Wednesday, April 15, 2020

News: Interview with Celeste O'Connor from Selah and the Spades

Yesterday, we had the opportunity to (virtually) sit down with Celeste O'Connor, who plays Paloma in the stylish high school drama, Selah and the Spades, which releases on Amazon Prime Video on Friday, April 17, 2020.  We asked her questions about the film, her life, and what inspired her character.  She had some fantastic insights on how her character related to her own life, how all the characters related to director Tayarisha Poe's own personality, and some of the underlying messages in the film!

Check out the interview below for a link to the audio and a transcript.

Full Interview Transcript

Nagier: Celeste thank you so much for your time. Hello, how’s it going.

Celeste: It’s going, it’s going for sure.

David: I guess that will be a new question we do for all of these interviews, how are you doing personally?

Celeste: Right right.

Nagier: Again, thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us. You’re obviously local to us right up the street in Baltimore. But yeah, I’m very excited to talk about your character Paloma from Selah and the Spades. I think it is a really important character and I would love to hear your thoughts on this as well. Playing a character who within this film we see grow confident as she becomes strong and powerful, and her relationship with Selah grows in this. Can you really talk about a character who is just empowered? A woman in charge. And I think it is so important especially in an atmosphere such as a boarding school, and pretty much a message that has to be on display in a time like today. Can you talk about capturing a character like that?

 Celeste: It was a really fun opportunity as an artist to be able to portray this character that hopefully a lot of people will relate to and hopefully will inspire people. I think it’s been increasingly important to show women and especially women of color in positions of power. So that was really important to me. And I think the development and growth of Paloma was also important, so it wasn’t just the endpoint of her being confident but it was the development and growth to that endpoint that was also important. So hopefully that character will inspire other young women to think about their own personal development, their own growth, and inspire some confidence because it really is important to me to show women and women of color in leadership positions. And it is important for so many reasons especially in today’s political climate.

 David: True true, and I will jump off of that. One of the things I really love about this film is that you have Selah and you have your character both in charge of this faction, and like you said they’re females and minority and they’re in charge but there was no overt statement about it. They were just the boss and everyone kind of respected that and it didn’t really matter who they were, just how they ran it. So, I don’t know if that was something that appealed to you about this role or if that was something that was overtly in the plot or if that was just how you all portrayed them. Can you please speak on that?

Celeste: Yeah. I think that also comes from the director Tayarisha. She really wanted the story to be about kids that also happen to be black. It wasn’t necessarily a story about race, I mean it is, but it wasn’t overtly “Hey guys, look at this movie about black kids and its about them and their race.” It was a story that was meant to show us as kids and show us making mistakes and show us being mean or manipulative, but not being criminalized for it. Not being punished for it. And the story was meant to show kids, being kids and black kids being kids. So I think a lot of the power and al lot of the racial commentary comes from the fact that it wasn’t overtly, explicitly saying look at these women of color that are in power. They were just the women in power and everyone respected it. And I think that is where a lot of the power of the story comes form.

David: So true. If it’s ever going to just be normalized, it’s just going to have to be a fact of life. You can’t really point it out, it will just hopefully sometime just be the way it is.

Nagier: Exactly

Celeste: Exactly. That’s like the end goal.

David: Long term!

Celeste: The long term goal. It will just be like this.

Nagier: I want to ask, do you find more of your personal self in Selah or in Paloma.

Celeste: Hmm, that’s a really good question. I think I am definitely somewhere in between the two. A mix. Because, I think I really relate to Paloma and her journey of personal growth and her journey of development. I feel like in a lot of ways I went through a similar journey, that it wasn’t just one day I woke up and was like, I’m confident and I’m confident in my blackness. It was a journey for me for sure. But I think I also relate to Selah in the sense that she very much wants to be in control of what’s happening with her life. She really wants to be in control of the things around her. She wants to be in control of the Spades and be able to make decisions. So I think that I relate to her a lot on that level.

Nagier: Nice nice.

David: Going back to your relation with your character Paloma. In the film, she really wants to be this artistic photographer. Is that something that you also share or was that all just for the movie.

Celeste: Yeah, that’s definitely something we have in common. It’s also something that I know Tayarisha said, she put a little bit of herself in all these characters and the photographer side of Paloma definitely also comes from Tayarisha. Being a creative she is also a photographer. So I think all of these characters have a little bit of all of us in them.

David: I love that aspect of it cause it lets you kind of see through your lens and we can appreciate these beautiful shots without having to have any dialog on top of that; you can just watch the movie be the movie.

 Celeste: Yeah exactly and I think that Paloma also uses photography as an escape and kind of a wall or a defense mechanism in a lot of ways. She always has her camera in between her and whoever else she is talking to so I think that she uses it, she uses photography to kind of feel safe and to kind of have an excuse to not be as vulnerable to people. But that definitely, for sure is the case at the beginning of the story which kind of changes because Selah comes in and breaks down all those walls and is like, “You’re not going to do that with me.”

Nagier: So per your social media, your Instagram, you said that your honorary faction was the Sea. Now, is that a Celeste answer or a Paloma answer.

Celeste: No, that is a Celeste answer. I think that the two factions that I would probably be in would be the Sea and the Bobbies. I love that the Bobbies are the theater kids that host all the events and I love the drama of all of them and throwing parties and stuff, so that was definitely one of them. And the Sea are all the smart kids that write essays and sell prewritten essay to people so that they can cheat, so I think I can definitely do that. Not officially condoning cheating, but if I were to be in a faction I could definitely write essays for people.

David: Ya, you could hang with them. You’d be upset about it but you could do it.

Celeste: Yeah, I wouldn’t be happy about it but I could do it.

David: So this movie is set in a boarding school. It seemed like the entire cast were very natural in that role. Did you have any experience growing up like that or was this all for the film?

Celeste: No, I went to an all girls Catholic private school. It wasn’t a boarding school but a lot of the power dynamics and social hierarchy were similar. So not necessarily in Boarding school and I know Lovie and Jharrel didn’t go to boarding school either. But I think that there are a lot of aspects of the social situation and social landscape in this are really similar to other high school experiences.

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