TIFF 2017 Exclusive: Carmen Ejogo Talks Starz’s The Girlfriend Experience Season 2Posted by Wilson Morales
October 2, 2017
During the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival, Blackfilm.com spoke exclusively with actress Carmen Ejogo about her upcoming role in Starz’s The Girlfriend Experience Season 2, the limited anthology series based on the 2009 Steven Soderbergh film of the same name. The 14-episode scripted original series returns on Sunday, November 5 at 9 PM.
Breaking with last season’s format, the series will follow two parallel stories each focusing on entirely new characters, relationships, plotlines and locations while exploring the price of intimacy and its emotional consequences.
Written, directed and executive produced by Lodge Kerrigan and Amy Seimetz. Anna Friel and Louisa Krause star in the storyline set in Washington, DC, and Carmen Ejogo is at the center of the second storyline set in New Mexico.
Kerrigan’s storyline is set against the backdrop of the corrupting influence of dark money in the upcoming 2018 U.S. mid-term elections, where everything and everyone has a price, the second season tracks an unexpected and complex relationship between Erica Myles (Anna Friel), a commanding and strong-willed finance director of a Republican super PAC, and Anna Garner (Louisa Krause), a confident and intelligent GFE provider at the top of her game. Under intense pressure to deliver on her super PAC fundraising goals, Erica meets Anna and enlists her help in blackmailing a high-powered dark money fundraiser, in order to gain access to his secret donor network. After their initial exchange, Erica and Anna fall into a complicated sexual relationship, marked by an exploration of vulnerability, dominance and submission. A relationship that changes the trajectory of Erica’s personal and professional lives and takes Anna into new emotional territory.
Other cast members include Narges Rashidi (Under the Shadow) as Darya Esford, Michael Cram (“Shadowhunters,” Bent) as Mark Novak and Emily Piggford (“Hemlock Grove”) as Sandra Fuchs.
Seimetz’s storyline follows Bria Jones (Carmen Ejogo) , a former high-end escort who enters the Witness Protection Program in order to escape her abusive relationship. After being torn from her upscale lifestyle, Bria and her estranged step-daughter are relocated to New Mexico where they are overseen by a commanding US Marshal, Ian Olsen. Despite orders to stay low, Bria begins to revive her career as a sex worker, still enraptured by the allure of precarious relationships and lavish gifts. Bria’s moonlighting only becomes more complicated when it threatens to ensnare her new identity, her step-daughter, and the government official put in charge of her well-being. Bria quickly realizes she not only has to protect herself from her domineering ex but the very people who are supposed to be protecting her. Bria is forced to take matters into her own hands as she gambles not only her own safety but the people around her in a bid to regain the life she once had.
Cast members for this storyline include Tunde Adebimpe (Spider-Man: Homecoming, Nasty Baby) as Ian Olsen, Morgana Davies (“Terra Nova,” The Tree) as Kayla Fairchild and Harmony Korine (Spring Breakers, Kids) as Paul.
For Ejogo, who this year alone appeared in the indie horror thriller ‘It Comes at Night,’ the franchise film ‘Alien: Covenant’ and will next be appear opposite Denzel Washington in ‘Roman J. Israel Esq.,’ ‘Girlfriend’ marks her return to television since she starred in the ABC short-lived series ‘Zero Hour.’ Her previous film and TV credits have also included the HBO film ‘Boycott,’ the ‘Sparkle’ remake, Ava DuVernay’s Selma, and the Harry Potter prequel ‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.’
Ejogo spoke with Blackfilm.com about her role in the Starz series and how roles are more appealing now than before.
Is this your first series?
Carmen Ejogo: Actually no. I have done others, but there were crappy network shows. This is more my territory if was going to do television going forward. It’s dark, complicated and funny.
What attracted you to doing this?
