Janelle Monáe started her career in the music industry and has been nominated at the Grammy Awards for her most recent album Dirty Computer. Monáe is an artist I have been listening to for about ten years. Her music speaks to the depth and breadth of her own artistry, and she has more than made her mark in this industry.
In 2016, Monáe made an indelible impression with her acting talents starring in two Best Picture nominees (one of which was the Best Picture winner) Moonlight and Hidden Figures. She carved out a whole niche for herself and proved not only can she sing and write fantastic music, but she is also a terrific scene-stealing actress.
Monáe brings this power to the second season of Amazon’s Homecoming where she plays Jackie. Jackie is a new character in the series, and in the first episode, she has lost her memory and is trying to figure who she is and what happened. The mystery and suspense builds all the way to episode three where the show jumps back in time, and we see where it all began. Monae is fully in command of the screen and gives an incredibly layered performance that helps you navigate the dark elements of this thriller. One of the interesting pieces you will read below is how she was suffering from her own memory loss during this process.
Check out our conversation below about her fantastic performance in Amazon’s Homecoming.
Awards Daily: Homecoming is an interesting psychological thriller. What drew you to the project’s second season?
Janelle Monáe: I loved the first season, and I was excited to see Julia Roberts come back to television. I am also a big fan of Stephan James and Hong Chau and the podcast. I was excited to be offered the script and get a chance to potentially be part of the second season.
When I got the script, I decided that if what I love about season one remains there, I am a yes. When I read the scripts, it went harder on the thriller and the score, and the Hitchcockian elements were very present. The noir elements that get brought to the forefront bring an incredibly tense story to life, and this was so exciting. I felt like the stakes were higher, and it allowed for space to explore the next levels of this story. I think Kyle Alvarez and Sam Esmail kept to the integrity of why people love Homecoming, and they kept true to the theme of the podcast, which was another thing that stood out to me while I was reading the script.
Jackie is so complex and so layered, and she does so many complex things that I may not do. This was a great examination of a woman working in the patriarchal system. She is obsessed with winning and controlling things, taking risks. You find yourself trying to get into her mind and figure out what makes her tick. The script also did not assign a race to Jackie. I got the opportunity to read something for a human person, and I did not have to play into the stereotype of a blackness that was crafter or created in a behind the scenes context. I was able to bring my own experience to this character.
AD: We start your story already in progress. There are a lot of unanswered questions for the audience, and then things start to unfold. How did this process unfold for you.
JM: We filmed big chunks in order, and I got time to sink into Jackie pre and post memory loss. What I also liked about filming was the director gave us time to rehearse and prepare. We got to work together and were able to talk about how I would play her pre/post memory loss. This helped me to form different aspects of Jackie
One of the most interesting things that also happened while I was filming was I actually had mercury poisoning and was losing my memory at times. I went on a fish diet, and because of the mercury problem, this affected me. I was actually losing my memory during shooting, and so I took this experience and put this into my performance. It really helped me to understand aspects of Jackie.
AD: In episode three entitled “Previously,” we get a glimpse of a very different version of your character. How did you start to shape her?
JM: I watched a lot of films that dealt with memory loss. I watched Memento and the Bourne films, in particular the first one, where he comes out of the water and is finding his way for the first time. I also watched Nicole Kidman’s Before I Go to Sleep.
I knew I did not want to play this woman one-note. I did not want to run around saying, “Help me!” I wanted to show her frustration. I wanted to show that she wanted to get answers and portray this without being gullible, while also being guarded. There was a lot of tight rope to make sure that she was layered. I wanted to make sure the strength of Alex was still in her as well. Throughout the show, I wanted to make sure that she was still quick on her toes and sharp. At the core she is a survivor.
AD: The ending was shocking, especially that moment you have with Audrey. I do not want to spoil anything for folks, but what was your reaction to this moment?
JM: Isn’t the ending crazy? I also do not want to give anything away, but I loved every sip of it, every drip of it rather. I think the ending can mean a lot of different things, and it depends how you look at it. Maybe Jackie was thinking we were really fucked up people, “Let’s start over,” or there was a dose of revenge or a combination of all of that. There are complex human elements with Jackie’s story and the end was something that floored me when I read the script.
AD: You have incredible chemistry with Hong Chau, and it was great to see two queer women as the leads as a series. How did you work to develop this chemistry with her?
JM: Hong was so amazing to work with. I am a fan of all the choices she has made in her career. We got to sit down, eat together, talk about what makes sense. I signed onto this show because there was a black woman and Asian woman leading this show, owning everything.
AD: Homecoming allegorically speaks to the mental health of soldiers. What research did you do on this for your part in the series?
JM: I have people in my family. My grandfather was in the Korean War. My stepfather is also a vet. In part my character was a vet too. I had to learn what it was for somebody to have this experience and learn the jargon. I had to learn all of this language to create meaning to this person’s experience including the type of weapons they use, the language they use on the ground, and what their experience is like in war and after war.
The mental health of veterans was so crucial, and this country does not do enough to support our veterans when they come back from war. Walter was someone who wanted answers about his experience. He was a human being who was lied to about his experience. All I could think about was my family’s experience and how to best represent this on camera.
Homecoming is now streaming on Amazon.