The actress is a scene-stealing marvel in the Oscar-contending film.

By Clarissa Cruz
February 19, 2021 at 02:22 PM EST

Dominique Fishback went beyond the usual prep when it came to playing Deborah Johnson, the girlfriend of doomed Black Panther Party chairman Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya), in Judas and the Black Messiah.

"I journal as all of my characters," says Fishback, 29, who made a splash as precocious high-schooler Robin opposite Jamie Foxx in last year's Project Power. "For me it was taking every single moment [with Kaluuya] and writing a poem about it, or a thought. I [listened] to a lot of Nina Simone music… I put a song to each scene and journal about it. I got to really go into depth and write little poems and draw pictures." And it wasn't just an actorly. Her character carries that very journal in the film — and it ends up in a pivotal scene: "The first thing Deb says to Fred is 'Do you like poetry?'… The poem that Deb recites to Chairmain Fred is a poem that I wrote."

Her main goal? To make the film's devastating climactic scene 100 percent believable. "I wanted to make sure [that] by the end of the film you believe the sacrificial gesture that she did by covering his body was believable," Fishback says. "That she was with child and still does what she does."

Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

Despite the heavy themes in the film, the actress says (in EW's latest video installment of The Awardist) that the on-set environment — which included her costars Kaluuya and LaKeith Stanfield (as FBI informant William O'Neal), director Shaka King, and producers Ryan Coogler and Charles D. King — was key in achieving her powerful performance. "I felt super-safe amongst all the guys; it's a boys' club and I was a little bit nervous… but I felt like I learned how to trust Black men fully when I was on the set because they're all young Black men and they always supported and always showed up whenever we needed it. There was never any ego about it."

Watch the full conversation above. Judas and the Black Messiah is available now on HBO Max.

Check out more from EW's The Awardist, featuring exclusive interviews, analysis, and our podcast diving into all the highlights from the year's best films.

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