Carmen Ejogo: Mostly the fact that Amy (Seimetz) was at the helm. I thought that if I was going into a territory that deals in sexuality and in an industry and area that is complex, I would want to do that with someone who had a depth for nuanced perspective of their own about that stuff; and to work with a woman like Amy, who seems to be the right fit. I hadn’t seen the first season when I started talking to Amy about this. As we talked more and more, it became obvious that this was going to be very ambitious and experimental in many ways and a lot of risk taking.
How would you best describe Bria?
Carmen Ejogo: I think she is someone who is motivated to do what she does by many different things in any given moment. It’s been demanded of her for various reasons that she create a new identity, so her entire being has been stripped away from her. She has to redefine herself, which leads her to question herself potentially, “Where does she go from here? What parts of the past am I taking with me and what do I leave behind?” While she may have thought it was going to be black and white and clear for her, it quickly becomes much muddier because her new circumstances means that she doesn’t have access to some of the things she now realizes she doesn’t want to live without. I’m talking about things that are material and consumption-based. It turns out that some of those things are what she wants and she’s willing to give up the potential of a simple, cleaner, less complicated and messy life. She willingly throws herself in the fire.
Are there any similarities between you and Bria?
Carmen Ejogo: I’m similar in the sense that I think in a messy, unconventional way’ and in terms of how psychology can play itself out. I think that Bria is that person too. I also drew upon other peoples’ experiences outside my own to formulate this character. There’s more about her from people I’ve been surrounded by growing up or in my world at any given time. They have been good references for this character.
Can you talk about working with Harmony Korine?
Carmen Ejogo: He’s all about being risk taking and being subversive, and that’s obvious from his own body of work. I think that some of that comes with him to the room. Amy was very smart in her casting all around in this piece. I think it suits him well. It was great to work with him because he’s just open to anything that feels real and something that hasn’t been tried before.
You’ve had a busy year with It Comes at Night, this series and Roman J. Israel Esq. coming up. Within the last five years, we are seeing more of you. What’s changed?
Carmen Ejogo: What’s changed is that my kids have become older, so I feel I have more time to myself to work more. It’s always been about the body of work and that’s starting to pay off. People are seeing that there’s range. I’m interested in all genres, and I think I’ve tackled every genre that’s out there. There’s something in any area that anyone that’s interested in working with me can get a taste of what’s possible. I’m also at an age now where surprisingly there’s just better stuff to work with on the page when you’re somebody in your 40s as opposed to when you’re in your 20s. You might not look as fresh on screen as you did back in the day; but there’s going to be way more to work on the page because I think the writing often appreciates and understands that a woman gets more interesting as she gets older. Therefore, there’s just better stuff to do at this point in my career than when I was younger. I was the sort of person that was picky. I would rather not work than do something that was mediocre or if it wasn’t to going to stretch me or push me or be interesting for an audience. I remain that person. There’s enough material out there now that I can say yes to more than say no to.
Can you talk about your role in Roman J. Israel Esq.?
Carmen Ejogo: I’m excited about this one because I think it’s incredibly timely. I love Dan Gilroy. He is one of the sweetest, soulful, earnest writer-director I have come across and I really believe him in terms of the intention of what’s on the page. What’s on the page with this film is a reminder to people that it’s not some of kind of fantasy or unachievable aspiration of oneself to be compassionate to others. It’s something to aspire to; and to be mindful in that way. It may sound schmaltzy in a way but I think there’s enough truth in what he wrote and what he intended that it will be apparent on the screen why this is a worthy film to be making. I think Denzel’s character is going to be so empathetic and I have never seen him in this sort of role before. My character is the antithesis in so many ways to Bria from The Girlfriend Experience. She has such a moral compass and she really tries to honor that in every day that she operates. I’m excited that I got to play back-to-back two very different women. Both compelling and passionate, but in very different ways.
What role do you play?
Carmen Ejogo: I play someone that runs a volunteer civil rights organization that represents people that need support, guidance, and advocacy; but she is someone that deeply believes in the work she does and believes in people, and believes in our connection to each other that it brings her to tears. There’s that in me. There’s that in all of us. Her passion for her work is what motivates her.
What’s after this?
Carmen Ejogo: I’m back in Fantastic Beasts 2.