Tatyana Ali stars with CCH Pounder in the heartbreaking drama Home Again as Marva, a young Canadian mother deported to Haiti without her children. She talked to me about taking on a role so different from her work on “Fresh Prince” and “Elmo in Grouchland.”
How did you become involved with this project?
I was actually sent a script and it came as an offer which is interesting because usually, you get offered things that are similar to other parts that you’ve played before. But this one is a completely different character and also a totally different kind of story than what I’ve been used to telling. When I got it, I called my agent and I said “Did they make a mistake? Is it Marva that they want me to play or is it another character?” I just fell in love with her and with the script. It was a really beautiful, really thoughtful script. I personally wasn’t even aware of the deportations that have been going on, even though my family is from the Caribbean. And then speaking with Sudz Sutherland, the director, that’s what sealed the deal because he is really brilliant. He and his wife, Jen took years to put the script together and to compile the real life stories. I just knew that there was going to be a lot of care put into telling the story.
Of all the characters in the movie, your character suffered the most visceral, personal, terrible things happening. How do you prepare yourself for that kind of anguish?
It took me a while to kind of figure her out. Having Caribbean ancestry, that part of the story, I understood. I’ve been around stories all my life from my aunts, from my mom, from my dad. I feel like I know what it’s like to feel like a stranger in a strange land, to come somewhere and not speak the language and know the culture, not knowing where you fit, to be even made a pariah in certain instances. The hardest thing for me was being a mother because I’m not a mother. I have friends who are moms, I have a great mom and a great grandmother. That was so central. Marva’s entire journey is to bring her children back to her. That is the kind of love that forces her out of her own shell, it forces her to have to stop being naïve and to become strong and gain courage. That’s all because she needs her children. For her, it’s like losing her legs. So that was the hardest work I feel like I had to.
There’s a particularly brutal scene of sexual assault by Marva’s uncle.
Paul Campbell is such an amazing actor. We kind of ran into each other in the lobby of the hotel we were all staying in, I think the first thing we got there. And immediately, he was like “Let’s have tea. Let’s sit down. Let’s talk…” And he talked about the scene. Luckily we didn’t shoot it until 3 weeks later but by the time we got to that space, I knew the crew, I knew we were all telling the same story, I knew Paul and I just felt really safe.
What do you want people to talk about on their way home after seeing this film?
When we were shooting the film, this debate is still going on even in California. It’s happening all over the world but I think it reminded me of what was going on in California. It reminded me of the talks that politicians had and that people had at their dining room tables about immigrants. Your children stay because they’re Americans and you have to leave. There’s something barbaric about that and about our policies. We’re not looking at people, we’re looking at people work, and making our decisions based off of that. I would hope that after seeing this film, I hope that it does shed light on that and that it allows you to walk in these characters’ shoes. And then when it comes time to like capture votes or state your opinion at the table somewhere when you’re talking to somebody, you actually bring up the human factor. I think that’s a really powerful part of this story. And that was the filmmakers’ purpose in telling you the story. It’s to bring a kind of blood to it and let people realize these are real people.
I was particularly moved by your performance in the scene where you explained kind of how you got into that mess. I think we can all relate to the idea that when you love somebody, you’d do anything for them when you trust them.
That scene was actually really, really important to me. I felt like that was in that scene, Marva switches from victim to somebody who can actually be a hero and somebody who can actually control her own destiny. Even though she’s telling the story about being duped, of being tricked into carrying illegal stuff across borders, she admits her own guilt. That’s the first time that she really takes responsibility and for me, that’s like the turning point in her story. After she takes responsibility, she can really control her destiny and really be strong. Being in this film changed me, like it took me someplace that I’ve never been before and I’m not the same after it. So now, I’m kind of like, “Oh, I want that again.”