Actor-producer Nnamdi Asomugha previews the swoony period drama starring Tessa Thompson.

By Mary Sollosi
December 20, 2019 at 09:00 AM EST

Love will be in the air at Sundance next month, when the lush romance Sylvie’s Love premieres in competition at the indie fest.

The period drama from writer-director Eugene Ashe stars Tessa Thompson as Sylvie, an aspiring television producer who falls in love with Robert (Nnamdi Asomugha), a talented saxophonist, over the course of the summer of 1957. Years pass, the world changes, and their lives take different paths — but when Sylvie and Robert meet again, they discover that their feelings for each other remain and both must decide what they truly want.

“We [wanted] to create a film in the tradition of those great Hollywood love stories,” says Asomugha, who also served as a producer. The filmmakers embraced that sensibility from a technical standpoint, shooting on 16mm film “to ensure that we were authentically capturing the vintage sort of epic love story,” Asomugha tells EW. And when time constraints and weather concerns prevented the production from filming in New York, “we kind of leaned into the fact that we were going to be able to shoot on the classic Hollywood backlots,” creating dreamy shots, like the exclusive first-look image below, on the same grounds as the films that inspired them.

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This scene, which takes place during the fateful summer when Robert and Sylvie first fall in love, is “their dancing-in-the-street moment,” says the actor-producer. “It’s The Way We Were and Mahogany [for] today’s time, and that scene is one of those classic scenes that we recreated.”

The project spoke to Asomugha in part precisely because it told that kind of story, in a period setting, with African American protagonists. “[With] a period film with African American leads, a lot of times what happens is you’re looking at a story that’s sort of rooted in the adversity of their lives,” he says. In Sylvie’s Love, however, “I’d say nothing bad happens to the characters because of the color of their skin. It’s a love story in its pure sense, and in today’s social and political climate, I think that’s a very important story to get out there, and to celebrate” — especially when it looks this gorgeous. “Seeing these young people of color falling in love in the glamorous, sophisticated world that we’ve created — I think it’s going to be empowering,” Asomugha says.

The midcentury detail also extended to the music, which is a major element throughout the film (Ashe himself is a former recording artist). Sylvie and Robert meet in her father’s record shop, “talking about Thelonious Monk,” says Asomugha, who also names Nancy Wilson, Sam Cooke, and Stevie Wonder among the time-spanning film’s needle-drops. In preparation for his role, the actor spent about a year and a half learning to play the saxophone. “Some of the music in the film is actually me playing, and then, you know, other times we have the professionals that have been doing it their whole lives playing,” he says. “But I didn’t want to sit back and fake it.”

He’s got a talent for picking up new skills: A former NFL cornerback, Asomugha had his first major film role three years ago in Matt Ruskin’s Crown Heights, which also debuted at Sundance and for which he picked up an Independent Spirit Award nomination. Taking Sylvie’s Love to Park City on his second trip to the fest, “I just want audiences to sit back and fall in love again,” he says. “You’re just going to sit back, you’re going to fall in love, and you’re going to fight for these two characters. You’re going to fight for love when you’re watching it. It’s beautiful in that way.”

Sylvie’s Love will premiere at the Sundance Film Festival on Jan. 27, 2020.

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