Interview: Away We Go's Carmen Ejogo

Like all the supporting players in Away We Go, Carmen Ejogo had to come in for her brief bit and make the biggest impact she should. But unlike the experienced comedians who joined her on the Arizona leg of the shoot, Ejogo was intended as the emotional weight, the dramatic crux of the section that finds lead characters Burt (John Krasinski) and Verona (Maya Rudolph) beginning their long journey toward finding a new home.

In the film Burt and Verona are an expecting couple traveling the country looking for a new place to live, and visiting old friends and family to figure out just where that place might be. Ejogo plays Verona's sister Grace, who is dealing with her own relationship problems and also helping Verona open up about their own parents, who died when the girls were in their 20s. Ejogo's part comes directly after we meet Allison Janney and Jim Gaffigan's loud, wildly inapprpriate character, and she says the only reason she took the part was because she wasn't asked to match that.

Read our interview with Ejogo below. Away We Go comes out in limited release this Friday.

How did you feel going in to work with a director like Sam Mendes?

I was really intimidated by the idea at first. I was very aware, coming from England, of his theater credits and past. He's revered very much in England, as he is here for American Beauty and other works he's done. Any good director, and I've worked with a few that I would call very good, they know how to disarm any anxieties very quickly. And he's one of those. He's not the intimidating tyrant at the helm. He understands that's the first thing that discourages any relaxation, which is the key to good acting.

Was it intimidating to work with someone like Maya Rudolph, who's known to improv?

Yes. I only did the movie because I"m the person who lends the movie its sort of more emotional weight, but doesn't rely on humor. I would not be doing this movie if I was expected to match Maya, or John, or anyone else in this film on that level. The moments we have, they really are about something that has a lot of gravity and weight. I was not hired to be a comedian on this one.

And you have a wonderful rapport with her. Did you get to spend any time together beforehand?

Sam was very good about having us do a lot of work with the text to begin with. We really figured out back story, and spent a lot of time in that way. Other than that, no. We do have similar backgrounds in terms of loss of parent, which I think in a strange way was a weird connection. But it wasn't something that we talked about particularly or dwelled on. I think Sam was smart in understanding that there was an inherent energy about us that was shared.< BR>

Did you read any of Dave Eggers' work?

No, I had no idea who they were to be honest. [Eggers co-wrote the screenplay with his wife, Vendela Vida] I knew they were brilliant just from reading the script. I just went with what was on the page, and wasn't really terribly concerned about what their back story was. I love their humility about how they really don't understand how a script is written. They're very self-admitting about the fact that they had to look up how many pages should a script be, how long should a film be. So they're very humble in that way.

Where does your passion and energy for acting come from?

Well, it wanes, it comes and goes, to be honest. It comes back when I get material like this, and you have an experience like this when you get to work with a really brilliant director, when it's not about their ego. I've done many a project where that's not been the case, and I've thought this is my last project, and I'll never work again, gladly. But this is the sort of thing that gives you excitement again.

Any funny moments on the set?

I was really anxious about the scene where I'm talking about my boyfriend, and I'm trying to find my way into it, but I'm not really relaxed yet. I don't know if Sam told John to do this, but he started making faces, and being really goofy. He had me in tears, to the point that my makeup was ruined. [John and Maya] would have a lot of moments between the two of them. It was like a little club that they had. I was like a little puppy, trying to get in, making a joke or two.

What made you decide to make New York your home?

Ah... love. My husband [Jeffrey Wright] is American, and this is where he called home, so I came to be here with him. I definitely related to the film in that way, in terms of feeling displaced and not really knowing where should home be. I often contemplate whether we should be back in England, but then what would that England be, I don't even know what that is anymore. To be here in 2001 was a really testing time to decide to make this home, but I think that's when we crossed the bridge and went from Manhattan to Brooklyn. Then you have kids, and you can't leave.

Sam has talked about one of the interesting themes of the movie being this interracial theme that's not at all discussed overtly.

Absolutely, love it. feel that we're finally at a stage, not just within the world of movies but in real life, that we're going past a certain cliched conversation about race. That's not to deny that there are still real issues to be dealt with, but it's a different kind of conversation, and it's sideline stuff for me. Growing up in London, with a hippie mom, I don't know that I'm most people's definition of what a black person is. I'm mixed, yes, but in the world I'm defined as black before I'm defined white. I've never been called white. I'm just excited that in a film like this, that mixed people, black people, whatever people are being given the space to be idiosyncratic, and have a breadth of emotions, and not be related back to how that is informed by your being black. It's really liberating to see a piece of material like this out in the world, and i just hope there's more of it. I've been craving that stuff my whole career, and there's not been enough of it. As an artist, there's so many categories that you're put into, that there are so many things that I"m about that I've never explored as an artist on film. I don't see myself in so many characters in film. I think that's changing with films like this.

Katey Rich

Staff Writer at CinemaBlend