Who knew that Janelle Monáe, the multi-talented Grammy nominee, was such a huge fan of director Rian Johnson?
It turns out Monáe wanted to manifest their involvement in his latest film Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery thanks to a deep appreciation for his body of work. Beyond 2019’s original Knives Out sensation, Monáe’s obsession reached back to Johnson’s first film, 2005’s Brick, an homage to film noir set in high school. Yet, it’s his time-travel epic Looper that truly blew Monáe away, giving them a real sense of Johnson’s capacity for visionary filmmaking.
“I have wanted to work with Rian since I saw his film Looper. I was blown away,” Monáe raved. “I thought he was doing something super innovative in the sci-fi genre, and I was like, ‘Who is this person that loves time travel as much as me?’ I wish I had written, directed, or starred in that film.”
When presented with Glass Onion, Monáe immediately loved the twisty script and the character Johnson wanted them to play, tech entrepreneur Cassandra “Andi” Brand. Filming in Greece didn’t hurt, of course. The film lensed during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, so strict safety protocols were in place allowing the team of filmmakers and actors to bond in ways not typically seen on traditional film sets.
But that experience went beyond the isolated, exotic shoot. Research for their role as Andi afforded Monáe the opportunity to dive into the experience and legacy of prominent Black female entrepreneurs and leaders within the entertainment world.
“I absolutely looked at Black women and women of color who who are in these leadership roles in the entertainment industry, in the tech industry, or in business. The common through line was being that minority in the majority. You’re sitting in the room with these CisHet white men who are controlling things, and these Black voices feel like they are being silenced, sometimes their ideas even taken. What do you do when those things happen? There are a lot of stories around the power dynamics between men and women in these spaces, so my character had a lot of inspiration to pull from.”
Monáe channeled that inspiration into a performance that captures audiences and critics’ attention. Featured amongst the all-star cast including Daniel Craig (returning as Benoit Blanc), Kate Hudson, Edward Norton, Kathryn Hahn, Dave Bautista, and more, Monáe’s Andi stands out as a unique character driven by rage, resentment, and a drive for retribution. They find a way to make the character extremely sympathetic despite an initially cold demeanor. Monáe’s Andi becomes the lynchpin and key audience surrogate for the lightning-paced film.
As Monáe continues to build their immensely promising acting career, they are fully aware and appreciative of the gift Johnson has given them in Andi.
“I sit in gratitude, I am so grateful and fortunate to be able to play, to dress up, to be invited to be a part of this cast. I try to focus on the art and who am I making things with. Being able to say that I made this movie with these beautiful humans, I’m just happy that I’ve had an opportunity to connect with them,” Monáe remarked. “I just sit in gratitude to be able to play a role like this. When I read the script and I read everything that Andi was going to be doing, as an actor I realized that I got the opportunity to really play, to really go from comedy humor to that deep, heavy emotional lifting in the dramatic scenes to the action scenes where I’m stunt coordinating. All of that is like a dream for me as an actor to be able to showcase range and to sink my teeth into a character so dynamic like Andi.”
Outside of the Rian Johnson catalog, what murder mysteries really inspired Janelle Monáe?
To find the answer to that question, you need to look beyond traditional Agatha Christie or Hercule Poirot films. In fact, you have to go all the way to TV’s Cabot Cove, Maine.
“I have to give a big shout out to Angela Lansbury. I remember watching Murder, She Wrote with my grandmother a lot. That was like a new murder mystery each episode,” Monáe reminisced. “I have to just give a shout out to her and may God rest her soul. She really did contribute something special to the genre.”
Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery is now playing for an exclusive 1-week engagement in select theaters nationwide. It debuts on Netflix on December 23.