Nicole Beharie and director Tiffany Johnson dissect their tense Solos episode
"There's so many different topics going on here," the star of the "Nera" episode of Amazon's new anthology series tells EW. "We got fertility, we got medicine, police presence, and isolation..."
For both actress Nicole Beharie and director Tiffany Johnson, not quite knowing what to make of Stacy Osei-Kuffour's script is what sold them on working on the "Nera" episode of Amazon's Solos.
"I didn't understand it at first, and that never really happens," Johnson tells EW. "But I was intrigued and fascinated by that. I was like, 'Oh wait, I don't know what I just read.'"
As part of the David Weil-created sci-fi anthology series exploring the depths of human connection, the Solos episode centers on Beharie's Nera, a pregnant woman alone in the woods during a snowstorm, who begins experiencing abnormal difficulties as she goes into labor. "A good chunk of it, there's no dialogue, so it kind of reads as a novel. And that was a challenge," recalls Johnson. She remembers first asking, "How do I take my time with building out this world, and building out this space, and Nera, and who she is; giving the audience some time to be with her before I take them off the cliff?"
"There's so many different topics going on here," chimes Beharie. "We got fertility, we got medicine, police presence, and isolation. There's so many things going on."
What ended up working in their creative collaboration was that as Johnson figured out the choreography of the piece, and what she needed to do to build suspense, Beharie as Nera tried to take everything in moment by moment.
"It was living in the uncertainty. I think that's what the entire series is about, being in a space of uncertainty and isolation, and how our humanity comes to head, and what choices we make."
Digging deeper into the story, the conflict comes when Nera actually has her son much earlier than he's due, which is a dangerous defect of her futuristic fertility treatments. She's encouraged by her doctor to terminate her rapidly aging child any way she can, and calls the police in a panic, but when law enforcement arrives at her door, Nera sees a scared young Black man looking back at her, and decides to spare him any danger by turning away the cops and embracing her son for however long she has left with him.
To recap, Beharie notes, "We had a baby, we had a fake baby, we had a storm, we had all this stuff, us running around, and we did it in like three days, which is really insane."
For the birth scene, Johnson rewatched films like Children of Men and Rosemary's Baby, "all these films that are centered around a birth of sorts," and talked to Beharie about creative ways of depicting it.
"The way in which I approached that sequence was not wanting to do a lot of closeups. I wanted us to just sit and watch, and we had conversations about the physical aspect of how she was going to deliver the baby," Johnson explains. "The idea of her standing was something that we both were interested in, and then I thought we've never really seen that, a woman delivering a baby like that on screen."
The real challenge came shooting the scenes after Nera's son Jacob arrives, and is almost instantly a toddler. "Working with children is not a game, you know. Children do what they do," cracks Beharie.
"Because of COVID, there wasn't a lot of rehearsal time. Normally you would get time to do a table read or meet people before you start actual production, but that wasn't the case," Johnson clarifies. "And so these kids were meeting her a day before and having to establish that relationship right away." She adds, "The three other [older] boys really understood the character and were game, but that baby, he was a star. He was on. We were on his time and we had to just give him the space to run around."
As Jacob becomes older and slows down, Nera tells him a story about a woman, presumably her, who was found in the dumpster as a baby, grew up in the foster system, had been unlucky in love, and eventually decided to have a child on her own as to not be alone anymore.
Johnson felt that key moment called for something different. "As a filmmaker, I love to move the camera. And sometimes that can be distracting, and you don't want to take away from the performance," the director states. "And so obviously once we get to that third act of the monologue, it's like, 'No, let's just be present.' It didn't call for anything else other than just us to listen to Nicole, or listen to Nera."
Much of the episode's tension comes from the implications behind the characters being Black. For instance, thinking of how Black women in America have higher maternal mortality rates, and the look Nera gives a grown-up Jacob as the cops arrive in the end, knowing that he's in greater danger of police escalation of force. However, Beharie asserts that the episode has "a universality to it."
"There's anyone who can look at something that they've created or that they've longed for, that doesn't come out the way that they intended, and then how do you deal with what came of you," asks the actress. "The circumstances that breed out of some choices that you made, that may tumble out of control."
"Nera" concludes with the new mother seeing the parallels between her tragic backstory, and her son's short, perilous life. "She, at the end, recognizes that he is safer with her than out there," says Johnson. "This is her son, and I always looked at it as she doesn't know if in the next five minutes what's going to happen to him, so she's holding on to the now."
The director ultimately perceives the ending as hopeful, implying "they're going to be okay, and that she has her son, and they gon' figure it out."
Solos is now streaming on Amazon Prime Video.
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