NINE DAYS Video Interview With Winston Duke And Zazie Beetz About Exploring Mental Health In Film (Exclusive)
Nine Days arrives in theaters this Friday, and we recently spoke to stars Winston Duke (Avengers: Endgame) and Zazie Beetz (Deadpool 2) about the importance of exploring mental health in film and more.
Nine Days was released in New York and Los Angeles last Friday and has been met with widespread critical acclaim since. As you'll have seen in our 5* review, we loved the movie and relished the opportunity to speak to stars Winston Duke (Black Panther) and Zazie Beetz (Joker) about their roles.
In this brilliantly unique sci-fi original, Will (Duke) spends his days in a remote outpost watching the live Point of View (POV) on TVs of people going about their lives, until one subject perishes, leaving a vacancy for a new life on Earth. Soon, several candidates - unborn souls - arrive at Will's to undergo tests determining their fitness, facing oblivion when they are deemed unsuitable. But Will soon faces his own existential challenge in the form of free-spirited Emma (Beetz), a candidate who is not like the others, forcing him to turn within and reckon with his own tumultuous past.
Talking to us in the video below, both actors discuss the importance of exploring mental health in film (something we rarely see in this genre), how Duke's blockbuster projects prepared him to take on the role of producer, and what it was like for Beetz to perform Edson Oda's incredible dialogue.
Their insights are fascinating, and it's clear this is a project that means a lot to both Winston and Zazie.
Check out the full interview with the Nine Days stars below:
Something I feel we don’t see in films that often is this exploration of mental health, particularly in men, so I was wondering what about that was important to you and why did you want to better explore it on screen?
Winston Duke: For me, exploring that conversation of mental health on screen and adding the context of Blackness was really important. That’s not something I see every day and part of my job is to have a social justice footprint included in my work and it was just there. It came free; it came with me. It wasn’t something my character had to say: ‘I’m Black and I’m going through sh*t!’ No, he just is [Laughs]. It’s that powerful and it doesn’t need to be verbally stated, it just is, and I thought this script had so many freebies. That’s what made it a beautiful art piece. Someone could be watching this movie in India and still somehow see themselves completely represented in these characters. It feels universal in its specificity.
Zazie Beetz: Yeah, I would agree with that. I think exploring Black mental health is really important. In a lot of Black communities, getting help for it is still stigmatised because, culturally in the past, you just had to survive and get through because everybody was struggling. To take the time to talk about it and normalise that we all too struggle with depression and anxiety and should really take the time and self-investment to engage in how to cope and heal is incredibly important. Again, reiterating what Winston said, I loved that anybody could have played Will, but the fact it was Winston added a level. It ends up being about Black psychology which Winston talks about a lot and is for me really important as I’ve grown through my own mental health difficulties. I find I really gravitate towards films that discuss that overall in any capacity. I feel like it’s my life's work to talk about mental health and to use my own experiences to support others and I suppose creating art is one way to do that.
Winston, as an actor, you’re coming off the back of hugely successful movies like Black Panther, Us, and Spenser Confidential, but being a first time producer, what else excited you most about exploring an original sci-fi concept like this one?
Winston Duke: It wasn’t coming from some sort of IP. I really was attracted to how creative something like this could be. This is something that exists on such a smaller scale compared to something like a Marvel piece [but] still felt incredibly grand in its idea and scope. You’re dealing with the afterlife and there’s world-building very similar to an Avengers world or building a Wakanda. It’s building a lexicon of language and physical language and rules to a world very similar to creating a Wakanda or any kind of comic book world. It still felt really big because we were doing a lot in a very short time. Those big movies, you get like 70 days, whereas we had 23 or 24 days to shoot 116 to 118 pages. It still felt really great and a cool challenge to learn a lot and have a lot more onus in a piece. You don’t really get that on Avengers, You don’t really feel like you own it. On Nine Days, I felt like I owned a piece not just as a producer but as a contributing artist. Zazie got to feel like she owned a piece of this movie because she was there making sure things worked. David Rysdahl got to feel like he owned a piece of this movie. Benedict Wong...that was really great and really a testament to making things in that independent film model too.
You both get these terrific monologues in the film; Zazie, yours being about a toothbrush and, Winston, I won't talk too much about because of spoilers, but for you as actors, when you read this incredible dialogue on the page, are you more nervous for that day on set or is just excitement to play with the words Edson wrote?
Zazie Beetz: I think that if the text and the words are right and it’s written well, all those things are so natural. It’s weird, I find it so hard to memorise lines if it’s not truthful and, if it is truthful, it just flows because it’s the natural thing that would happen. In this case, the text - even though there was a lot that Winston has been talking about - there was also a lot of space to make our own choices and to continue to explore. All the souls could have manifested in so many different ways, but what is the interpretation of someone who has no backstory? We had to sit together and come to a decision: ‘What does it mean?’ If we drink water for the first time, are we like, 'Oh my God!’ or is it a more subtle discovery? I think even with Winston and Will, there are so many different ways that character could have played out and even though there is dialogue, Edson left a lot of interpretive space we could figure out together and individually. For me, I get excited, honestly, with things like that. It’s something to play with, to chew on, and to think about. I also get excited when there’s no text; it just depends on the character and what’s going on.