We interview Small Axe star Amarah-Jae St. Aubyn about her approach to playing her character, her chemistry with Michael Ward, and more.
Small Axe is an anthology series coming to Amazon Prime on November 20, with five thematically connected films directed by Steve McQueen. Each story revolves around London’s West Indian community, and the experience of being black in Britain in the 70s.
Amarah-Jae St. Aubyn stars in the second episode, titled Lovers Rock, as Martha. The actress spoke to Screen Rant about inhabiting her character, experiencing the joy of Blues night, and how the specificity of Small Axe’s scope can still carry a universal message.
Talk to me about the character of Martha in Small Axe.
Amarah-Jae St. Aubyn: Martha is an explorer. I mean, she comes from a religious background, and she’s heard these stories of these incredible Blues nights. She wants to experience it for herself, so she sneaks out. I just think she’s an explorer. I think, at times, she likes to think she’s a bit older than she is.
She’s quite a shy person, but also quite feisty at the same time. She’s someone that you don’t want to test – don’t test her. But she’s just young, on a night out to explore and to see this Blues night that she’s heard about.
You have great chemistry with Micheal Ward. Can you talk to me about the communication – because you have to communicate verbally and non-verbally? Talk to me about the onscreen relationship and how you guys brought that to life.
Amarah-Jae St. Aubyn: What was beautiful was that Micheal came to mine to rehearse. We would rehearse for a bit, and then we’d just be talking and hanging out and chilling. He got to speak with my mom and my dad to learn their history, and about those times as well. I think what was nice is, from that, me and Micheal were just really comfortable with each other and really open with each other.
I just think we had an instant chemistry from when we done our first read in the table reads. I think it was that; I think Mike was also someone who was just so comfortable on screen, and so unapologetically himself. He taught me so much about trusting myself on screen. It was just incredible working with him.
I felt like a fly on the wall in that party, and like I was there. Can you talk to me about rehearsing that? Did you know when you read it that it was gonna be the way that it was shot?
Amarah-Jae St. Aubyn: No. I kept trying to picture it, and picture how it would be, but it was completely different and in a beautiful way when we’d done it. I mean, we got to work with a choreographer called [Coral Messam] beforehand, and she’s incredible. She taught us about where the energy is held in your bodies, and how it’s rooted to your feet or planted on the floor, and it’s heavy and it’s grounded and it’s rooted to the earth. She worked a lot with the supporting artists and getting them to understand the energy needed for this.
So, what you’re seeing; no one’s faking it, everyone was literally really feeling it. Because once we came into that house party, it’s like the outside world just did not matter at all. You just were so fully in it and connected to it.
Another interesting and defining trait about this anthology series is that it doesn’t just focus on Black people, but the experience of people of West Indian descent. How does that speak to the diversity of the Black experience?
Amarah-Jae St. Aubyn: We’re all coming from the same place, in terms of the struggle, in terms of the racism, discrimination, and the injustice. I think that is literally what’s key about it, and I think that’s why it’s gonna relate to so many. Because it is all to do with these black communities creating these nights themselves to celebrate our culture, because we weren’t allowed in the white nightclubs.
So, I think regardless of where you’re from, as a black person is going to relate to you. It’s going to touch you; you’re going to feel it. And for people that aren’t black, it’s going to educate you. It’s going to educate.
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Small Axe premieres on Amazon Prime on November 20, 2020.
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