Photo: Taylor Hill / Getty Images
Playing one of the most notorious royals in history is a feat, even for the most veteran actors, and though his role in the AMC + miniseries Anne Boleyn is only Jodie Turner-Smith’s second leading role after 2019 Queen & Slim, from the moment she read the script, she was downstairs playing the British queen who divides and complicates.
“As an artist, I saw an opportunity to tell a story in a different way, and I jumped on it,” she told Vulture.
The first black woman to play Boleyn onscreen, Turner-Smith confidently puts herself in the shoes of Henry VIII’s second and most controversial wife, whether she slaps Henry’s bubbly mistress, whom she slaps. collapsing after giving birth to a stillborn son or losing her mind slowly succumbs to cruel gossip about her inability to “produce sons.” Anne Boleyn follows the story of the main character in poignant detail, the psychological drama illuminating how a misogynist system can strip a woman of her dignity, sanity, and ultimately her life.
Vulture chatted with Turner-Smith on Zoom in on how to channel her own motherhood experiences into the role and why she made sure Anne Boleyn wrapped her natural hair at night.
What attracted you to this project?
I knew our manager Lynsey Miller, and when they came to me with this offer, I was like, Wow, that sounds really exciting! Then I read the scripts and really liked them. As an actress there are so many variables in filmmaking, but what turns me on is when it starts with the page. I just hope I get the chance to do something like this again, but with a lot more money. [Laughs.]
What did it mean to you to be the first black actress to portray this white historical figure on screen? Were you worried given the initial backlash?
I do my best to isolate myself from the comments because they are not useful in the grand scheme of things. That, and social media tends to amplify the negativity. I had to turn off people’s ability to message me because, girl, I’m inundated. But I got to a point where I realized I had to keep going because people will always find something to be angry about. They were crazy because of the way Queen & Slim finished, crazy that my husband was white after I had this great black love affair. Now they are crazy that I played this white queen.
But I Also know that people will be upset because they feel protectors of things, protectors of the characters Queen and Slim and of Anne. People have very strong feelings towards this woman, of course, because she is amazing. But we’ve been seeing things that have been given to us in a certain way for a very long time, and people are uncomfortable seeing things exist outside of what they think they should look like – and that is. their right and their prerogative. But as an artist, I saw an opportunity to tell a story in a different way, and I jumped on it, because why not?
Given that this is a true story – or as the creators say, “inspired by the truth” – how did you prepare?
The first thing you do is touch the story, so we worked with an amazing historian and created a Bible of Anne: what we know about her, how she was raised, where she went to school. school and the time she spent at the French school yard rubbing shoulders with artists. Knowing this, I asked, What kind of person would that create? She’s a woman who grew up with all these powerful women. She would come back to England and take a little spice. She didn’t do it like everyone else, and that made her attractive to Henry. It also made her threatening to the traditional British monarchy. Obviously, she was even more threatening in the fact that Henry left the Catholic Church because of her. Religion is one of the most controversial subjects of mankind and it has disturbed the religion of England.
I also learned that there is so much mystery around her. We have no trace of Anne in her own words. No journal or journal entries. Now we have a lot of letters from Henry to her, but not a single letter from her to Henry. There’s not even an official portrait of her – though Henry destroyed them all when he had her killed, all of her photos and portraits we see now were taken years after her death with people guessing her. appearance. This mystery is the very thing that makes her such an interesting character to jump into. We had a lot of license to imagine who she is.
Watching Anne Boleyn, it became clear that this is also about misogyny, reducing a woman to her reproductive abilities, and how that cruelty can break a woman. It’s quite heartbreaking.
I approached this story with great care and compassion, realizing that it was about a woman struggling under the crushing weight of patriarchy and finding herself sucked into a black hole. Imagine living with this kind of cruelty: what kind of person would you become? Better yet, imagine going through this and already being a polarizing figure? It started to break her relationship with Henry, and then herself.
It’s so interesting what women throughout history have to go through. Yes, we have made some big changes, but we are still struggling. Right now we are on the precipice of Roe deer v. Wade being backing up. It’s wild.
Did you take your experiences as a new mother in the role?
Playing Anne and breastfeeding my daughter at the time, I definitely channeled that energy. I could put my feet in the shoes of a woman walking this difficult path of desire to mother her children, but they are far from you because that is what they did at that time. And the deep passion you feel for wanting your child to be successful and safe in society and also wanting your child to be ambitious – Anne was so openly ambitious and people hated that about her. I could relate to this as a woman, black woman and black mother these days.
Do you think having a mostly female creative team helped capture all of these nuances?
Absoutely. Being a woman allows you to tell this story from a different perspective. But it can also be as simple and awe-inspiring as the compassion shown to me as a working and breastfeeding mother. I was given space to pump and breastfeed every three hours – it’s so huge! There are women in the world who pump out a pantry or toilet on their lunch break because they don’t have time during their workday. Or women who can’t breastfeed at all because they don’t have the space to express their milk. This experience on the set has been a blessing.
What’s also interesting about Anne is that in the face of all this oppression, she has found ways to express her autonomy. She wasn’t afraid to put someone in their place, to slap a girl for sitting in a man’s lap. It must have been fun for you.
I like it about her. She was ambitious and a fucking bitch. She became cruel and all the things she felt she had to do to make herself unmistakable by others. How many times have we been in this position ourselves? Do you know how many times we have bared our teeth to people because it was the best way to survive? Here are traits that men dislike and shamelessly possess. And Henry loved it, and honestly, Anne was basically outclassing Henry from the bottom.
Jodie! Do not garnish from the bottom ?!
I say it like that.
As a black woman with natural hair, I loved that Anne has frizzy and curly hair instead of 2B, blown and straight hair. And most importantly, she wore a satin scarf at night. Did you have your say?
It was important that my Anne had afro textured hair and that she had grown it all her life. Julie Kendrick, who was the head of our hair and makeup department, was already there, so we created all of these looks with the help of my personal hairstylist and the team. My Anne is going to roll up her hair because she is a black woman. Honestly, hair is the thing that gets me going when I look at things. If the hair is ragged, I’m like, “What’s going on? Buckle her wig please.
With shows like Bridgeton and now Anne Boleyn, we see more racing re-imaginations in period pieces. Is this a trend that you hope to see more of in the future?
Absoutely. We’ve been doing this for generations in the theater, so yeah, let’s continue to disrupt people’s worlds. We have been excluded for a long time from the possibility of even telling our own stories, but certainly their stories. And now we don’t make it their story but our story. Or a human story. And humanity is colorful.