DeWanda Wise is having a busy spring. Her Netflix romcom, Someone Great, premiered April 19, and season 2 of Spike Lee’s She’s Gotta Have It drops May 24 on the streamer. Squeezed in between those two projects is her appearance in the sixth (and most nerve-wracking thus far) episode of Jordan Peele’s rebooted Twilight Zone, which finds her flight commander Alexa Brandt leading a desperate mission to Mars. EW chatted with Wise about her sci-fi debut, her go-to playlist, and the plot potential of sleep bonnets.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What drew you to this project? Were you a fan of the original Twilight Zone?
DeWanda Wise: Huge fan of the original Twilight Zone. I just started working with CAA last year and that was one of the first things I said. I was like, I would love to be in the Twilight Zone reboot.
I hadn’t done anything in genre before. I try to switch it up and do things I’ve never done, play characters I’ve never been able to play, and this was a very clear and ample opportunity to do that. I’d never worked with CGI or special effects the way we were able to in this Twilight Zone, so it kind of presented a new challenge that I wanted to tackle and explore.
The episode brings up some very real, very dense concepts like the Great Filter and six degrees of freedom simulators. Did you spend time reading up on some of these ideas before you filmed?
I watched a bunch of documentaries on American history with space travel. … There are people who want to go to space and people who don’t want to go to space. Like, my husband is obsessed with space exploration, and he’d be the first person to sign up for a mission to Mars. But all those characters, in theory, are willing participants. They’re willing to risk leaving their lives behind for the sake of that kind of exploration, and I think what we were exploring and what you’re witnessing is what it means to really put something theoretical to the test.
In almost every bedtime scene on the ship, your character wears a sleep bonnet, which was an unexpected detail in a sci-fi story. Were you involved in adding that little bit of authenticity?
Of course, I was involved in adding that! (laughs) Most of the projects I work on, like Erin in Someone Great, was race-specific. Alexa wasn’t necessarily; I think she was originally named Angela. But, you know, black girls sleep with sleep bonnets, it’s what we do. So I told them, I either need a scarf or a bonnet or a silk pillowcase.
It definitely represents her determination to maintain some kind of order and dignity. As things unravel and times move on, the way in which that moves and shapes, and her hair moves and shapes, evolves as well, so we were playing a lot with those physical indicators of time passing, and the devolution.
Alexa Brandt as a quiet, commanding authority figure, while your Netflix roles are a little looser and funnier. Does one of those modes come more naturally to you than another?
I’m an introvert, so the quieter ones are a little closer to who I am. I feel like if I ever read a character that’s too close, then there’s no stretch there. So I would say [Brandt’s] quietude is mine. Her approach is definitely not. I think I lead with a lot more humor. But, you know, she represented a kind of opportunity. I was definitely president of multiple organizations [in high school], but I hadn’t played a leader like her yet.
What should we expect in season 2 of She’s Gotta Have it?
A lot more travel. Nola, she’s in Puerto Rico, she’s in Martha’s Vineyard in season 2. I consider it an exploration of what it meant to be both an artist and an activist and to grow in both fields and kind of grappling with the commercial space of both. Both have been kind of commercialized in a fascinating way. It’s 18 months later and she matures a little bit, but not too much as to not get into trouble.
Finally, two of your most recent characters have kitchen dance scenes, Lizzo in Someone Great and Mamas & Papas in The Twilight Zone. In your own life, do you have a go-to dance-it-out artist?
Right now, it’s Lizzo thanks to Someone Great. I’m pretty obsessed with her latest album and her song called “Tempo” that she has with Missy Elliott, so I’d say that right now. I’m playing that on repeat.
Anytime I get ready for an event, to buoy my introverted self up, I have an entire list of ferocious female artists, like Lada Gaga, Cardi B. So that’s what I listen to before I go out.
Check out this exclusive clip below of Wise’s episode, “Six Degrees of Freedom.” New episodes of The Twilight Zone premiere Thursdays on CBS All Access.