It was an honor to interview Lynn Whitfield, co-star of the new faith-based film “King’s Faith,” about a couple who take in a teenage foster child.
The scene where you are arranging the flowers while you were having a very difficult conversation with your husband was a really beautiful one. You had to convey a lot with few words while you continued to make a beautiful flower arrangement. How do you prepare for a scene like that?
I played Vanessa Stubbs and what she did in her life after the death of her son was withdraw from people. And so her relationship was with gardening, with her flowers. Flowers can’t answer back, you know you plant them, you water them, they grow. You know that they die. But if they are perennials or whatever they come back. They don’t talk back to you. There’s nothing that it could offend. It was her place of comfort. And her escapism was into her gardening. And so that scene was all about that. And when her husband starts to bring the reality of the cold, hard world back to her about becoming more apart of society again, seeing her friends, it just sort of disrupted that. So the preparation was the comfort of that kind of escapism and once I was there the disruption as great even though without words. Thank you so much for perceiving it because you got to kind of feel and see the thought process without words.
That is also true the very first time that we see you in the film, where you say very little but it is clear that your attitude toward the foster child is so different from that of your husband. Are you the kind of actress who spends a lot of time thinking about the backstory of the character and about where she has been?
Yes, about where she’s been. About her psychological state and emotional state at the time. When I got the script and read it I asked for that scene to be written because it wasn’t in the original script. In the first version, he brought Brendan home and took him directly to the apartment over the garage. And I said to [writer/director] Nicolas [DiBella], I said “You know that doesn’t really work. I think we could set up better what is going on in this household and what the challenges are if we had a moment. Because any black family I know in America or maybe it’s because I’m Southern, it’s a regional thing, they’d never just bring somebody to their home and take them to their room. Have a meal together. A dinner would actually let you see the contrast in what Vanessa is going through with the husband and the discomfort of this boy to settle in. So yes, I asked for that scene and I think it was a right instinct. It works for the movie.
I think that’s fascinating that you asked for the scene to be written because that was a very important scene. So you’ve got a good story sense. Have you ever written a script yourself?
No I hadn’t but almost everything you have ever seen me in I come at it with those kinds of suggestions. You know very rarely are they taken personally in a negative way. And usually it does help to affect some enhancement of the story. I just always try to see either by performance or by text what we can do to make it richer, to make it better, to serve the story. As you can see it wasn’t about “Oh give me some more lines.” It was more about setting the tone for the whole movie. Not the whole movie but the tone for this family. And what they were going through, the differences. So, no but I am really interested in producing and I do work well with writers.
What is it that you look for in the parts that really speak to you and you feel that you want to explore?
Well the conflict in the character that I am playing. The roadmap to telling it. Whether or not it has any elements to it that will exercise me well as an actress. Whether or not it is something I would enjoy. And whether or not my doing it would enhance the story. So all of that comes into play. And you know whether or not it is something that I think I would make good on. You know? For all concerned. For the story itself, for me personally, for thematically, what it is about, all of that stuff comes into play.
You didn’t have a lot of dialogue to make clear the history of your relationship with your on-screen husband. How do you work with an actor to show that on screen?
Rapport. Talking through it. For me it works best when two people are comfortable with each other in a professional sense I mean, in an artistic sense, comfortable to try things as actors, this way or that. Where there is respect and regard. Not a sense of competition but of teamwork. Because really at the end of the day I’m only as good as my fellow players. Because if everybody is comfortable with each other, it makes it a better playground, a playing field for throwing the ball back and forth and getting it back over the net and making it easy and agile and comfortable. And that makes for creating a good rapport on screen.
Now you were working with a much younger actor in this film. Did you give him any advice?
Every now and then I might throw out a suggestion or something. But what I was saying about before it’s the same thing with younger, less experienced actors at the end of the day. When we’re shooting, we’re equal because we have a story to tell. We have a truth to tell. And if we can work together well, sometimes it doesn’t matter as much about the experience as the fact that someone feels safe with you to behave. You play it out. They are not threatened or intimidated or feel they are being judged. There’s a rapport. And that makes it much easier to connect when the camera is rolling. And to tell the truth of the scene. You know?
And what is it that you hope families who see this film will talk about after they see it?
That everybody deserves a second chance. There are second chances for everybody. And they come a lot easier when you walk by faith and belief that there is something around the corner good for you than if you don’t. So even though it doesn’t look like it. In the Bible they say “walk by faith and not by sight.” And we are our brother’s keepers. Seeing an African American couple take in this white guy from the other side of the track when he is aging out of the foster system. You see a community service group at a school decide to go beyond their reach and do something more for the community that’s deeper. You see a young girl who has everything, all the blessings but there is something she was ashamed of and didn’t know how to get around it to see that life had something better for her. So it all along the way I want people to believe to see that by doing good you create good for yourself.