- Share this article on Facebook
- Share this article on Twitter
- Share this article on Email
- Show additional share options
- Share this article on Print
- Share this article on Comment
- Share this article on Whatsapp
- Share this article on Linkedin
- Share this article on Reddit
- Share this article on Pinit
- Share this article on Tumblr
There must be something in the water at the Yale School of Drama, as Mamaoudou Athie is the latest alum to climb the ranks of Hollywood in a short amount of time. Joining the likes of Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Athie is grateful to have the support of his fellow Yale grads whenever he needs it — whether that’s audition advice or deciding on a role. Athie was recently surprised to learn that he’d been nominated for an Emmy by way of outstanding actor in a short form comedy or drama series.
The series in question is Oh Jerome, No, which airs on Hulu, as well as FXX’s Cake, a live-action/animated anthology series. Athie plays the titular character, Jerome, whose hypersensitivity creates numerous problems across his personal and professional lives.
“Suffice it to say, it was a surprise. A pleasant surprise, obviously, but certainly unexpected. The only time that [an Emmy nomination] ever came even as a possibility was when I got the email that said, ‘Oh, pick an episode [to submit],’” Athie tells The Hollywood Reporter. “You look at the world today, and I wish people were more sensitive — a lot more sensitive. That said, Jerome, in the context of the show, goes too far.”
Speaking from the Jurassic World: Dominion set in the U.K., Athie is still amazed that the biggest film he’s ever been a part of came to him without the usual months-long process of auditioning and testing.
“Colin (Trevorrow) saw me in a movie and just wanted to meet with me. So that was that,” Athie shares. “It’s the most intense, biggest job I’ve gotten in terms of scale, and it was an offer. I was like, ‘Well, this is just nuts. You can’t predict a second of it.’”
Jurassic World: Dominion director Trevorrow recently stated that Dominion will set the franchise record for most animatronic dinosaurs, and Athie still can’t believe what he’s seen so far.
“I don’t think anything is like it. If there is, I certainly haven’t seen it,” Athie explains. “The stuff that these guys have put together is unbelievable, man. It’s unbelievable. And I’m not being hyperbolic. So I’m really excited.”
In a recent conversation with THR, Athie also discusses Jurassic World’s COVID-19 safety protocols and how safe he feels, as well as his “incredible” experience with Brie Larson on Unicorn Store. (Side note: Mamoudou Athie is pronounced MAH-muh-doo ah-CHAY)
So while I’m sure you approached Oh Jerome, No with the same investment and effort as all your other roles, was an Emmy nomination the furthest thing from your mind given the unusual format of the short form anthology series?
Yeah, suffice it to say, it was a surprise. (Laughs.) A pleasant surprise, obviously, but certainly unexpected. The only time that [an Emmy nomination] ever came even as a possibility was when I got the email that said, “Oh, pick an episode [to submit].” And I was like, “Whoa, okay.” And I guess I thought about it here and there, but no, I just didn’t. We made it so long ago, and it had two separate lives on Cake and then Hulu. There were some nice notices about it, but yeah, it was a surprise, man.
In terms of your performance, which episode did you submit for consideration?
“Oh Jero,” episode five. We did the short with Natalie Prass way back when, and she returned in that episode. So there was just a lot of heart in it, and we had a nice time shooting that.
This show reminded me of Curb Your Enthusiasm a little bit since Jerome and Larry (David) like to dig holes for themselves in social situations. However, Jerome does it out of sensitivity while Larry often does it out of insensitivity. So we know Larry is flawed, but is Jerome’s hypersensitivity really a flaw in the real world? Obviously, the world of Jerome uses it to create conflict.
Well, that’s funny that you say that about Curb because 70 percent of the time, I’m like, “Larry’s onto something here,” like the “Chat & Cut” stuff. I’m like, “Come on, what are you doing? He’s right! He’s just right.” Sometimes, it’s like, “Well, all right, Larry, you’ve got to calm that down.” But I actually just feel like he’s operating on a heightened level of common sense, typically, and justice. (Laughs.) But that’s a whole other interview. Hypersensitivity. You look at the world today, and I wish people were more sensitive — a lot more sensitive. I’m wondering if certain groups, certain swaths of the world are even capable of empathy, because apparently not. The fact that a mask has been manipulated into a political statement is revolting. You can get somebody else sick! So I think the world can stand to have a little bit more sensitive people. That said, Jerome, in the context of the show, goes too far. (Laughs.) There are limits to everything. When he starts working at the restaurant to get closer to the waitress who later becomes the manager, that’s a situation where I totally get it. You feel like it’s an uncomfortable situation to ask somebody out that’s serving you. Totally fair. But then, to work there, that’s weird, man. (Laughs.) That’s weird and actually a little insensitive, you know what I mean? There’s something very wrong about that. So I think he’s sometimes just selfish rather than just hypersensitive. Even though he is sensitive, there’s a selfishness to some of that, like the selfishness that we see in the world today. Sorry, I’m going to bring it back to that a lot because it’s just too much.
