It’s fitting that Tiffany Boone is on a show that addresses what it means to be a superhero, because to me, she’s a real-life heroine in the television industry. Before you read any further, please Google her and then meet me back here (it’s her story to tell, not mine, and she spoke her truth so candidly and beautifully in a recent Instagram post that I wouldn’t even dare to paraphrase). On top of being mesmerizing on the Amazon Studios series Hunters (she plays activist and overall badass Roxy Jones), the upcoming Hulu series Little Fires Everywhere (she plays a younger Kerry Washington), and the soon to be seen George Clooney produced post-apocalyptic thriller The Midnight Sky, Boone spends her time giving back to the Baltimore arts school that nurtured and educated her in her formative years. She’s a force to be reckoned with, a formidable actress, and definitely one to watch.
The following is a condensed and edited version of my recent phone conversation with the outstanding Tiffany Boone.
Brief Take: How was the premiere the other night? Had you seen the episodes beforehand?
Tiffany Boone: Oh it was amazing! It was so much fun. I did love celebrating with my cast mates and having us all together, and getting to have family and friends there. It was really great. It’s a good bunch and I’m really proud to be a part of it. I’d only seen bits and pieces, so it was my first time seeing the whole first episode. Then seeing it on such a big screen in the theatre, I mean it’s really cinematic. It was fun to see all the reactions and what different people reacted to, especially my family and friends. [giggles] But yeah, it’s a lot. It’s a wild ride and it does make you want to watch the rest of the series.
BT: How did you get involved with Hunters?
TB: I just auditioned. I was working outside of L.A. and got the audition and did it on tape. Then I came in and spoke to the producers and chatted with them, I spoke with the show’s creator David Weil and co-showrunner Nikki Toscano and it was an easy process, honestly. Everyone was so sweet and so clear about what they wanted. When I walked into the producers’ session, I literally went “Oh, this is a room full of love”, because sometimes you walk into those rooms and there’s fifteen people in there and they’re staring at you, and you’re like “Nobody wants me here. What’s happening? Is everyone having a bad day?”, and it doesn’t make you want to do your best work. And this was the opposite of that. Just knowing the quality of the team and being a part of something that Jordan Peele is producing, that Al Pacino was going to be in, and telling a story that was different and timely, and a character that I had never seen before, I was just like “I’m on board!”.
BT: What sort of discussions did David and Nikki have with you about Roxy and how she’d be involved in the story, as well as the costumes?
TB: We all got the pilot but the Hunters aren’t really in the first episode, so it’s hard to know where the story is going. And they were very secretive about letting us know too much. [laughs] They gave me the bare minimum of what they could give me, while still giving me a sense of who she was, giving me a little background on her. So from episode to episode, we didn’t really know at all what was going to be happening, but we got the essence of our characters. They talked about wanting Roxy to be this badass activist who can do anything and also seeing a transformation in her, because she comes across as so strong and like a hard shell, which you can’t crack, and then as the season goes on, you see her cracking and being a little confused about her role in this group. So they let me know that there was going to be somewhere to go with her.
BT: I’ve only seen the first five episodes so far but I saw Roxy’s big fight scene in the back room of the recording studio. What was that shooting experience like for you?
TB: It was really fun because it was my first on screen fight scene. I’d never done one before, I wasn’t sure I’d be very good at it, I was a little freaked out, but we had maybe two or three rehearsals. I did a little bit of boxing training and learned the choreography, and I caught on really quickly and really enjoyed it. So by the time the day came, I felt really ready to do it. It’s pretty exhausting but it was so fun. When you get to look back, I feel really proud of myself and it’s made me want to do more stunt work.
BT: Roxy can really do it all – fighting, lock picking, investigative work – so did you have to do any other kind of training for the part?
TB: Yeah, I did a bit of weapons training. I went to a prop house, kind of, but they used weapons that you could use on set that you could fire. So I did two or three hours of that. Then I did some of my own research, because she is a lock picker, so I would watch all these YouTube videos on how to pick locks. So yeah, I learned a few of her different capabilities, but I don’t think we’ve even seen everything in season one that Roxy is able to do yet. [laughs]
BT: I feel like you really disappear into each of your roles because they’re all such fully realized characters and so different from one another. What helped you get into character for Roxy?
TB: For Roxy, I did a lot of research on the Black Power movement in the ’70s, on the Black Panthers, and I focused my attention on females that were at the head of that. Some of them were well known and some weren’t, so Elaine Brown, who was the head of the Black Panthers when Huey P. Newton was in exile, I read a lot about her, I read her biography. I read about Assata Shakur, who was in exile in Cuba. I read about the infamous and wonderful Angela Davis. So a lot of it would be the night before set, and even sometimes when I was on set waiting, I’d be watching prison interviews with Angela Davis. They were my main inspirations for creating Roxy. There’s obviously this element of her being like Foxy Cleopatra, Pam Grier, this Blaxploitation figure…but that kind of comes with the clothes and the hair, you know? You put that on, and I’ve got that down. But the internal self, the weight of the era, what she’s actually dealing with day to day being a black woman in New York who was a Black Panther at a time in 1977 when the Black Panthers are really disbanding because a lot of them had been killed or put in jail. So that really helped me get into a sense of who she was and what was important to her and the weight of everything that she was dealing with.
