Jodie Turner Smith wears the Autumn Cascade Earrings from the Supernova Collection on the cover of Wonderland Magazine, September Issue 2019.
Learn the name Jodie Turner-Smith. Set to star in Lena Waithe and Melina Matsoukas’ forthcoming feature Queen & Slim, she’s a newcomer of note. Maybelle Morgan unravels the actor’s astonishing performance in her charged debut.
There is a scene in Queen & Slim, a moment of quiet amidst the panic of a nationwide manhunt, where our protagonists are teetering at the point of no return. On the run, the only direction to go is forward, and career straight off the edge into the unknown. But like a tired exhalation of breath, time slows down for a minute. Queen sits on a bed at her uncle’s house – a short stop-off to figure out their next steps. Her waist-length twists are cut off and her natural hair is coaxed out, cut short and dyed red. It’s a tactical disguise to avoid public identification (their faces are plastered on the front page of every paper and news channel in the country), but above all, this shedding of her old self is an act of survival. And ultimately, that is what Queen & Slim about: black survival, black faith, black hope. New clothes. Destroy the phones. Burn the car. Hit the road. Let’s go.
Penned by Emmy-winning writer Lena Waithe and directed by longtime Beyoncé collaborator Melina Matsoukas, the film follows Slim, played by Get Out’s Oscar- nominated Daniel Kaluuya, and Queen — British newcomer Jodie Turner-Smith in her feature film debut — as their lives are irrevocably changed when they are pulled over driving back from an unremarkable first date.
Things escalate, a police officer is shot in self-defence, and all of a sudden we are uncomfortably presented with the real mortal danger that faces African-Americans at routine traffic stops every single day. The two must go on the run, because in the age of #BlackLivesMatter, the alternative can be fatal. And unlikely as it is — but as anything that happens in life is unlikely — they fall in love. With nods to Bonnie and Clyde and Thelma & Louise, in the words of Lena Waithe, the film shows “what it looks like to be black and in love while the world is burning all around you”. Turner-Smith, in what will no doubt be her breakout role, is mesmerising: at first stern and stand-offish, but throughout the film we see her unravel in all senses of the word until she is fully open to her fate, and to the love of Slim – something the actor tells me she completely relates to.
But right now, the 32-year-old couldn’t be further from the perilous scenes in the film. She is calling me from sunny LA, her voice chiming down the phone and audibly filled with so much joy that I can’t help but grin into the receiver. “I’ve just had all my family here and I’m so full of love right now. We’ve literally just been eating Jamaican food for the last four days.” She moved to LA a decade ago, from Peterborough, a city two hours outside of London (in case you were wondering, her British accent is very much intact but with tell-tale twangs on certain words, like “beautifulll”). The actor has slowly been fortifying her portfolio ever since. A siren in HBO’s cult vampire hit True Blood. Zayn Malik’s “Pillow Talk” music video. A small part in Nicholas Winding Refn’s Neon Demon. But then, real credibility came last year with a recurring role as a sculpted genetically engineered space cadet in George R. R. Martin’s Syfy series Nightflyers. It might not be Game of Thrones, but it was enough to make Hollywood sit up and take notice.
And when she caught early production murmurs of Queen & Slim, she set her sights on leading lady; an ambitious feat for someone who had never starred in a feature film. But drive and tenacity are things that Turner-Smith is certainly not short of. She managed to secure an audition with the elusive casting director, then the producers, then the director, and then a chemistry read with Kaluuya later, and we had our Queen. “What you bring into that audition is you, that’s what’s different to what everybody else brings,” she tells me. “A friend of mine always says, the thing about auditioning is that some people come in and you think that person could be a suspect, but then somebody walks in and you’re like, ‘They’ve got blood on their hands.’ I have no idea exactly what it was that I did. But I’m so grateful for that. I really love this character.”