I love the episode “Toughen Up” with Natasha Lyonne since you’re both acting absurdly tough. While I’ve certainly done this, could you relate to putting on a tough guy facade just to fit the expectation of a certain situation or group you were in?
Yeah, for the first two weeks of high school. And then, I was like, “This is (a) boring, and also just not me.” I didn’t want to turn out to be some kind of incel. (Laughs.) I like having feelings, and I like being vulnerable. I think it’s important, and I think it’s healthy. So, yeah, I was fortunate to realize that at a very young age.
While Jerome takes the “power of no” way too far, have you had the chance to experience the power of no in your own career yet, especially now that you’re working so much?
Oh, absolutely. I’ve been very fortunate, don’t get me wrong. Obviously, there’s the timing of it. Honestly, as a Black actor, when I look at some of the opportunities my predecessors had, it’s just different. There’s no argument; it’s a fact. The opportunities that I’ve had just weren’t available to actors that graduated from my school in the ’80s, ’90s or even the early 2000s. They just weren’t available. Whenever I think about that, it just breaks my heart. I realized while I was in grad school why I wanted to be an actor, and I was very committed to that kind of work. And when I first graduated, I was pretty much auditioning for everything, but the only jobs I’d get were the ones I wanted. Maybe that was just the deference, involvement, preparation and the gusto with which I went after it, but I was also very fortunate to have very good guidance on all sides. So, yeah, I’m a big fan of “no” because that just defines your career sometimes. There were certain moments where I was like, “Okay, I have to pay back these student loans that are in my parents’ name,” but that’s only fair for my folks. And that’s what I tell friends of mine. I also tell people that are younger than me, “You’ve got to say no sometimes, even if it’s something that could potentially help you in the short term because it’s really the long term.” Yeah, I’m a big fan of the word no.
So Winston Duke told me a bit about the Yale contingent of Hollywood including you, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II and Lupita Nyong’o. Is it comforting to know that you have your own group you can lean on whenever you need advice or a sounding board?
Absolutely. Before I graduated, Winston gave me wonderful tips on auditioning. Yahya, he’s one of my closest friends and has been so wonderful in terms of giving me advice. I wouldn’t have done Patti Cake$ if it wasn’t for Yahya. Stuff like that. They’re just proper friends — good, good friends — and we always support each other. Lupita’s success alone, outside of how kind she is and how supportive she’s always been, is an inspiration and also just so heartwarming. Da’Vine, she’s just amazing; I love her. Brian Tyree Henry, too. There’s so many people. And then, there’s people that are just coming out that are equally wonderful. I see James Udom doing some good stuff, and I’m really excited for him, as well. So, yeah, it’s awesome, man. The more, the merrier, really.
Congratulations on Jurassic World: Dominion.
Hey, thanks, man.
Was this one of those six-month casting processes?
No, actually, the exact opposite. It’s funny, man. It’s funny. I was just talking to my agent about this, but there are certain rooms that I’m like, “Can I get a meeting?” (Laughs.) And then, Colin (Trevorrow) — I love this director, by the way. He’s just the man. But Colin saw me in a movie and just wanted to meet with me. I believe that was the case for DeWanda Wise, as well; I don’t want to speak out of turn. So that was that. (Laughs.) It’s the most intense, biggest job I’ve gotten in terms of scale, and it was an offer. I was like, “Well, this is just nuts. You can’t predict a second of it.”
Have you had the chance to wander around the set and check out all the animatronics being built? Colin has said that Dominion will set the franchise record for animatronic dinosaurs.
It’s incredible, man, but I haven’t wandered around because of the COVID restrictions. We just want to be able to finish the movie, so people’s time on set is limited if they’re not actually working. But I’ve seen a little bit. I did ask to get a little bit of time on set just to get the feel of it, and it’s really comforting. It was like, “All right, it’s still a movie.” (Laughs.) I don’t think anything is like it. If there is, I certainly haven’t seen it. The stuff that these guys have put together is unbelievable, man. It’s unbelievable. And I’m not being hyperbolic. So I’m really excited.
In the spirit of John Hammond (Richard Attenborough), it sounds like Dominion producers are sparing no expense when it comes to protecting the cast and crew from COVID-19. Do you feel as comfortable as you possibly can given the circumstances?
I don’t know how they could make it safer. New Zealand had a recent outbreak, but it feels like one of the safest places on Earth, I imagine. We’re all very smart. We all believe in science here, fortunately, and the way that they’ve set it up. (Laughs.) They’ve spent an insane amount of money just to make everything safe, clean and properly ventilated. I just don’t see how they could make it safer.