BT: I loved some of your reaction shots to Josh Radnor, they were priceless.
TB: [laughs] That’s pretty much how we are in real life. [giggles] That’s like us, when you see me and Josh talking – him saying something crazy and me just rolling my eyes. We are such a quirky family – we all love each other, we all pick on each other, busting each other’s chops all day long – so I hope that comes across on screen.
BT: What was it like working with Logan Lerman, whose character walks into this pre-established group at the end of the first episode? What was it like establishing him as this outsider coming into the group?
TB: I mean the way the story is told, we had been working together for awhile, the Hunters, but the way it was filmed, he comes in right at the beginning. So it’s easy to have him be a part of the group because we all started this together, but there were moments that were funny to us when we were all saying on screen “I don’t want him around”, but we all love Logan so much. He’s number one on the call sheet, he is the star of the show, and he’s such a great leader and has such great energy. He’s the most enthusiastic to come to work every day and he worked more than anyone. He was on set constantly just setting a great example, so he was just so dear to us, the youngest one out of all of us, so kind of our baby. But he’s been working since he was like five, so he’s been working longer than half of us have.
BT: Was it intimidating to work with Al Pacino?
TB: I think at first we were all on pins and needles because you don’t know what do say. “Do I say hi to him? Do I wait for him to say hi to me? What do we do?”. We just wanted to be very respectful because when you think of Al Pacino, you think of all of his iconic roles which are pretty scary people, I would say. [laughs] But he’s the complete opposite! He’s a sweetheart and walks around giving people hugs. He was just really warm and welcoming! So on my first day of being in a scene with him and talking, I’m kind of yelling at him, this is in episode two. So after the first take, I [gasps] “Did I get too loud with Al Pacino? Will he be mad at me? I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do.” But after working with him for ten episodes, I learned that Al doesn’t like you to treat him with kid gloves, he wants you to get into it. He loves when someone is challenging him. He loves, like when we’re torturing the Nazis, he loves for them to be screaming and spitting at him. He likes to be challenged, so he was just really great to work with.
BT: This is such a different role for him. It’s quite a unique role for everyone on the show and quite unlike how we’ve seen each of the actors ever before on screen.
TB: Yeah! I think for all of us. David and Nikki and the whole team wrote characters that I think none of us had seen before, that we hadn’t had the opportunity to play before. You can just see the excitement in all of us for being able to live in these characters and do something new, especially those of us, people of colour, in the cast. The character of Joe, Louis, who plays him, he said “five years ago I wouldn’t think that somebody would be writing a character like this – a Vietnam vet who has PTSD. It would be played by a Caucasian man”, you know what I mean? “But they wrote this specifically for me”, and all of us have had that opportunity, and I just thank God for David and Nikki for creating that opportunity.
BT: Did you have a favourite scene to shoot?
TB: Honestly, it might be the fight scene because I hadn’t done anything like that before and I wasn’t sure if I could. That’s so great – when you question yourself and you’re not sure what your limits are, and you realize you can live up to and even exceed your own expectations.
BT: With this role and with your role on Little Fires Everywhere, back to back you’re playing mothers who are trying to set good examples for their daughters and trying to pave the way for future generations of women. Did you discuss these roles with your Mom ahead of time?
TB: That’s so interesting. I didn’t even think to discuss any of it with my Mom, [laughs] but I did think of her. The way my Mom was a single Mom, the way both of these characters are, and a young single Mom, the way both of these characters are, and she just had so much strength and she sacrificed so much, again like both of these characters. So just growing up and watching her, I just naturally feel like I could take some of that on from her. I hope she watches it and is like “Ah, I see a little bit of myself in there”. [giggles]
BT: How did you craft the role of a younger Mia? Did you spend time with Kerry ahead of time in order to discuss each of your interpretations of the character from the book and the scripts?
TB: For that role, I keep saying that I was super lucky because first of all, Kerry is so prolific, she has such a large body of work, there was so much that I could watch. I’ve been watching her since she starred in this indie movie called Lift in 2001, so I’ve been watching her for a long time and have been a fan since then. I’d always watched the way she worked and understood her mannerisms. So when I came on board, she said to me “I am here for you, whatever you need”. We had a nice discussion about how she had been building the character and the way she was thinking about the character, but she also gave me freedom and said “look, this isn’t just my character – you’re creating her too, and we’re sharing in her. You need to build your own life. Here’s what I created but take her wherever you need to take her”. Then I was allowed to come on set whenever I felt like it. For about two weeks, I was on and off set whenever she was working, just watching her and taking notes. Then I would go home every night, lock myself in the office, and go through the entire script with my notes from the day and say them out loud with her hands, with her mouth, with her sound, with her body, and do the walk, all of that every night for two weeks. So by the time that I shot, I felt like she was in me and I felt really comfortable doing it.
