- Nia Long talked to Insider about the experience of making the Netflix movie “Fatal Affair.”
- It marks the first time she has a producer credit, which she took on to give the movie a more authentic Black story.
- The movie was changed to a Black-led thriller after Netflix bought it.
- Long is disappointed by the movie’s lack of Black crew members.
- A Black screenwriter was hired once Long was cast in the movie.
- Long sees all this as an example of systemic racism in Hollywood.
- She gives another example of that by opening up about auditioning for 2000’s “Charlie’s Angels.”
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
For most of her life, Nia Long has worked hard to become one of the most respected Black actresses in Hollywood.
But she’s done playing the game.
In a career filled with memorable roles in “Boyz in the Hood,” “Friday,” and “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” Long didn’t just become a huge star in the 1990s but an inspiration for young women and actors of colour.
That’s why she thought “Fatal Affair” (available on Netflix starting Thursday) was such an important project that she took a producer role on it, marking the first time in her career.
On its surface, the movie looks like a fun steamy thriller that stars Long as a married woman being stalked by a disturbed ex (played by Omar Epps). Behind the scenes, Long said she had to work hard to get the story to become a believable movie about Black people.
Long spoke to Insider about the making of the movie, why it is a classic example of systemic racism in Hollywood, and also opened up about her experience auditioning for the 2000 movie “Charlie’s Angels.”
Long coming on as a producer revealed to her the world that actors never see
Jason Guerrasio: Congrats because this movie marks your first producer credit. What made this movie be the one where you took that leap?
Nia Long: Honestly, it sort of just fell in my lap. I read the script and I thought, wow, this is a good script but it needs a little bit of tweaking and I thought in order to get the project where I thought it could be, I wanted to be a part of the collaboration to improving what was already on the page. Then we switched the characters to create a multicultural cast. So that changed certain things and motivation and choices and how certain lines were delivered and said. The team was super open and collaborative, and I do appreciate that a lot.
Guerrasio: And are you the one we thank for getting Omar Epps in the movie?
Long: Well, I mean, yeah, I guess you could give me a pat on the back.
Guerrasio: Own it.
Long: [Laughs.] I called my best friend and was like, “Look, guy, you’re my brother. We’re part of the ’90s culture creators, come on over.” At the end of the day when you need your friends, you got to be able to call on them. We sat down and talked, he read the script, and we also collaborated creatively and in the end, we decided this would be a fun ride for both of us.
It was fun to be on the other side of things. To see how and why certain decisions are made. And I also learned that there’s a tremendous amount that goes on and the actors are clueless. We just don’t get any of the information. And I thought to myself, gosh, I think that’s such a huge mistake. Just be open and honest about things and I bet there’s a better solution to being covert and fearful. I just don’t work well in those types of environments. I like to know what’s real.
Guerrasio: And I would imagine most actors are that way, they want that transparency.
Long: Absolutely. You want to work from a place of honesty. If you feel like you have to protect yourself throughout the process it makes it very difficult to tap into your most vulnerable places to actually portray the character in a real way.
Netflix changed the movie to a Black-led thriller after buying the project. Long is disappointed by the lack of diversity on the crew.
Guerrasio: This is what I was thinking after watching the movie. I applaud Netflix for really taking the lead of late in telling multicultural stories whether it’s Spike Lee’s “Da 5 Bloods” or “The Old Guard” showcasing a gay relationship, and now “Fatal Affair” with a predominantly Black cast. But your movie was made by a white man.
Guerrasio: The top of the line crew are all white and men.
Guerrasio: So how important was having that producer voice on this movie?
Long: The reality is this film came from a production company and they brought the film to Netflix and they are exactly what you said. So when Netflix decided to do the film, it was their idea to make this a Black lead film and I was on board with that idea. In all honesty, I was disappointed that there were maybe three people on the crew that were Black, but that really is the production company’s responsibility, not the network. By the time I arrived, they were a happy family that had done several films together. My next production will be different. Because I think if I’m going to be effective in that area I have to shine a light on those things as well. Because it really does affect the way things are understood and communicated.
