Coming out this week from Universal Pictures is Academy Award-winning filmmaker Robert Zemeckis‘ (Forrest Gump, Steel Soldiers) upcoming true story Welcome to Marwen. The movie stars Oscar nominee Steve Carell (Foxcatcher, The Office) as a man discovering how art can restore the human spirit.
Written by Zemeckis and Caroline Thompson, the film also stars Eiza González, Diane Kruger, Leslie Mann, Merritt Wever, Janelle Monáe, Neil Jackson, Siobhan Williams, Matt O’Leary, and Stefanie von Pfetten.
When a devastating attack shatters Mark Hogancamp (Carell) and wipes away all memories, no one expected recovery. Putting together pieces from his old and new life, Mark meticulously creates a wondrous town where he can heal and be heroic. As he builds an astonishing art installation — a testament to the most powerful women he knows — through his fantasy world, he draws strength to triumph in the real one. Welcome to Marwen is a bold and timely film that shows your imagination can help you find courage in the most unexpected place.
Monáe, who was last seen in the Oscar winning film Moonlight and Hidden Figures, plays Julie, a wounded veteran and one of the dolls Mark creates as GI Julie. The talented singer just received multiple Grammy nominations including Album of the Year for Dirty Computer.
Blackfilm.com spoke exclusively with Monáe on her role in the film and working with Carell.
Having seen you in Moonlight and Hidden Figures, everybody was wondering what was going to be next, and this is it, at least film-wise. What was the attraction to saying yes to this role?
Janelle Monáe: Few attractive things. One, Robert Zemeckis. I’m a huge fan of his work since I’ve been a little girl. Back to the Future, Forrest Gump, all of his movies are some of my favorites. I read the script and I was blown away and I was so shocked when I read at the end of it that it was based on true events and based on a true story. I saw the documentary and I just could not believe that this could happen to this man and I said this is an important story for so many reasons. And then having the opportunity to work with so many women, so many strong inspiring women on screen, coming together to stand up to bullies, to fight Nazi white supremacists. I mean what’s not attractive about that.
Can you talk about your character Julie. You’re playing a disabled physical therapist and a Nazi fighter. How would you best describe her?
Janelle Monáe: Julie is someone that Steve really admires and respects and trusts. GI Julie serves in the military and she’s an ex war veteran who has lost a limb fighting for her country, and she meets Steve in this rehabilitation facility as he’s dealing with this traumatic experience of being a victim of a hate crime. He loses his memories. He’s been not walking. He has to just relearn everything like a child. And they both just support each other and he really does look to her to remind him that they have to use the pain as rocket fuel and that there’s power in pain. It helps us become stronger and better people and I think that, like everyday, women and black women in particular, have been instrumental in helping save this country and their communities and those around them. So I see nothing different than what I see everyday in real life going on in this film. Women are the saviors once again.
Was this a role that you did research on? Not just playing a physical therapist, but somebody who’s of service to the military.
Janelle Monáe: Oh yes. I had people in my family serve in the military, my father, my stepfather who’s just like my dad served. A host of cousins, women cousins and my grandfather was in the Korean War so I did have conversations with them and also with doing research online and speaking to the folks who have lost limbs. I admire and respect them greatly. I hope that they are honored by the work that I did and that they feel proud. I also hope that we can get more disabled actors employed. I think that’s really important and I hope that we can start that conversation and actually see more, the nature that they have real visibility. I think that’s super important and I want to do so much more in that area to help with that.
You’re working opposite Steve Carell who’s been in like a chameleon in different films. How was it working along with him as well as Robert Zemeckis?
Janelle Monáe: Man, two amazing actors and human beings off screen as well. I had time to sit and talk to them. I think Robert Zemeckis is such a genius in many ways. He’s a true artist, the way he lights up when he’s reading a script. We did a whole table read and he read the entire script and walked through every single note on that paper in that script and his face just lights up when he’s speaking about art and I will say that this is one of the most innovative and original films I’ve ever seen. I can’t really compare it to anything. And I think he knew that and he wasn’t interested in trying to water down someone’s true story. That’s what I love most.
And Steve Carell is a special warm human being. One of my favorite actors of all time and I think people will be very surprised he’s in this role. I think he was the right person for it because it’s such a heavy, dramatic experience and Steve’s lightheartedness added some lightness to the difficult nature of what happened.
At the end of the movie, obviously do they let you keep your action figure?
Janelle Monáe: No. You know, I hope that I can keep the action figures. All of the women, we’re like we want our action figures. They’re one of one.
What goes into saying yes to the projects you’re taking?
Janelle Monáe: Well, one is it special? You know, is it remarkable, is it pushing culture forward? What new thing is it bringing the art community. Will be peoples’ lives be more enriched after they watched it or listened to it. Is it in line with my core values. How is it helping elevate artists and black women and black folks and marginalized voices. You know I ask myself a lot of questions but I’m always looking for something special though. Does it have that thing that will, a year from now looking back, make me say I’m so proud that I was a part of that, that makes me so proud of that album that we did.
Congrats on the Grammy nomination. It’s a collaborative effort when an album gets nominated. Can you talk about that feel of having your work recognized?
Janelle Monáe: It’s an honor to be nominated, to have my work nominated in the Album of the Year category and also be nominated for a a short film or a visual album, so that’s just incredible. I’m so proud of the team and the women that I work with in Wonderland, my creative home for coming together and just, for believing in me and my story even sometimes I didn’t believe in myself. I think this nomination means a lot to me because not only was it about me, but it was about a community of marginalized voices. 30 computers. I hope you sustain the love and to heard and to celebrate it.