Blumhouse’s Black Box was just dated for October via Amazon. What can you say about that for the time being?
Crazy, crazy shoot, but, man, I loved working with Miss Phylicia Rashad. We call her Miss Rashad out of respect because she’s a legend. The director, Emmanuel Osei-Kuffour Jr., it’s his first feature, and it was shot in 19 days. We had an insane amount of pages, and I think he’s really special. The amount of work, commitment, drive and focus in the midst of madness was awe-inspiring, and he has a deep respect for actors. I remember when we first met, I was like, “I have never seen somebody more prepared in terms of acting work than him.” I was like, “Man.” I’m used to doing all of this by myself; I like to do it all by myself, but he actually had some really wonderful ideas that I was shocked by. It was as if he was ready to play the part himself in a way. Yeah, he’s really special. And Amanda Christine is such a wonderful actor; she’s so great. Yeah, I’m excited for them. I recently saw a very, very, very rough cut of the movie, and I’m going to wait to see it when it comes out properly.
Will Eubank’s Underwater was a film I quite liked. Did you enjoy being covered in grime with Kristen Stewart?
I didn’t, man! (Laughs.) It was an experience. I mean, I actually learned a lot from that project in multiple ways, and I came away with a very close friend in Jessica Henwick. But, no, man, it was cold, and I hate being dirty. (Laughs.) You know? It sucks twice over. But it taught me a little bit about fortitude and what it actually means when you’re reading a script like that. I actually got the script after I got the role, so it was one of those, like, “Oh! Okay, this is different.” When we were wearing the suits and we were in the water and all this stuff, I remember Vincent Cassel was like, “Come on, guys. Did you read the script? Did you read the script? You should’ve known.” (Laughs.) He’s just so funny. That guy is one of the funniest people in the world, by the way. He’s hilarious.
How was your experience on Brie Larson’s Unicorn Store?
The best. Oh man, I think about that movie a lot. It has some of my favorite actors ever. I mean, Sam Jackson, like, come on! And Brie! There’s one thing about Brie that I just found really fascinating. She was directing the movie as well, and we had this huge scene where we’re looking for the unicorn store. It wasn’t there, and it was kind of an emotional scene for her. And she’d be fully invested in it — just fully in it. And I can only do one thing at a time. (Laughs.) If I’m working on something, that’s it. I don’t want to audition for anything. I don’t want to think about anything else. I’m working on Jurassic World 3 right now, and that’s it. But Brie would do this amazing switch from being so openly vulnerable and just present, and she’d throw such a strong ball to the other actor, which was me. Then, she’d go into this intensive, cerebral mode about setting up the shot with the DP and discussing time with [producer] Lynette Howell Taylor. I was like, “These guys are incredible.” I love that movie. There was such a good spirit and energy. That’s the kind of movie that I love to make. It’s something that’s hopeful and has a lot of heart. I remember looking around on set one day and being like, “Why is nothing going wrong?” Because always on indies, there’s something that has to go wrong; that’s how that works as an indie. Even on most big-budget movies, things go wrong because there are so many things that can go wrong, but I just didn’t see it on Unicorn. I was like, “This is incredible.” Yeah, it was a great time. I love that movie, and I still watch it sometimes. It was a big deal for me, getting that part. It was quite competitive. It was probably the most competitive thing that I’d gotten at that point and the fact that they believed in me when I had only a few credits and a few things out, it kind of felt validating. So I respect all of those people so much. Yeah, it meant a lot.
James Ponsoldt’s The Circle is such an interesting case because it’s loaded with talent, both above and below the line. But even when you have all the pieces, making a good movie is still a very difficult job. Has that experience taught you to savor the successes a bit more since nothing is automatic in this business?
Well, I worked in the theater… “I worked in the theater.” (Athie mockingly says.) I went to a school, and I’ve seen how things go. And yeah, that’s really the thing. Of course, you want people to enjoy your movie. Of course, you want people to see your movie. (Laughs.) You want these things to be celebrated and appreciated, but the joy of making a movie isn’t just going to the premiere. It’s spending that time with people on set, learning from them and growing those relationships. That’s the best part of filmmaking; it’s so fun. You can’t beat it. When you have the kind of people that are like-minded and their heart is in a similar place, then you’ve won! You’re getting to do something you love, and you’re doing it with people you really just enjoy and like.
Did you take great pleasure in making Hugh Jackman’s Gary Hart rather uncomfortable in Jason Reitman’s The Front Runner?
