Exclusive: Karimah Westbrook Talks George Clooney’s Suburbicon

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TIFF 2017 Exclusive: Karimah Westbrook Talks George Clooney’s Suburbicon
Posted by Wilson Morales

October 24, 2017

Shown during the Toronto International Film Festival and coming out this week is ‘Suburbicon,’ directed by George Clooney and starring Matt Damon, Julianne Moore, Noah Jupe, Leith M. Burke, Karimah Westbrook and Oscar Issac.

Suburbicon is a peaceful, idyllic suburban community with affordable homes and manicured lawns …the perfect place to raise a family, and in the summer of 1959, the Lodge family is doing just that. But the tranquil surface masks a disturbing reality, as husband and father Gardner Lodge (Matt Damon) must navigate the town’s dark underbelly of betrayal, deceit, and violence. This is a tale of very flawed people making very bad choices. This is Suburbicon.

For Westbrook, this is her biggest role in her career, especially when working alongside Oscar winners. She plays the wife and mother of a family who are the first blacks to move into the all-white community. Mrs. Meyers is based on civil rights trailblazer Daisy Myers, who moved into Levittown, Pennsylvania in 1951 to the chagrin and harassment from her white neighbors. She was considered by many to be the “Rosa Parks of the North.”

The Chicago native’s previous film included Mario Van Peebles’ Baadasssss!, Rum Diary opposite Johnny Depp, and American Violet opposite Alfre Woodard and Nicole Beharie.

Blackfilm.com recently spoke with Westbrook about her role in Suburbicon and working with Clooney and the cast.

How was your experience at the Toronto Film Festival?

Karimah Westbrook: It was a great experience. I was very excited. I was actually there once before for another film back in 2004, but being there this time and being involved with the press conference and premiere was a great experience.

Would you say the film is a thought-provoking black comedy or is it two separate stories?

Karimah Westbrook as Mrs. Meyers in SUBURBICON, from Paramount Pictures and Black Bear Pictures.

KW: I wouldn’t call it a comedy. It’s definitely a dark drama. We’re following two different families in this film that live in this community of this suburb. When this home invasion takes place, it sort of rattles the community. We basically see different aspects of human personality operating out of fear. That’s how I would describe it.

When you got the role, what was it calling for as you read the script?

Left to right: Steve Monroe as Mailman Henry and Karimah Westbrook as Mrs. Mayers in SUBURBICON, from Paramount Pictures and Black Bear Pictures.

KW: When I got the role, I didn’t really know that it was based on a real person initially until after my first audition. When I read the scene, I just put myself in that situation as far as me being a mother, having a child, and what I felt my responsibility would be under those circumstances. That was what I initially brought to the audition and then afterwards when I learned that it was based off a real person, I read Daisy’s book, Sticks ‘n Stones: The Myers Family in Levittown and that helped me even more as far as when I was preparing for the film before we started filming. It showed how she felt and navigated through the whole situation.

How was working with George? What was his approach in bringing in your storyline in the film?

KW: It was great working with George. I think he is very passionate. I love the fact that he brought the storyline to the film. The original script by the Coen Brothers did not have this storyline of the Myers family; but George really wanted to capture that time. This story takes place in the 1950s and you learn about the Myers family in Levittown, PA. George was very passionate about this storyline and he wanted to reveal this aspect of what was happening in the suburbs during this time.

I know that you’re saying that they don’t tie in but I think they tie in in the sense that they both take place in the community where just like in real life, there’s something going on with your neighbor and there’s something going on with you. Everything that is happening in this planned suburb, and people typically think that the suburbs is a safe place to live and most people migrate from the city to move to the suburbs, George captured very well. That was the goal.

Although you shot the film some time back, we didn’t know we would get an incident like Charlottesville to have this film be looked at differently all of a sudden.

KW: It’s interesting where art imitates life. No one could have known what was happening in Charlottesville. It’s more of a confirmation that we have so much further to go. Although we feel that we have progressed, which I do feel we have in a lot of ways, we still further to go.

According to an article I read, Linda Myers, to some, was considered the “Rosa Parks of the North.” Did you know about this?

KW: I’m actually glad that the information is out there because I didn’t anything about her. We don’t really hear a lot about racism in the North. We primarily hear about stories from the South. We didn’t touch on her religious beliefs and things that really grounded her. Most of the things that were showcased in the film are pretty accurate as far as what they experienced was. If people want to learn more, Daisy Myer wrote a book which gives an accurate account of their experience there. I think the film does enough to showcase who they were and how they lived through this situation.

With a cast that includes Julianne Moore, Matt Damon and Oscar Isaac, did you get a chance to bond with any of them?

KW: It was great. I’m so excited because this is a high profiled project with high profiled actors. I had a chance to bond with Julianne Moore, which I was excited about. I didn’t really get a chance to see Oscar Isaac and Matt Damon and talk to them much, but with Julianne I had time to spend with her. The see are actors who I grew up watching and admired before I even knew I would be working with them.

What’s next for you?

KW: I booked a couple of guest spots on TV. I will be Shameless Season 8. The new season starts on Nov. 5. Curtis Jackson aka 50 Cent has a new prank show in which I was cast in. I have a guest spot on there. I have Bolden, a Jazz bio-pic, which is finally finished and ready to come out with Gary Carr in the lead. In the meantime, I’m always writing and creating my own opportunity. I’m also still auditioning.

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