Jasmine Cephas Jones and Rafael Casal explain why they shifted the Blindspotting perspective for TV
Rafael Casal and Daveed Diggs were admittedly very hesitant to make a TV series based on Blindspotting, the 2018 indie darling they wrote and starred in. "That was our passion project, our baby, let's not ruin it," recalls Casal of their initial thinking. "But the idea of creating a vehicle for Jasmine Cephas Jones, who we think is brilliantly talented and haven't seen get that role yet, this felt like a project we should dive into."
The project is Blindspotting, the duo's continuation of their Oakland-based story, which premieres Sunday on Starz and follows in the aftermath of the film's events, shifting the focus from Miles (Casal) and Collin (Diggs) to Cephas Jones' Ashley, the loyal partner to Miles and protective mother to their young son Sean (Atticus Woodward).
Cephas Jones first became friends with Diggs and Casal through her time starring alongside Diggs on Hamilton. A trip to Los Angeles happened to coincide with a table read for the Blindspotting film, and the guys needed someone to sit-in for the parts of Ashley and Val. "We transitioned there from being like, 'We've become cool friends in New York' to 'I'm really invested in your artistic career,'" says Casal.
Fast-forward and Cephas Jones admits it was a "complete surprise" when she eventually got the call that they wanted to do a TV show centered on Ashley. "I think it was great contrast to the film; it's like, we got the men's side, and now here is the women's side - and it works," says the Emmy and Grammy winner of the predominately female cast of characters. "It was something that was very important to them, and immediately I was completely down, and I thanked them for giving these women's stories a chance."
While Casal serves as writer, director, producer, and showrunner on Blindspotting, he also reprises his role of the short-tempered Miles, who is incarcerated within the opening moments of the series. "We wanted to tell a story about, how does a family navigate and survive the prison industrial complex?" shares Casal. That also meant making sure Miles was only there "in service of Ashley's perspective on her new circumstance."
Says Cephas Jones, "The system tries to break these families all the time, and we wanted to create a love story where they don't break. These two people fight for the love they have for each other."
That new circumstance, according to Cephas Jones, is "figuring out what this life is without her partner," and that sends Ashley and Sean to live with Miles' eccentric mom Rainey (Oscar-winner Helen Hunt). "Helen reached out to me after she saw the film and was super supportive," says Casal. "We became friends and I mentioned early on, 'Hey, we're going to do this series, it would be so fun if you played my mom.' We'd just laugh about it and I sort of felt like she's just being encouraging and would never do this. And then when the time came, she agreed to do it. As a Helen Hunt fan, I wanted to see her do a role like this."
Ironically, Cephas Jones thinks their series is as good as it gets.
"It marries comedy and drama in a way that people in regular life handle these tragic situations," she shares. "It takes guts do a show like this."