'It’s fun to play somebody who's unapologetically not those things,' she tells EW of bucking the 'perfect' archetype for rom-com ladies in Stella Meghie's new film
Sasheer Zamata wants to make you laugh. But she — and Zadie, the adorably prickly, semi-directionless single she plays in Stella Meghie’s offbeat rom-com The Weekend — might also want to tell you everything that’s wrong with your life. To your face.
“I love people who are honest, and Zadie can be honest to a fault…. She’s doing horrible things and saying uncomfortable things, and I wish I could do that. I wish I could live life without thinking about what I just said!” the actress and stand-up comic tells EW of Zadie’s acerbic frankness, which injects the film’s already awkward premise — the lady in question accompanies her ex (Tone Bell) and his new girlfriend (DeWanda Wise) to a weekend getaway at a bed & breakfast owned by her mother (Kym Whitley) — with a sharp-tongued, gleefully devilish wit rarely seen in women who typically lead the genre.
“In romantic comedies, women usually fall into a situation or fall victim to things that happen to her, and I think Zadie is interesting because she causes a lot of problems for herself,” Zamata continues. “Her personality and inability to move on or accept change causes tension with others…. We’re usually given female characters who are pure, innocent, or perfect, and it’s fun to play somebody who’s unapologetically not those things.”
Still, despite Zadie’s off-putting (yet inherently watchable, thanks to Zamata’s zest) verbal daggers, the actress hopes audiences want to cozy up to her self-deprecating (and sometimes outwardly offensive) barbs because, well, it’s simply a blast to watch her stir the pot (because she may or may not end up with a satisfyingly happy ending on her own terms, too).
“One of the funniest parts of comedy is seeing people do things they don’t want to do. You put people in situations where they can’t get out of it, but they have to deal with each other or deal with themselves, and it’s funny!” she says of the film’s hilariously uncomfortable moments, punctuated by Meghie’s whip-smart dialogue fueling Zadie’s quest to not only fill a romantic void, but also torch the lives of those who dug the hole in the first place. “They’ve just all accepted that it’s going to be an awkward, third-wheel situation for an entire weekend, and it’s funny to watch people try to wiggle out of that.”
The Weekend is currently seeking distribution out of the Tribeca Film Festival (with three showings this weekend). Read on for EW’s full preview with Zamata.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: This isn’t your typical romantic comedy. How does your character, Zadie, buck the genre?
SASHEER ZAMATA: In romantic comedies, women usually fall into a situation or fall victim to things that happen to her, and I think Zadie is interesting because she causes a lot of problems for herself. Her personality and inability to move on or accept change causes tension with others. I like characters like that — especially female characters like that. We’re usually given female characters who are pure, innocent, or perfect, and it’s fun to play somebody who’s unapologetically not those things. She’s not even trying to be those things!
The film’s premise outlines an awkward situation. Zadie travels with her ex and his new girlfriend to a bed and breakfast run by her mother! Why does their situation — which shouldn’t work — end up being so fun to watch?
One of the funniest parts of comedy is seeing people do things they don’t want to do. You put people in situations where they can’t get out of it, but they have to deal with each other or deal with themselves, and it’s funny! They’ve just all accepted that it’s going to be an awkward, third-wheel situation for an entire weekend, and it’s funny to watch people try to wiggle out of that.
The comedy that results is more subtle than what people are used to in romantic comedies, right?
I think most of my comedy is subtle. I like playing the “straight man,” or playing sarcastic, acerbic characters, because I’m kind of that character in real life. So, it wasn’t stretch! It was like, now I’m allowed to make these thoughts come outside my head and have other people accept it.
I love that Zadie is a comedian, too. Did Stella tailor Zadie to you or was she always a comedian in the script?
She was always a comedian. Stella finished the script before we even met…. I don’t want to speak for her, but she said she wanted it to be a comedian because she wanted an excuse for this person to be messy! I think she’s right. I don’t think I’d categorize myself as messy, but I’ve definitely lived a messy life among other comedians!
