When speaking with [writer/director] Andrea [Berloff], she thought that you all signed on because these are roles that you don’t get offered. Was that the attraction?
Melissa: For me, the script and the fact that Andrea wrote it and I was really intrigued that she was going to direct for the first time. I wanted to be a part of that. I just went for the character, which was really fascinating, and I like the story, so that’s kind of where I always start from.
Tiffany: Hm, and I hunted her down. It was not an offer, I hunted!
What do you mean?
Tiffany: I mean, I read the script, I googled the title, and was like, “Oh, this is a comic book too?!” Put two and two together and I was like, I really like her. I asked everybody to get her to me and I got to her and then I sat down with her and I was like, ‘yeah this is why I should be in this movie’.
How did you get the script?
Tiffany: My manager’s assistant had the script and she was like ‘yeah, there’s this cool script but I don’t think you’re right for it’. I was like, ‘What! Let me read it!’ I’m like, ‘Oh no, I got this!’
Why did you think you were right for the role?
Tiffany: Because I know that world, I’ve been in that world. I understand what it’s like to feel suppressed but also trying to figure out how I can create a better life for myself and for my family and for my people and look out for my girls. I love that they had this sisterhood and all work together. I love scripts like that, where women are empowered, and they work together to create something awesome.
And for you Elisabeth?
Elizabeth: I was the last person to come on. Andrea Berloff wrote it, and then it’s Melissa and Tiffany are in it. ‘Please let it be good. Please let it be good!’ because just that package alone I was like, ‘Oh my god, that would be the coolest experience ever!’ I was dying to work with all of them. It was really good! And the part was really great! And the part had an arc to it and I had something to do in it and I got to develop the character in the film and so it was very much one of those no brainers.
How did you bring something that was yours to the characters?
Melissa: I try to reverse engineer, and I want to go further into the character and less to me. Very uninterested in myself. When I get to play someone different from me, I find that much more intriguing. I don’t need to show me in a movie, nobody cares.
Tiffany: When they put me in the wardrobe and the hair and all that, I just saw my grandma. I just kept seeing my grandma and sometimes I see my mama, ‘What would my grandma and my mama do in this situation?’ And I just ran with that. Because they gangsta!
Andrea spoke about the importance of the diversity, she said that she didn’t want to have three perfect blond angels.
Elisabeth: Well, now we’re offended!
Tiffany: Perfect blond angels.
How important is diversity for you?
Melissa: We’re part of the storytelling and you want to show the real world.
Elisabeth: Hell’s kitchen in the ‘70s, it’s pretty diverse.
Melissa: You want to show the world we live in. The world we live in is size, shape, colour, love, everything else, and you have to put that in so people watching it go, ‘I know that. I am that. That’s my mother, that’s someone I dislike, someone I like.” I think that’s part of our responsibility as storytellers.
Did you meet with any women in crime?
Melissa: I stole a candy bar once. When I was like five so I am a criminal, guys.
Tiffany: We know.
Elizabeth: Did you guys meet with anybody? I didn’t, no. I mean, my character, especially the beginning of the film, doesn’t really know anything about crime and doesn’t really know anything about what she ends up getting herself into. I wanted to make sure that I had more of the innocence of it. Watched a bunch of documentaries on the Irish mob and stuff…
Tiffany: At first, I watched a bunch of black exploitation films because I was like, am I going to have to Afro?
Elisabeth: You were like, ‘what’s my hair going to be like?’
You watched documentary on the Irish mob?
Elisabeth: Yeah, just wanted to know something, so I didn’t sound like an idiot when I showed up on set.
What’s specific about the Irish mob?
Elisabeth: As opposed to? The Italian mob? I don’t know, they seem to be interested in the same things: domination of the neighbourhood and killing people.
Tiffany: Corn beef and spaghetti?
Elisabeth: The food! The food is different. I mean, what’s interesting about anything to do with the mafia is the violence and the shocking amount of cold blooded violence and that kind of thing. Which is obviously foreign to me, so this thing was interesting to me and it helped me to kind of embrace, as at least realistic, my role in the film.
