Get ready to hear a lot more about these phenomenal young women because Nathanya Alexander and Lukita Maxwell are breakout performers on the HBO series Genera+ion. While Alexander’s Arianna may be the character closest to wunderkind co-creator of the show Zelda Barnz (in that she has a similar familial situation), she’s one that we’ve never seen on TV or film before. Maxwell’s character Delilah is also a tricky role to describe and encapsulate, as just when we think that have the A student figured out, she is revealed as part of a shocking twist of events.
I was so thrilled to get the opportunity to chat with the lovely Nathanya Alexander and Lukita Maxwell during the recent Genera+tion international junket and the following is an edited and condensed version of our Zoom video conversation.
What was your process of getting into your unique characters as well as empathizing with their journeys?
Nathanya Alexander: When I first read for the audition and I was reading the breakdown of this character, “she has two gay Dads but she offhandedly makes harsh homophobic jokes”, I was actually excited to take that on as an actor because it wasn’t your normal, stereotypical role. You don’t usually see a character like this on screen. I spoke to Zelda and one of the things she told me is that she has many friends who have two Dads or two Moms, and I was excited to be playing a complex character like this and so layered. So for me, I had to do a lot of dissecting. I have a journal for her and each one of those crazy jokes that she makes, I dissect them and think “OK, where is this coming from? what’s the subtext?”. One thing that I really got to the bottom of with Arianna is that she has a need to be seen. She has a wall up and she makes all of these crazy jokes, but underneath all of that, there’s a soft teddy bear and she’s very vulnerable, and I think you’ll see that in the show.
Lukita Maxwell: Like you were saying, Zelda created these unique characters that really ripped open stereotypes.
LM: Speaking for Delilah, she’s not your typical A student. She’s not afraid to question authority, she’s not afraid to speak up in class and not have the same opinion as everyone else. They all have all of these external pressures that adolescence brings that you’re all tackling differently. With me, getting into Delilah, besides talking with Zelda and working through that, stuff that helped me was I made a playlist, I had a diary like Nathanya. Making a playlist that ranged from hype up music before school – this is what Delilah is listening to on the way to school to make sure she can piss people off today and be her best self today. Or she’s probably got moments where she’s at home and feeling alone. Delilah isn’t really heard a lot, she’s alone in saying all of these things to the classroom, like in the lockdown episode, she has things that she says that’s not really absorbed by everyone else. There’s one scene where Chester (Justice Smith) acknowledges her for the first time, in one of the later episodes. In the script, Zelda and the writers had written “Chester agrees with Delilah. Delilah is the most surprised by this”, because it’s the first time that these kids her age are acknowledging her and are starting to take her in. And then friendships blossom! [laughs]
NA: [laughs] For me, a lot of the excitement, like Lukita was saying, was seeing these characters, because even though they’re so layered, the circumstances that they’re in aren’t stereotypical. They’re normal teenagers, there are people like these characters in real life. The representation on this show is so powerful, I think, in my opinion.
Are there other teen shows that you’re a fan of?
NA: It’s so interesting to see teenage shows and their takes on teenage life. I love Euphoria, I love Sex Education, those shows I binge watched. They’re incredible!
LM: I was going to jump in and say Sex Education as well. That was one I was watching around the time I got the audition for Genera+ion. It had come out and it’s a show that has an ensemble cast and all of their characters are very individual. Yeah, I love that show.
NA: Yeah, and on Sex Education they’ve created this amazing world that they’ve put the characters in, and each character is very funny. I really enjoyed it.
LM: Also, one other show, Betty on HBO. I love that show! I don’t know if it’s specifically a teen show but I was in New York when I had the audition and I was watching it, and I thought “I really wish I could skateboard and look that cool in the streets of Brooklyn in the flyest fits.”
NA: Yeah! I mean I grew up in Brooklyn, and when that show came on HBO, I was so hype because I know those girls, I know girls running around Brooklyn skateboarding. It’s an entirely different world and I was happy that it was being portrayed on TV. People think that teenage life is one specific way but there are tons of different ways that teenage life can be portrayed.
What did you like most about working on this show?
LM: I love this set because everyone is so compassionate and so open to collaboration in all facets – when we’re talking about the costumes, when we’re talking about the makeup and the hair, when we’re talking about the music. The Barnz would text us and ask “what songs are you guys listening to?”. Everybody was always bouncing off of each other and it was very collaborative. I loved that – feeling like I was a part of creating this world a little bit in a little teeny way. [laughs]
NA: [laughs] Yeah, I agree. I’ll piggyback off of Lukita. I just think the collaboration and the freedom to explore these characters in our own ways.
NA: Being able to do that was really nice. We could talk to the writers and the Barnz about anything. If we didn’t like something in the script, if we felt like something should be added, if we didn’t understand something, they were totally open to talking about it and finding a solution or middle ground. You don’t get that creative freedom most of the time but we did, and that was so exciting. This cast is just a joy to work with. I learned something new from this cast every day, whether it’s something as simple as new music or new phrases or new dances, it was just a joy to work with them.
What did you like best about working with each other?
NA: Oh man!
LM: I love this question! [laughs]
NA: Well, when I’m in a scene with Lukita, I know that she has my back and that’s what you want in a scene partner. You want to know that they’re there, they’re in it with you, and they’re there to support you and to play. It’s so fun to be in a scene with her and play off of her. We had a lot of emotional scenes with each other and it was great to do them with her because of the support she gives on screen and off screen.
LM: Agreed. I think we have a really good friendship outside of work and maybe the biggest thing is that we really trust each other to get to these really vulnerable places and far out places from our personal lives in our characters. I just really trust you, Nathanya. I can give it my all and I know when I look over at you, you know what I’m feeling and you can empathize and work off of my acting, which is the biggest gift.
NA: I love, love, love working with you and I love you so much. [giggles]
Looking back, is there a scene or moment in which you’re most proud of your work on the show?
LM: [to Nathanya] Are we thinking the same one? [laughs]
NA: Yeah! [laughs] All the mall stuff, are you thinking that? All the mall and baby stuff?
NA: I don’t want to give any spoilers. [laughs] But umm, we have a lot of scenes together at the mall pertaining to the baby stuff. I think we’re very proud of that.
LM: Yeah, the scene at the top of episode four is pretty overwhelming. It’s a lot to watch. The first time I saw it, I just thought “woah, they’re going through that”. When we were shooting that, I felt so far removed from myself. I was so in this world with these characters that we had developed. Like I was saying earlier, [to Nathanya] I just trust you so much and I was very grateful to have that space to leave it all on the floor. I felt so safe with you and Chloe (East).
NA: Thank you. I feel the same way. For those scenes, we literally gave our complete selves to those scenes because you had to. You had to leave it all on the floor and give all the emotions. You had to be present and be there supporting your scene partners. So yeah, definitely the scene at the top of episode four for me.
LM: I want to add one more thing too. The bathroom opener in episode three was so funny to film.
LM: Obviously it was very emotionally overwhelming, situationally. But that scene of Nathanya running through the mall with the kiddie pool. We were just laughing. It was so fun.
NA: [laughs] For that scene, I must have run through the mall for hours. The next morning I woke up and my legs were killing me. [laughs] But that’s the kind of stuff that you do for the craft. But yeah, that was so much. So much fun! Running through the mall with the kiddie pool, slipping on Delilah’s goo in the bathroom, that was fun. That whole sequence was just crazy.
HBO Max’s GENERA+ION drops with three episodes on Thursday, March 11, only on Crave