This film captures the emotional oddities of someone who’s super self-deprecating and celebrates that on stage as a comedian. Those elements of Zadie working out her anxieties onstage reminds me of characters in Obvious Child and Don’t Think Twice. Why do you think comedians’ lives are so rife for complicated character studies?
Most people aren’t going to reveal their dark side if they don’t know you. We all have dark thoughts, bad moments, and negative thoughts about ourselves or other people. Comedians are just good at channeling that energy and creating humor from it. A lot of humor comes from tragedy, confusion, anger, or frustration, and, at the same time, happiness. Comedians have a third eye, where we’re able to analyze situations as a whole because we’re dissecting so many situations as they’re happening. It’s fun to see comedians portrayed in films and TV shows because we’re not only living life, we’re analyzing life, too.
Did that perspective inform the character? Was Stella open to your input?
My experience with stand-up informed the character. We worked together on the stand-up I would do in the movie. Stella had the bones of what Zadie would say, and I formed it into jokes and how I think Zadie and I would say the words.
I mean, Zadie is quirky and revels in her “pathetic” qualities, as she calls them, and she’s both defensive and offensive; She’s complex and almost adorably unlikable in some ways. Why do you think she’s easy to love and watch despite her prickliness?
I love people who are honest, and Zadie can be honest to a fault. That could be a thing people find attractive from the outside. Even if someone’s saying something awful or pissing people off, I’m like, wow, they had the balls to say it! I’m impressed and admire them for having no filter. Zadie can pull that out of people. She’s doing horrible things and saying uncomfortable things, and I wish I could do that. I wish I could live life without thinking about what I just said! I sometimes can be blunt, but like, I still have this anxious part of myself that will be like, oh God, did I piss somebody off? Zadie doesn’t do that, and it’s so freeing!
If only we could just read the hell out of people in everyday life. I’d maybe not like what people had to say about me, but I’d like saying it to others!
Totally! And Zadie can’t take it, either. She dishes it out, but when people call her out, she gets defensive.
That’s what makes her interesting! And Zadie’s journey with the hunky Aubrey is so great. I love the scene where you guys are just awkwardly trying to grind in the back of a cramped car while the leather seats squeak and you have to stop the whole thing. Filming sex scenes has to be awkward, but is it more awkward or easier when you have to actually perform awkwardness in an intimate scene?
For me, it’s easier to perform awkward because I know what that feels like. I’m awkward in private, in public, with strangers, with people I know… so that’s a comfortable place for me! For a scene where I have to be sexy…. that’s when I get uncomfortable. [These scenes] are always weird because we’re doing it with a full crew of people standing around us! Even for the kissing scene that leads us to the backseat of that car, we were losing sunlight and trying to get the angles and I had to tilt my head so the camera still sees his face. It’s not romantic at all! It’s mostly choreography. The awkward stuff is where I thrive!
Of course, we’re in an industry now where there is such a huge call for more women — especially women of color — telling stories in genres where the dominant perspective, for decades, has been from white men. What was it like getting to know Stella and her perspective on the world and how it applies to the realm of romantic comedy?
She’s so smart and funny, and I’m excited to see what she does in the industry, because she loves working with black people and continues to tell our stories, but stories that are also just human stories where it doesn’t matter that we’re black. I don’t even think we mention that we’re black in this movie. It’s just like, here’s this black group of friends and a black mom. I don’t think that comes into play at all because that’s just our reality. I live my life, and I don’t talk about being black every single day. Of course, if it’s important to the story… but if it’s not, I don’t need it! I want to see humans living their lives, and that’s what Stella is so good at: showing life. It’s important to show these stories, because we can have romance, be funny, and do things that you haven’t seen people of color access for years because they’re things we expect in a white space. I’m excited for Stella to keep making stuff!