Premiering tonight, Monday, January 28, at 9 p.m. (ET/PT), on TNT from Director Patty Jenkins (Wonder Woman, Monster) is the highly anticipated six-episode, limited suspense drama series, I Am the Night. It stars Chris Pine (Wonder Woman, Star Trek) as Jay Singletary, a former Marine-turned-hack-reporter/paparazzo and India Eisley (Underworld Awakening, Look Away) as Fauna Hodel.
Also cast in the series are TonyAward Winner Jefferson Mays (The Americans, Law & Order: SVU) as George Hodel, Yul Vazquez (Last Flag Flying) as Billis, Justin Cornwell (Training Day, We Are Boats) as Terrence Shye, Dylan Smith (Maze Runner: The Death Cure, Lemonade) as Sepp, Jay Paulson (Mad Men) as Ohls, Golden Brooks (Girlfriends) as Jimmy Lee, and Leland Orser (Berlin Station) will appear as Peter Sullivan, a Night Managing Editor for the Los Angeles Times.
Inspired by true events, I Am the Night tells the gripping story of Fauna Hodel (Eisley), a teenage girl who is given away at birth, and grows up outside of Reno, Nevada. Fauna lives more-or-less comfortably with the mysteries of her origin, until one day she makes a discovery that leads her to question everything. As Fauna begins to investigate the secrets of her past, she meets a ruined reporter (Pine), haunted by the case that undid him. Together they follow a sinister trail that swirls ever closer to an infamous Los Angeles gynecologist, Dr. George Hodel (Mays), a man involved in some of Hollywood’s darkest debauchery, and possibly, its most infamous unsolved crime.
Brooks plays Jimmy Lee, Fauna’s mother, a former lounge singer, still consumed by bitterness from the injustice of Jim Crow Mississippi and a life of missed opportunities and squandered chances. Best known for her role as Maya Wilkes in the UPN/The CW comedy series, Girlfriends, Brooks’ other TV credits include Hart of Dixie and the reality series Hollywood Divas. Her film credits include Beauty Shop, Something New, The Inheritance and The Darkest Minds.
Blackfilm.com spoke exclusively with Brooks on her role in I Am The Night and working with Patty Jenkins.
What was the attraction to saying yes to this project?
Golden Brooks: Being an actress, you go through the whole process. You get auditions, you get scripts. You read them. Some work out and some don’t. It’s a journey. This whole game of acting, I wanted to make sure I did something completely different than what people are used to seeing. When my agent sent over this script, I was just thinking, “Wow!” To see Patty Jenkins’ name on it and of course her husband (Sam Sheridan), who wrote it, I was just pinching myself. I just knew it was going to be something special. I love period pieces. A lot of people know me from comedy but before I got Girlfriends, living in New York I did a lot of Off-Off-Off Broadway, a lot of Shakespeare, and dark heavy theater. I Am The Night was getting back to my roots. I am so thankful and still so thankful to Patty and Sam for seeing that in me; seeing what I have always known was there and allowing me to play this very intense, darken, and damage character. These are the best kind because you get to go in these emotional rooms in your psyche and pull out all that stuff. I really was able to put a lot of me in there. Even though Jimmy Lee has a lot of pain, I really pull in a lot of that vulnerability.
How would you best describe Jimmy Lee?
Golden Brooks: Jimmy Lee is like that aunt or a cousin or grandma that never quite got their chance. They never got their comeuppance and she never got what she what was due to her. She was a jazz musician that never to pass. She turned to alcohol and she takes a lot of her pain to Fauna. It’s a system of generations of failed dreams. This has happened especially in the African American community and during the 1950s. Buying a child in a hotel bathroom is what you did. I think this is something that she resented herself for. As broken as she was, she knew she was raising a broken child.
Can you talk about playing a mom raising a girl who passes for white?
Golden Brooks: Yes. I’m basically raising her as Black. She always spoke so different and never felt like she truly fit in. This story crosses so many racial and color lines. For myself, what drew me to this character, and there are so many racial covert tensions that lie even within the African American community, black on black. My mother, being light-skinned and me being a brown-skinned woman, there was always that aesthetic disconnect. I love my mom. She’s my best friend, but I never felt that connection and it was tough. It was hard when you hear comments and things like that. I used a lot of that in playing this character and a lot of the hurt, pain and resentment that I used towards Fauna. Jimmy Lee is very mean toward her. There is a lot of resentment there for many reasons. She’s got her whole life and future ahead of her but at the same time, Jimmy Lee’s life or that part of it is gone, so she resents so much.
How would describe the relationship between Jimmy Lee and Fauna?
Golden Brooks: Being a mother in general and I’ve played a lot of moms, and even through the heartache that you see in Fauna’s eyes and India is such a lovely actress, you do feel the connection, you feel the sadness. Even for Fauna’s character, I think it might be in the last episode where, without giving anything away, hurt people hurt people and when you’re abused, it’s sad and tragic as it is, but that’s what you define as love. For Fauna and Jimmy Lee, they had this co-dependent weird relationship and you do buy it. You do feel it for both of them. Jimmy Lee wants to keep her under her thumb, but you also feel for Fauna, who is dying to know who she really is and where she comes from. They do need each other. There is definitely a co-dependent dysfunctionality between the two of them, which at the end is defined as love.
How was working with multiple directors?
Golden Brooks: I have loved Patty Jenkins since Monster. Charlize Theron is one of my favorite actresses and how Patty directed her and her way of storytelling is amazing to me. To get to work with someone whose artistry is completely elevated as Patty, I learned so much. In fact, after I finished I Am The Night it was so hard for me to go out and start auditioning for “Black girl #2”. It was really difficult to shed Jimmy Lee after working with great directors such as Patty, Victoria Mahoney and Carl Franklin. The lenses in which they break down the story is completely different from anything I had experienced. It broadened me as an actress and it really challenged me to tap into some emotional spaces within my artistry. You learn a lot when you work with different directors who do things differently and who want you to do things different from you are used to doing and getting you out of your comfort zone. You don’t have to be big. You can take it small.
What’s your take on a Girlfriends reboot?
Golden Brooks: I probably get like 10,000 comments a week from everyone, including social media, about a Girlfriends reboot. There are different Instagram pages and Twitter pages, just dedicated to the question that you are asking. If it were up to me, or Tracey or Jill or Persia, I think all four of us would say yes, ‘Let’s do a Girlfiends movie or maybe something for like BET. Mara Brock Akil, Kelsey Grammer and Paramount are the ones that hold the rights. We don’t have any power in that. We don’t have any control. Mara has said that she would do it for the right amount and I have to agree with her. She put her heart and soul in developing all five of these characters, including Reggie. I don’t think she wants to see the story short. I don’t think she wants to do it for less than the number she has in her mind and she deserves that. We deserve that and the fan deserve to see a good production of a beloved show. I know that there have been talks but who knows.