A very pregnant Tika Sumpter visited Detroit for an advance screening of her new movie, Southside With You, a love story that chronicles the first date between 25-year-old lawyer Michelle Robinson and her 28-year-old summer law firm associate and future president of the United States, Barack Obama. Southside With You gives moviegoers an intimate look at the couple’s unforgettable first date during which they learn of their mutual attraction and similarities about their aspirations of making a difference. The movie takes place on a journey across Chicago’s South Side, as the couple makes their way to a community meeting, stopping at several places along the way that include an art exhibit and a stroll through the park, and ending with seeing Spike Lee‘s movie, Do the Right Thing.
Rolling out was on the scene at the Detroit pre-screening and got a chance to participate in the Q-and-A session that was held immediately after the movie. Sumpter spoke glowingly about the experience of portraying Michelle Obama and said she found herself continuing to embody FLOTUS’ character long after the movie was completed. Read the interview below to find out what else Sumpter had to say about the movie, producing for the first time, her new baby girl, and what’s coming up next for her.
The movie opens Friday, Aug. 26, and is worth every dollar. Check out the pictures from the Detroit pre-screening below where you can clearly see Sumpter’s beautiful baby bump.
You did so well in the film portraying Michelle Obama. How did you prepare for your role?
I wanted to embody the essence of her [Michelle], I did not want to imitate her. So, I did watch videos but then I also read her brother’s book, A Game of Character, which really informed me who she was during that time. And a lot of the time when she would have suitors, her parents and her brother would be like, “Uhh, they’re not gonna make it. No, like, he’s not gonna last, you know what I mean?”
And even about Barack, they thought the same thing. And the fun part about her was also that there’s not of video, there’s no video of her at that age. You can find Barack stuff at like 28, 29, so I got to kinda create kind of who I thought she was from the books of people talking about her and her long time friends, and things like that. So, hopefully when she watches it, she’ll enjoy it.
You did an awesome job with your tone and vernacular; you really sounded like Michelle. How were you able to maintain the correct tone throughout the movie?
Yeah, you guys will hopefully meet one day Parker Sawyers who plays Barack, who’s amazing. You know, I had to stay focused, and he’s kind of like “Da da da da da,” he was all over the place on set, and me, I’m like very focused and stay in the zone because there is a melody to her voice, and she hits on everything, like every word, so I had to really think about it. Because everything means so much to her, it kind of goes with how she speaks. And Richard Tanney, the director, made sure that I was on top of it. So, it was work for me, it wasn’t just like “Ah, I got this” It was definitely thoughtful. But once I was in the scene, it kind of just bounced around. And after I finished filming, I kept talking like her, like I had this kind of twangy thing and I kept enunciating everything and every word. And I was like, “stop it Michelle, get out,” you know? So, it took a second to stop it. Once I was in it, then I was in it. I worked with a voice coach like every week.
The events in the movie took place over the course of eight hours, how many days did it take to shoot it?
Right, so it’s an Indie film so we had a lower budget. Seventeen days. So we had to really prepare ourselves because it was like a lot of dialogue and Richard made sure that we practiced it like a play and we rehearsed it like a play. Parker lives in London, he’s American but he lives in London, and before he even got here we would talk on Skype and then once he got in the room and he did a screen test with me I knew it was him, I was like, hire him. And our chemistry was just there, you know we would bicker and would be like joking around all the time. Seventeen days is not that long, so we had to make sure we knew everything like I know my name, I needed to know the lines. And so because we did that, it made things flow so easily, you know. It wasn’t like, you say a word, I say a word, it was like a conversation.
What else do you have coming down the pipeline that your fans can look out for?
Well, if you follow me on Twitter and Instagram, then you’ll know everything. For me, really, it’s about the quality of the work. And the quality of the scripts. So, I’m reading some stuff now. I’m also producing as well. And I’m kind of bitten by it because I want to create a little lane for other people as well. I just want really good content. So, that’s what I’m doing right now. But I am reading scripts to do other movies and things like that. Follow me on twitter and instagram.
It’s not an easy feat to be a Black woman in Hollywood and really command the roles that you’re capable of playing. How do you protect your identity and continue to shine as a black woman in Hollywood.
Well, you know, coming into this world, I was kind of naive. I was the girl from Long Island who had no entry way into this business, so even getting this far I was like ‘how? How did that even happen?’ But I literally thought, ‘well, why not me?’ I never had that thing of like, Oh I’m a black girl and this is what I’m up against because I was so naive, like well of course they want me, you know what I mean? It’s a weird thing when you’re young, like yeah, well I’m good. But I know what you’re saying, and that’s why you have to create your own content. That’s why it’s important for me to be a producer and be at the table in the room as a woman and as a black woman to really get this movie made. I think it’s important for everybody to see themselves. My skin tone is just a part of the story, but it’s not, it doesn’t consume me. I’m not just like, III don’t walk into places like “I’m a black girl, oh God, they’re not gonna accept me.” No, of course you’re gonna get accepted, this is just part of me. Like any little kid would walk in the door and just be like, “yeah I’m a little kid, I am who I am.” And that’s it.
You’re having a baby, you’re producing, what is the legacy you want to leave behind?
I think that’s a big question. I want my little girl to see this film and say I can do anything I want. I don’t want to have any boundaries. I want all little girls to do that. And I never want a girl to dim her light for anyone. And that’s what I love about Michelle, she never apologized for who she was and she was the prize. And I think we need to see ourselves as the prize and not somebody chasing after everything. And just being OK with who we are and if you don’t like it well that’s that, and somebody will appreciate all of this. So, I think I want my daughter to know that first and know that she can be anything that she wants. And I feel like you guys can create whatever you want and I’m not just saying that like it’s a thought out of the air, like dream big, like really guys, I’ve never produced anything in my life and this made me feel more empowered than anything I’ve ever felt before. And in a way, it’s like I can do whatever I think I can do, you know I mean? So, I think that’s what I want my daughter to know.
Photo gallery credit: Porsha Monique for Steed Media