique told me that you asked for her. You asked to work with her on this after seeing her in the superhero movie. And I actually remember when I saw her in that superhero movie and I said to myself, I am looking at someone with a very big future in this town. I wondered for you what stood out about her when you saw her. [00:18:02][19.3]

Samuel L. Jackson: [00:18:02] We all make mistakes. You know, I met Dominique and didn’t realize it when she did this thing called Show Me a Hero with my wife for HBO. She was in that and she was on The Deuce, which I watched also. But when I saw her in that thing she was just a kid, and I was like, “Oh Robin, that’s Robin right there,” and I didn’t realize that that was her. And then when I saw in Judas, I realized, Oh yeah, that’s who she is. And yes, she was perfect. And there was only one other person that might have been perfect, but she was the dominant, you know, character in those auditions. And I was just asking for I don’t even know why we auditioned. But once she agreed, I was like, OK, well, she’ll get there, whether she’s there now or not to get there. And sure enough, when she showed up, she was there. You know, you don’t you don’t find a lot of people that come to you with a, you know, 32 page PowerPoint presentation of who somebody is like, what the hell? [00:19:08][65.5]

Cortney Wills: [00:19:08] Did you read the whole thing? She said she doesn’t know if you read it all. Did you? [00:19:12][3.5]

Samuel L. Jackson: [00:19:12] Yeah I did. [00:19:12][0.0]

Cortney Wills: [00:19:14] I was impressed by that. I was impressed by her having the agency to to send that to you guys. [00:19:19][4.6]

Samuel L. Jackson: [00:19:21] She dropped it and I’m like, Okay, all right. [00:19:24][2.8]

Cortney Wills: [00:19:25] Oh my last question. Just playing a character like Ptolmey in any way, like, did it do anything to to make you think about your own mortality? Because I feel like people get old so much later now I know, you know, people 80, 90 and in my family who still seem quite sprightly. And I wonder like, man, when it changes, I wonder if it will be really quick. Like, when do you when do you start getting old now in 2022? [00:19:54][29.8]

Samuel L. Jackson: [00:19:55] What is old to you? I mean, (right?) What does that specifically mean? I mean, I have a lot of different, you know, ideals about it or ideas. Also, in terms of when I was 50, I remember looking in the mirror saying I don’t look anything like I, my my grandfather or my brothers or his brothers and all these guys look like when they were 50. And that’s lifestyle diet, you know, things that we know now, exercise, whatever. And even now, you know, 20 years later, when I look in the mirror, I’m still not seeing, you know, my grandfather or his brothers or those guys. But I feel them. You know, one of my greatest fears is having to wake up in the middle of the night and having to do something in a hurry. Cause that’s just not going to happen. But, you know, that’s the reality of it. But my mortality, yeah, I think about it. You know, all the time. But I don’t. I don’t. I don’t consider myself with it. I’m more concerned with getting up every day and going to work and finding a place that I can use my creative energy to go out there and create and do, you know, do something with a character or or help somebody with a job or, you know, do any of those things that make sense in terms of me as the artist activist that I think I am. [00:21:28][92.9]

Cortney Wills: [00:21:29] Yes, thank you so much. I have to let you go. But this was really your really fantastic in this. And this and I loved your speech the other night at the image awards. (Oh, thank you very much.) You’re welcome. You take care. Thank you for listening to Acting Up. If you like what you heard, please give us a five-star review and subscribe to the show wherever you listen to your podcast and share it with everyone you know. Please email all questions, comments and suggestions to podcasts@theGrio.com. Acting Up is brought to you by theGrio and executive produced by Cortney Wills and produced by Cameron Blackwell. For more with me and Acting Up, check us out on Instagram @ActingUp.Pod. [00:21:29][0.0]

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