Sure did! (Laughs.) This is not lip service, by the way, but 90 percent of the projects I’ve been in, I’ve enjoyed and wouldn’t even read the script if the director wanted me to do another thing with them. And Jason is that guy. I don’t know if I’d ever experienced the kind of sympatico with a director, where I was like, “Oh, I get what you’re saying; let’s just do it,” and it felt right. And that’s to his credit, obviously. But it did feel like a mutual, amazing partnership, and I loved playing that part. I really loved playing that part. I had a really fun time on that set.
You did some great work with Elizabeth Olsen on Sorry For Your Loss. Was that cancelation a tough pill to swallow?
No, I mean, none of these things are really promised. So I felt like we did really good work, and I learned so much from it. As you mentioned, I worked with James (Ponsoldt) before [on The Circle], and I love that guy. He’s the man. I had such a great experience with that, particularly the first season, where I just felt like I learned so much. But I don’t feel like I have any regrets. I heard about [the cancelation] and I understood. I was actually filming Black Box at the time, and that was that. I wish all those people the best because they’re really good people.
So I know how this is going to sound, but while I was researching you, I noticed that a number of people think that you remind them of Adam Driver. And I have to admit that I also noticed it while watching Oh Jerome, No. Since the two of you have [Oh Jerome, No co-creator, Girls actor] Alex Karpovsky in common, has he ever commented on any similarities between the two of you?
(Laughs.) That’s so funny. I actually was just on the phone with him and Teddy (Blanks) yesterday. No, he hasn’t said anything. (Laughs.) No one in my life has ever made that comparison. (Laughs.) It’s a little baffling to me, but I think he’s a wonderful actor. That guy’s a fucking great actor. I loved his work in BlacKkKlansman and so many other things. But as far as looking or sounding like him, I don’t quite see it. But, hey, what do I know? But I’m not mad at all. He’s a good-looking guy and a fucking great actor. So I’m not mad. Yeah, it’s great.
Relative to your expectations going into the business, is Hollywood what you expected, or is it markedly different?
Growing up, you hear horror stories. So I’m of two minds because there seems to be business value in things that literally have zero value. I’m like, “People aren’t going to see that movie just because that person has Instagram followers. That’s an insane thing that you just said.” It’s stupid and it doesn’t work. But, fortunately, the people that I want to work with don’t care about that, and I’ve been the beneficiary of their kind of common sense. (Laughs.) And yeah, I have to acknowledge, again, I’ve been fortunate. The time that I’m entering into this business is just vastly different from even ten years ago. I have been fortunate to be surrounded by people like [writer-producer] Prentice Penny, who’s just a talented guy, a truly good dude and a family man. And people like Brie (Larson). People like Jason (Reitman). People that are just kind-hearted. And I will give myself credit: I think I have a good nose for that. I don’t want to work with anyone who isn’t like that. Yeah, I’ve been very fortunate, man. I recognize the insanity of the business, outside of the business quirks of Instagram bullshit, but I fortunately haven’t had to deal with a lot of it. At least, I wasn’t aware of it. But that said, I do see things that are unfair, and just because I haven’t experienced it, that doesn’t mean it’s not happening. Particularly, actors of color, in general, are just not getting some of the same opportunities. I remember some of my schoolmates and classmates when I graduated were like, “Oh man, it’s really tough to be a white actor right now,” and I couldn’t believe it. I was like, “Have you turned on your TV lately? Have you seen who’s leading every show that’s on right now? Because I can count five that have Black leads. I don’t want to be the best friend forever, and I certainly don’t want to be the sidekick. So what are you talking about?” And that stuff makes me mad. I think about that particularly with Black women; it’s unfair. That’s a fact. That’s not even “my opinion”— it’s true, and I’m glad things are changing. The Emmy nominees this year were very heartening, but nevertheless, there’s still miles to go as you can tell by the state of the United States, and the globe. And that includes, of course, Latinx actors, as well. They feel very underrepresented because they are. It’s not whining for whining’s sake; it’s true. Just look at the data. So, yeah, I know that’s a long-winded response, but that’s very important to me. It does drive me nuts when people are like, “Oh, it’s over now.” I’m like, “Are you kidding me?” (Laughs.)
When I hear people say, “Hollywood has an agenda to force diversity,” I always respond by saying that there’s an agenda to end the long-running agenda against meaningful diversity.
Exactly! I’m like, “How many times do you want to see the same thing? Like, come on! There’s a different perspective. There’s a different voice.” I mean, I could go on and on with the list of underrepresented people. It’s exciting to be able to learn about something else, someone else and a different culture, a different experience, a different lifestyle. Or just seeing someone else! I’ll never be able to wrap my head around it, man; I’ll never be able to. I just don’t get it.
Oh Jerome, No is now available on Hulu.
Sign up for THR news straight to your inbox every day