Lashana Lynch is having a moment. She was there by Daniel Craig’s side at the Royal Premiere of the new James Bond movie, No Time to Die, this week in London because she’s the new 007. Her stunning performance at the Royal Court in ear for eye has also been filmed and is part of the upcoming London Film Festival. This is all after having received raves in the worldwide hit Captain Marvel in which she co-starred as Maria Rambeau, an Air Force pilot and best friend of the title character played by Brie Larson. She has also been seen as Agent 355 in the FX series Y: The Last Man. Producer and writer Shonda Rhimes spotted the actress early on when she cast her as the leading character, Rosaline Capulet, in the period drama Still Star-Crossed. Lynch’s other stage work in England has included the title character in Educating Rita at the Chichester Festival Theatre and Tybalt – yes, Tybalt – for The National Theatre’s production of Romeo and Juliet.
I headed over to London this week for a two-month cultural sojourn where I will be doing reports back home here at Grazia. During my last trip there, I wanted to meet Lynch because my cultural antennae were telling me that she was going to be a star. This was even before she had been cast as 007. She accepted my invitation to meet up in her Barbican neighborhood to talk about her career and how a young Black woman navigates it all – show business and her art and conversations such as the one below – with a sense of grace even as she grapples with being representative of more than just herself.
Are you aware of the two different kinds of roles that you play – those written for a Black person and those not written for a black person but you are cast in them?
You can’t not be aware. Even as a young Black performer, you always hope to be just an actor amongst other actors and doing a job. I think the more you grow in your career – well, for me anyway – I do hope to be the Black actor who is representing a bBack woman of our time – or that time when the film or the play is set in – because I always want my characters to be authentic and I want the Black community to be proud of who is representing that person for them. But I don’t like the awareness of it. I don’t like the awareness of it on set or how much it can stand out sometimes unnecessarily or how much it is talked about unnecessarily. The only time I love to talk about it is when I’m talking about change, which is what we’re experiencing right now.
Someone asked me that question the other day, whether I should be explaining or commenting on my being a Black woman onscreen. I said, “Well, when I leave my house I don’t shout to the rooftops, ‘I’m a Black woman! I’m a Black girl!’” You can see onscreen – it is apparent in Captain Marvel – that I am a Black woman raising a black child. Or: She’s a Black Tybalt. Get over it. Then get involved in the story. That Shakespeare experience, that National Theatre experience, for me – because it was a half black and half an Asian cast – was amazing.
I’m definitely not the person at the forefront. D’y’know what I mean? I am one of many who have a story to tell and who are representing, thankfully, at this time. But I am talking about it so much because I’m aiming not to talk about it. I want everybody to talk about it for us then to shift into a time when it’s not even questioned or mentioned.
Are you Jamaican?
Both my parents are Jamaican. I’m proudly Jamaican. There is a certain way I discovered with my upbringing that Jamaicans hold themselves. When I come into a room, I’m very present.
I think one’s energy is highly important, and Jamaicans are people who let themselves be known. Not necessarily in the most brash way or the most excitable way, but you can feel their presence in the room. I like people to feel that I am having a positive effect on the room. You’re southern, Kevin. I think that’s what southerners do, too. Southerners have a charm and a brightness and an air about them that is very light and very family-orientated and very open.
They carry a history with them as well. We do. There’s no way I can shirk it. Once southern, always southern. But we carry a heavy history under all that lightness you mention. Because underneath all that positive energy you are describing is some real dark history. So it gives us a little heft to go along with the lightness.
In America we had eight years when we had a Black president and we were told we were moving into a post-racial era in which people wouldn’t be talking about race so much. But as a reaction to that in many ways, we got Trump who rose to power by demonizing “the other.” So keep talking about it, Lashana, because racists never go away. They just bide their time until they are given agency again. Does change ever really happen?
To me, change doesn’t really happen until we’ve had a good ten or fifteen years of something, when it doesn’t come, “Oh, yeah, I have to remind myself that the president is Black.” Or, “Oh, yes, I have to realize there is a Black lead in this show. Okay, let me adjust my brain.” When it actually isn’t even in your self-consciousness is, for me, when change has evolved – not when we’re in a time when the general masses have gotten use to this one thing and hoped that other countries will follow suit or other industries will follow suit. As an example, the conversation, say, about women in this industry or women across the board in other industries. That is a continued conversation. The suffragettes were working hard and thought now we can rest and pass the baton down and the next generation can continue our work and it’s going to be great. But here we are still talking about this stuff. So it makes me question whether concrete change is even going to happen while I am on this earth. And that makes me scared. Things can reverse. That’s what’s scary.
Could you ever have a Black person as Prime Minister?
For me? Bring it yesteryear. I would have been very happy with that. But I don’t know if the UK would have allowed that to happen. It is much easier – in my opinion – to have a woman in power in the UK than to have a Black person in power. Let’s hope that everything will change. Let us hope.
I read on your Twitter feed this morning a poem by Nikita Gill called “Girls of the Wild.” It went like this: “They won’t tell you fairytales/ of how girls can be dangerous and still win./ They will only tell you stories/ where girls are sweet and kind/ and reject all sin./ I guess to them/ it’s a terrifying thought,/ a red riding hood/ who knew exactly/ what she was doing/ when she invited the wild in.” Is being in touch with your own “wild” and inviting it into your life important to you? And how do you balance that “wild” and the focus and calm that one finally has to have when acting – or even being an actress navigating a career with grace in this crazy business? Are you aware of maintaining that balance? Or am I just talking out of my ass?
Oh, what’s a bit of talking out of your ass between friends. I have been very aware of the different aspects of myself from a very young age. My aesthetics. My mind and how differently it works from my peers. My wanting to be a nonconformist at the best and worst of times. My speaking like an adult quite early on in my teens. My walking to school by myself at the age of eight and nine. These are all things that truthfully exist in me and it would be a shame for me to try and tame one or the other to fit someone’s mold or to make someone else feel comfortable. For me, now that I’m in my 30s, I quite enjoy making people feel uncomfortable because it makes me feel like I’m probably doing something authentic within myself if you think there is a little bit of a problem. D’y’know what I mean? So in terms of being “wild,” there are levels to that word. It is “wild” for people to wake up at 6 a.m. and go to the gym? For me, that’s absolutely perfect. Is it “wild” for me to stand at the train station with my earplugs in and dancing and singing away and not caring what people are saying. To Sally on my left, she might think that is absurd and not “English” enough. Right? So I don’t enjoy taming any part of myself and, if I am, then it means that I might just have a little bit more growing to do. And then I’ll appreciate that.
Was it “wild of me to accept your invitation to talk today? No. It’s not “wild.” I got an energy from your name. Because I like to look at people’s names. I went, “Mmmmm .. yeah … this one looks cool.” And I came and I was right. I had a great time.
If we’re not shaking things up, then why are we living? I just find politeness and carefulness – and everything above and below – quite boring actually.
Listen, I was brought up well. I was brought up very disciplined. But I was also brought up to speak my mind. So if you’re brought up well, you know how to respect people. And if you are brought up to speak your mind, you know how to speak your mind respectfully. It all comes hand-in-hand.