A lot of the characters in Julia Hart’s I’m Your Woman live in a grey area. Rachel Brosnahan’s Jean lives in a cloudy state since her husband, Eddie, is seemingly never home and doesn’t give her information on his business. She knows it’s bad but she doesn’t ask. These are characters that are traditionally written off the margins, but Hart allows them to breathe and feel pain. Marsha Stephanie Blake’s Teri is not like any character we’ve seen in a crime thriller before, and she takes ample opportunity to infuse her with nuance and fire.
Teri seems to choose her words carefully, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t have a lot to say. There is a connection between her and Jean that doesn’t get revealed until halfway through Hart’s film and it makes the situation they find themselves in even muddier. Teri is a woman who has seen some dark things, but she can’t seem to fully escape from it. Eddie has made sure that disappearing from a life of crime would follow Teri and her family around for years to come.
Blake has had quite the incredible last few years. She was nominated for an Emmy for Ava DuVernay’s celebrated When They See Us, and she gives an incredible performance in last year’s Luce (seriously, go watch it). Here, she is a mother trying to protect her child and mixing grace, strength, and desperation. Blake won’t let you see Teri sweat.
Awards Daily: I can’t believe we haven’t seen a movie like this before. I saw one reviewer compare it to Diane Keaton’s character in The Godfather, which I love. Did this feel like a unique opportunity?
Marsha Stephanie Blake: It absolutely did. It’s hard to really embrace what the film is when you just read it. It wasn’t until after the second viewing that I thought it was revolutionary. We often watch these types of movies, and we think, ‘Wait…what happened to that lady? She was really interesting.’ Talk about a woman disappearing, but if you’re a Black woman, you absolutely go away. Unless it’s Blaxploitation film or a Pam Grier character, you’re going to die quickly or you’re going to disappear. For me, definitely reading the script, I thought it was interesting and that this family that comes in to complete the story is a Black family. I was fascinated by that. Julia sent me her other films, Miss Stevens and Fast Color, and I realized that she’s done more often than not. I love that she takes these characters that we never see fleshed out and she gives them a life that we don’t see on film. I wanted to not be an exception though, you know?
AD: Of course.
MSB: Their lives are just as complex. There’s no reason for these stories to not be told. She’s wonderful at it. After finding out that one of her inspirations was Heat by Michael Mann, I knew that it was going to be interesting.
AD: Do you think that Teri toyed with the idea of telling Jean her own history with Eddie? Or did she have to wait for the right time?
MSB: If it were up for Teri, she would have never told Jean. Art revealed it because there is that scene where they are in the cabin and she says, ‘Art says you’re Eddie’s ex-wife’ and I hesitate. I think our agreement was that we weren’t going to tell her too much because we are in hiding. We are trying to leave things behind. For all I know this woman might reveal too much and get us back into things that I have been trying to get out of for the last however many years. Maybe Teri’s intention was to take her to safety and get the hell out of there and move on with her life. There’s something about Jean’s tenacity. I always say that Teri comes into it thinking Jean is one thing and then realizing she’s something else. Teri finds out that Jean is tougher than she thinks she is. She’s more of a firecracker like Teri is and she can handle more than Teri initially thinks. Teri can tell Jean things.
AD: And Jean hasn’t had to think on her feet before and Teri has that experience. There were a few times where I wasn’t sure what Teri was going to do. Like when Jean walks in and demands to know what’s going on.
MSB: You thought she was going to haul off?
MSB: Old firecracker Teri might have done that. It’s good that you felt like that because I think that’s part of Teri’s instinct.
AD: How do you think she holds back from that? Is that coolness and levelheadedness something she had to teach herself?
MSB: There is that love story between Teri and Cal that I think is essential to what they are now. If you notice, Cal is also very cool. They came up in with this chaos with Eddie so who knows what Cal has seen. I imagine that Teri has seen her fair amount as well. I think Eddie revealed more to Teri than he ever did with Jean. Maybe he learned his lesson and that’s why he didn’t tell Jean more? The reason they call her firecracker is that she was a bit of a hothead which is what allowed her to leave Eddie. That gave her that confidence. I do think it’s Cal and Teri’s love that balances them. When I spoke with Julia, I told her that I loved that there was this couple that had so much love for each other. You think it’s going to happen between Jean and Cal, but he’s found his love with Teri. The mobster had the Black wife in the 1970s, so that’s another story if you want to unpack this. There’s so much nuance and you realize how revolutionary it is.
AD: That’s funny that you say that, because I thought that if this movie was made in the ’90s, Cal and Jean would’ve gotten together. And I really, really didn’t want that.
MSB: Tell me why you thought that. I think I know, but tell me why that crossed your mind.
AD: I think we are conditioned to think that. Whenever there is a man and a woman that spend so much time together and they go through something, there’s always a romantic spark. It probably would’ve crossed my mind more if Cal didn’t leave. It’s like subconsciously stuck in our minds that if a man and a woman are from two different worlds and they experience something with one another, they will fall in love. It doesn’t hurt that Arinzé Kene is so nice to look at.
MSB: Oh my god. We were all in love with him. Even the baby was. He’s very magnetic.
AD: There is a line in the scene where you go to the club and Jean says, ‘Is any of this real or are you just like the rest of them?’ but you don’t get to answer because the shooting starts to happen. I was wondering if you thought of Teri’s position? Does she worry that she’s a bad person or does she think she’s along for the ride?
MSB: You really watched this. When I read the script, I thought that Teri was a woman of very few words for a reason. She was not coming in to be some big savior for Jean. She was forced into it. Was she part of everything? Maybe she had a part in it. She does get to the point with Eddie that she knows what’s going on. I think she buried her head in the sand long enough but she had to get out with her child. Thinking about it later on, I think Teri was marginally involved with the business but that wasn’t going to work for her in the long run. But then she also started falling in love with Cal. I would imagine a lot of conversations between her and Cal where they decide that it can’t be the life for them anymore. It’s good that I don’t answer Jean’s question because I am probably culpable for some of the bad stuff.
AD: I really like how the film mashes up the dynamic of family. I can’t imagine that Jean is going to walk away and maybe to a degree, Teri and Cal need her. What do you imagine this new family dynamic might be like?
MSB: When I was watching it the other day, I thought of that. We now know that Harry is related to Paul. They are actually brothers and they have the same dad. I love how Julia puts them in the front seat together. I think that suggests that we are going to take care of each other. Now that Cal’s dad is dead and Cal is very much broken, I think, at least for a while, that dynamic will change a bit. We are stronger together.
I’m Your Woman is streaming now on Amazon.