Long said a Black screenwriter was hired to make the movie more authentic
Guerrasio: Now I really like the movie, but I think I like it because of what you and others brought to the movie. Can you tell me what had to be done to make it more authentic?
Long: There’s a young woman named Rasheeda Garner.
Guerrasio: Yes, the co-screenwriter.
Long: Yeah, the co-writer on the film. She was brought on when I was hired to play the lead and her job was to adjust the script for an African-American woman to play the lead. Rasheeda and I have since become friends and I think she’s a wonderful writer. The flipside of that is I hope and pray that she gets the opportunity to be in the forefront and not brought on because the lead of the film is Black. She should be able to write and tell stories as an African-American woman in this industry.
I understand and respect our director, who is a white man. He wanted to be respectful of my voice and I appreciate that. And that’s why he hired Rasheeda. So although it gave her an opportunity, I want more. I want more for her, I want more for myself, I want more for Black female writers and directors in this business to not be used to fix something but to be used to tell our stories in a really authentic way. I don’t think anyone on this team had bad intentions and there was no drama whatsoever, it was all very collaborative. But this isn’t about “Fatal Affair,” this is about a system. This is a systemic issue in Hollywood that has yet to be addressed in a fair way. So at the end of the day, we have to go to the unions and say, “OK guys, are you going to be accountable for diversity on sets? Are you going to have more opportunities for Black artists? Is this going to be a mandate moving forward that we have more diversity on set?” I don’t care who’s set it is. That needs to happen, that has to happen if we want to really make change.
Guerrasio: And with you getting into producing now, that’s your goal going forward?
Long: Oh, that’s been me all the time but I can’t be the only girl holding the torch. I’ve burned my fingers a lot standing up for what I believe in. Being outspoken. I will be the first person to say I want everyone to have a good time, this isn’t me being self-serving, this is about how can we all push forward and be better?
Long opens up about her experience auditioning for ‘Charlie’s Angels’
Guerrasio: Like you, more people are being vocal about their experiences in the business. Thandie Newton recently talked about turning down the Alex Munday role in “Charlie’s Angles” because the role sounded sexist and racist. You also went out for the Alex Munday role. Did you have a similar experience?
Long: I went in on the audition and I was told that I looked too old for Drew Barrymore.
Long: And I was like, “What?” I love Drew Barrymore, I think she’s amazing, but I think that was just a nice way to say you’re a little too Black. Personally, that’s what I think. Because if you notice there were no brown skin [actors]. I mean, honestly, I would have been the blackest thing in the film.
Guerrasio: This is what you heard back from the studio?
Long: That was the feedback that I received from my agent. “She just looked too old and sophisticated to be next to Drew Barrymore.” And I’m thinking to myself, it’s an actor’s choice to walk in the room how they want to look, but it’s a director’s vision to help create and curate a character. So if you couldn’t see beyond the fact that I had on a blazer and a pair of jeans then that was clearly not the job and opportunity for me. So, no problem, I’ll keep it moving.
I don’t want to be any part of a project where I feel like I’m the token Black person. I’ve been there and done that and I’m not doing that anymore. Now it has to be about the material and the story that we’re telling and I want to elevate the material and stories that we’re telling. Thank you Netflix for the opportunity to allow me to gain the confidence to know that I can do this and I will do more.
From now on, Long wants to work with people who understand the Black experience
Guerrasio: Going forward, are you excited by the material? Are you on the ground floor with some projects you’re attached to?
Long: I’m super excited about one project that I can’t talk much about because we’re in the midst of negotiating but that will be another situation where I would come on as a producer. The most important thing for me right now is to work with people who are likeminded, who understand the Black experience, who respect Black people, and who ultimately want to create art that really and truly reflects the rainbow world that we are living in. I am not interested in the old Hollywood ways that perpetuate stereotypes and segregation. I can’t even do it anymore. I have a lot of stories to tell and be shared. We need to be honest. I don’t want to be the only person on the island holding the torch in fear of being called difficult or complicated or too direct. How about we live and deal in truth and whoever doesn’t like it can go to another island.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.