BT: Who are some of your role models, other than your Mom and perhaps Kerry?
TB: Oh wow. Toni Morrison is one of my biggest inspirations. She’s my favourite author and I was really heartbroken when she passed. In my personal life, my grandmother, as well as my Mom, is a survivor and has been through so much and has such a brilliant, beautiful spirit. I’m really inspired by Michelle Obama and everyone who knows me knows that I’m obsessed with Beyoncé, like obsessed to a ridiculous level.
BT: I think we all are!
TB: [laughs] We all are. At first it was just “she’s so pretty and she’s so talented”, but now, after becoming a mother and really stepping into her own and opening up and sharing more about her life and her perspective, especially after watching Homecoming, and seeing her step into being a black woman and what all of that means and speaking up for us, she’s just such an inspiration. I love everything about the way she takes control of her own story and her own narrative, and that’s been something that I’ve been inspired to do.
BT: I know that you’re involved in charity work with Saving Our Daughters and not too long ago you went back and visited your alma mater Baltimore School for the Arts. In the future, you’d like to open your own school for the arts, is that right?
TB: It is true, yeah! And it’s really because of Baltimore School for the Arts – they have a yearly fundraiser at my high school called ‘Expressions’. I went there when I was between seven and nine years old and I said “I need to go to this school”. I just felt the energy of it. It’s such a safe place for these kids. It’s in Baltimore so it’s a tough city; there’s the very rich and there’s the very poor and people in the middle. But everyone from all over the state comes to the school and they’re from very different backgrounds, and they create this wonderful safe space for these students. It really inspired me to want to have my own school but for arts therapy. So children would go there who come from difficult backgrounds who have lost family members to violence. I lost my father to gun violence when I was three, and I believe that when children are growing up with this level of trauma, arts can really heal so much of that and really save their lives. I’ve seen it time and time again. So yeah, I’d love to have a school that is art therapy based, all kinds of art. But yeah, I did go back to BSA last year and I try to go back there as often as I can, just to tell those kids. When I was there, I knew I loved it, but I didn’t realize the effect it would have on my life. I didn’t know it would be the best four years of my life, and that it would effect every single thing that I do, and that made me want to give back. It’s just that kind of place. So I want to continue to give back to the Baltimore School for the Arts and other programs that are trying to save children and make sure that our next generation is taken care of.
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Today I got to go back to one of my favorite places on Earth and tell these kiddos why they are so lucky to be there. @baltschoolarts made me the person I am today. Thanks for having me again. And take a good look at these kids. They’re gonna take over the world. Also, thanks @brigidem for making this happen.
BT: What have you watched recently that you’ve really liked?
TB: I watched Marriage Story and I’m still thinking about it. I really liked it and thought it was really great. I went and saw Birds of Prey in London and I love a female-driven story. I watch a lot of docu-series, so I watched The Devil Next Door, which is very relevant to Hunters. I’ve taken a break, but everyone who was around me in December knew that I was obsessed with this Japanese reality show called Terrace House. It’s like Real World but most of them are in Japan, one season is in Hawaii with Japanese people. It’s a group of three boys and three girls, and the point is kind of to have them pair up romantically, but they don’t have to. I was so obsessed with it. I was watching it 24/7 because I just love Japanese culture. The way that they argued was so respectful, like you feel the tension but they never raise their voices or were disrespectful to each other. It was the most polite fights that you could ever imagine, like watching a clean and nice and respectful Real Housewives, you know what I mean? You’re getting the drama but without the nastiness. [laughs]
BT: Your letter that you recently released on your social media channels about your experience after you left The Chi was so meaningful to me, and I barely count as working in the industry. I think women from every industry, to thousands of women everywhere, your letter was powerful. What has the reaction been like since you released it?
TB: There’s been such a beautiful reaction, just really touching. People have been super supportive. For me, it was just a great opportunity to claim my narrative. I’m in such a great place and I’m so grateful. I want to share that if you take a chance and choose what’s actually right for you and speak up for other people and yourself, that you don’t have to be afraid of what comes next, and that’s exactly what came back to me. People have been telling me their stories of their work places where they had to do similar things, and people who are still in situations that are not great for them, and how they’re inspired now to make that leap. So I’ve been really touched by that and I’m just so happy that people can see themselves in that situation and hopefully are inspired to do something better for themselves.
Hunters is now available on Prime Video. Little Fires Everywhere premieres on Hulu on March 18.