I don’t know how many times you’ve all been directed by a females, but what’s the big difference?
Tiffany: They have an understanding of when your feet hurt. A big understanding of that.
Elisabeth: I don’t know. I’ve always had trouble with that question because it feels almost sexist in itself. I feel like, ‘I’m sure there are differences between men and women’, like, let’s not be naive. Of course.
Tiffany: I think they listen better.
Elisabeth: They probably do. They probably do listen better just because women tend to listen better, but not all women.
Melissa: I think it’s more about if you connect with your director. If your director is really good. And I don’t think that’s specific to what gender you are. I had incredibly, sensitive, lovely male directors. My husband [Ben Falcone] is one of them. It’s not a movie made by a woman, it’s really made by a good filmmaker. The more we stop qualifying it, I think would be helpful.
Elisabeth: I agree. And most female filmmakers that I’ve worked with and talked to feel the same way.
Can you tell us a little bit about your own character?
Melissa: I’m a mother of two, pretty traditional for the ‘70s. I stayed home, I took care of the kids, I was never allowed to be any part of the business. My husband goes away to prison and I can’t pay my bills, I can’t afford to feed my kids, and the business is the only thing I know, I grew up in it. I do the one thing I know how to do and together we all say, ‘Why can’t we take it over?’
Tiffany: I am married to a white man and I play a black woman in the movie. I was asking if I could play a white woman, but they wouldn’t let me. I’m dealing with that world where his mother feels like I shouldn’t be with her son, and he goes away to prison and I have got to figure out how I’m going to survive because his mother is not looking out for me, the gang’s not really looking out for me… But these my girls, and we worked it out.
Elisabeth: I play a good Irish Catholic girl, very quiet and sort of somewhat suppressed. She’s in an abusive relationship and when her husband gets taken away, she also finds herself in the situation of just needing money, needing to survive, and needing to keep things going and gets linked up with these two. Then it snowballs into them realising how gratifying that power is. And how they’re actually enjoying having more control and enjoying being able to run this neighbourhood and enjoy being able to have their own money that they can spend and not having to rely on their partner for it.
Melissa, you’re the ring leader?
Melissa: Well that’s…
Elisabeth: … a complicated question.
Melissa: We can’t say, not really, but maybe or is it?
Elisabeth: One of the things that was interesting about the script was that it wasn’t this cookie cutter tale of three women coming together and they work together seamlessly and everyone’s best friends. There’s a necessity for them to work together in the beginning and they do work well together for a while but they’re all three very complicated women with different needs and agendas. And the way that gets complicated is what I thought was very smart.
Melissa: It’s always exciting in a movie with the acceleration of power and money come very drastic changes in relationships. We go through all of these changes of what it means to suddenly have money and power, and how do people react to that. Which is usually not very smoothly.
How is it in your own life to gain power and money?
Melissa: I remember the first time I paid my electric bill. I was working enough, where I just wrote the cheque, probably like $32 and afterwards, I was like, ‘I didn’t even look in my account’, because I knew there’s several hundred.
Elisabeth: Right. Boss lady.
Melissa: I literally was like, ‘Hey girl.’ I remember thinking that parents are probably very happy that I’m not like, ‘I blew a tyre and I know I’m almost thirty but can you help me?’ I remember like ‘Oh my god I paid the electric bill’.
Elisabeth: Little stuff like that. Like the first time that you’re like, ‘Oh I don’t have to call SAG and see when my residual checks are coming. I can pay the bills next week’. It’s the small things. It’s taken a while, so it’s not like you wake up one morning and you’re just like swimming in gold.
Tiffany: You don’t have go on a date to eat! How about that?!
Elisabeth: No more prostitution, big step.
Tiffany: Now I can buy my own food! I love food. Girl went on a lot of dates for food.
The Kitchen is in cinemas August 29, 2019