An Interview with Tonya Pinkins, Director and Star of Red Pill
Your new movie Red Pill – in a few words, what is it about?
Red Pill is a point of view I’ve never seen on screen – a black women’s perspective on the horror that is American politicals.
From what I know, Red Pill is your first feature film as a director – so what made you choose exactly this story for your debut?
I had been shadowing as a director in TV for three years and was no closer to getting hired to direct anything. I decided to finance my own movie. The movie I wanted to make was afrofuturistic. My collaborators became unavailable and in July 2019 I was sitting in my friend Kim Syke’s house discussing the mass shooting at the garlic festival. Kim’s house felt like a house for a horror movie. Our conversation and her dismissal of the mass shootings combined with her saying I could use her house to shoot a horror film made it a done deal. I wanted to talk about how I knew the election was going to go in 2020 the same way I knew it was going to go in 2016. Different results but I understood the ramifications, In 2016 people treated me with contempt for knowing the outcome. So instead of talking I decided to create.
The white supremacist cult, was this always a key element when conceiving the idea for your movie, or did that only sneak into the script during writing?
The cult was there from the beginning. I’d done a lot of research in the meta verse and also been reading about scatalogical rites. I don’t think the Democrats or the Republicans are any good and I wanted to show that through action vs talk which is how I see the two parties.
(Other) sources of inspiration when writing Red Pill?
Get Out and Midsommar and all the comedy horrors I love.
What can you tell us about Red Pill‘s approach to horror?
Oh it is smart and black, rather nerdy. Black people get it and smart people get it. There are lots questions to answer and puzzles to solve. Plus I am saying unspeakables, things blacks think and feel but only say to one another. It’s also my specific taste. I like humor with tragedy. The darker it gets the funnier it has to get. Richard Pryor is an inspiration “When you’re running down the street on fire people will get out of the way,” referring to the time he set himself on fire freebasing. I also consciously wanted to make white people uncomfortable the way I as a black person have felt uncomfortable about the images of my people my entire life.
A few words about your directorial approach to your story at hand?
Directorial approach? Hire great actors. Do every job that I couldn’t afford to hire or find a volunteer for.
You also play one of the leads in Red Pill – so what can you tell us about Cassandra, what did you draw upon to bring her to life, and have you written her with yourself in mind from the get-go?
Do talk about the rest of your cast, and why exactly these people?Cassandra for the mythological women who is cursed to forever speak the truth and never be believed. That is the story of most black women’s lives in America. Yes it is very personal for me. I wrote it for myself because I didn’t have to pay myself. Ha ha I thought it was an ensemble piece but Minji Kang our editor showed me that it was Cass’s story.
You know I’ve written a 75,000 word book Red Pill Unmasked telling lots of stories and background on everything. It’s available on Amazon and the audible should be available soon too. I wrote for people whose voices I hear in my head that fulfill the themes and qualities I’m playing with. I also write for actors that I have access to. I don’t use casting directors or go through agents and gatekeepers.
I wanted the world of the movie to look like my world. My friends come from all walks of life. Latino/Indigenous – Rubén Blades, Eastern European – Luba Mason. They just happened to be married. Caribbean/British- Adesola A. Osakalumi. Kathryn Erbe called me after reading the script and said “Thank you for inviting me to play this terrible woman.”
Ten days, I was catering for the first two cooking. It snowed on our final day of shooting so we had to relocate scenes. Only four professionals on the crew; John Hudak jr – DP, Steven Franchek – AC, Gunnar Nagle- sound, second week of production Danielle Paiwonsky – script supervisor. Everyone just helped everyone with everything. We had so little time and money. One day the van got trapped in the mud and twelve of us had to push it out. The rest of our crew was friends and family working on their first film set.A few words about the shoot as such, and the on-set atmosphere?
The $64-question of course, where can Red Pill be seen?
Vimeo (TVOD): https://vimeo.com/ondemand/redpillmovie
Microsoft/Xbox (TVOD): https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/p/red-pill/8d6kgwxn6bdm
SpectrumOn Demand: https://ondemand.spectrum.net/movies/20920770/red-pill/
Reception falls along racial lines. The biggest hate comes from white people but not all white people. Smart white people really like it because they get all the metaphor and symbology. They don’t think it’s satire. They understand irony. And 90% of black people LOVE IT and watch it more than once. The calls and emails and tweets form black people is why I made the movie. I wanted us to be seen and heard and to know that somebody in the business understands how we see the world.Anything you can tell us about audience and critical reception of Red Pill?
Any future projects you’d like to share?
Red Pill Unmasked – kindle, paperback, audible
REd Pill Twine game
Women of the Movement – ABC/HULU
The Chicago Strangler – narrator (Discovery)
What got you into acting in the first place, and did you receive any formal training on the subject?
I studied the Meisner method from the time I was 15. William H. Macy was my first professional acting coach. John Mahoney was in class with me.
My readers would probably tar and feather me if I didn’t ask you about your involvement with Fear the Walking Dead – so could you talk about working on that series for a bit, and how did you even get the part?
OH YES, when I met my agent Pete Kaiser I said anything zombie! I got it from a self tape. My teenage son was the reader. Ian and Andrew write scenes just for auditions. It was an amazing scene. I sent it in and didn’t hear back for months. It is the highlight of my episodic career.
You’ve also done a long stretch on the soap All My Children – so do talk about your involvement with that series, and how does acting in a daily soap compare to working on a movie?
Soap operas are more like theater, you can perform with a bigger style. Episodic and movies are small scale even smaller than life.Chicago was the number one AMC audience in America. I grew up watching AMC and dreamed of being in Pine Valley.
Any other films or TV series you’ve worked on you’d like to talk about?
Women of The Movement, which is The Roots of this generation. I play Emmett Till’s grandmother Alma Carthan, with Adrienne Warren as Mamie Till, Cedric Joe as Emmett and Ray Fisher as Gene Mobley
How would you describe yourself as an actress, and some of your techniques to bring your story to life?
I think I channel in all of my creative work. I empty myself and let something move in through and as me. I let go of the outcome. I’m not afraid to fail or do it wrong. In fact if there is no risk of failure I’m not interested in the opportunity.
I enjoy the roller coaster of life emotions. I know how to take people on that ride. The audience is a scene partner and in every role I play I want to make an audience dislike my character because it so much deeper when I then make them see themselves in my character. If they can find compassion for my character they can find it for themselves.
Actresses, filmmakers, whoever else who inspire you?
She just died, Lina Wurtmueller, Jane Campion, Jennifer Kent.
Your favourite movies?
… and of course, films you really deplore?
I don’tdeplore much except stupid. And making a movie requires so much work. I respect anyone who can accomplish the task.
Your website, social media, whatever else?
Anything else you’re dying to mention and I have merely forgotten to ask?
I love horror, tell your story, build a world and don’t try to please anyone but yourself. There will be other people who share your point of view and it’s thrilling when you meet them through their experience of your work.
Thanks for the interview!