Welcome to World Builders, our ongoing series of conversations with the industry’s most productive and thoughtful behind-the-scenes craftspeople. In this entry, we chat with Javicia Leslie about her new film Double Life and reflect on her time as Batwoman.
There are numerous reasons why an actor takes a role. For Javicia Leslie, primarily, the character has to compel her onto the screen. Her latest movie, Double Life, recalled certain legendary performances from the past. Movies like Sleeping with the Enemy or The Net gripped her imagination and established a permanent space within her. She wanted to wield the gun carried by those films’ heroines and inspire the next Javicia Leslie to take up the fight.
Double Life partners Leslie’s Jo Creuzot with Pascale Hutton‘s Sharon Setter. The two women unknowingly share the same man’s affection and only become aware of the other after he’s run off the road, murdered. Leslie and Hutton trace various clues and reassemble their lover’s life. The restored image reveals a few other things as well. Nothing good.
“It’s two women leading a thriller,” says Leslie. “Honestly, that was my favorite thing to watch when I was younger. Remember those 90s, Sandra Bullock, Julia Roberts, whodunits with females leading them? And, so, it was like, ‘Oh, heck yeah, I want to do this.’ And then there’s fighting in it, and I love fight scenes, and then there’s gunplay in it. I love guns. Well, I love them in film.”
Leslie wanted in on the action. Like always. She felt compelled to inhabit Jo. Although, the script alone was not enough to get her to yes. First, she needed to converse with the film’s director, Martin Wood, and get his take on the thriller shenanigans.
“There are so many elements that I really enjoyed in just reading the script,” she continues. “But I hadn’t yet met the director. When I hopped on the phone with him, oh my god, he was just so magnificent. He allowed me to shadow his directing, so I went up to Vancouver two weeks early and got to prep with them. The days that I maybe wasn’t shooting, I got to go behind where the cameras are and see how everything worked.”
On Double Life‘s last day, Good handed the reins to Leslie. She shot the last scene, did the set-up, picked the camera angles, and selected the lenses. The more she lives as a character, the more she wants to guide the character from every possible position in production. She certainly hears the director’s chair and the writer’s pen calling.
“One of my classmates just wrote a pilot,” says Leslie. “My teacher was saying how she could see so many influences just in the conversation. It’s no longer linear; it hops around. That’s so much more interesting because that’s who we are as humans. We just don’t realize that. We think everything is linear, but if I’m having a conversation with my boyfriend – I don’t have a boyfriend, but if I had one – he’s telling me something that happened in his day, but it’s a trigger to me. He could be talking about his day that made him happy, but now I’m pissed because whatever he said influences this moment because it reminded me of something when I was younger.”
Leslie’s desire to learn her characters from every angle also propels her to revisit narratives religiously. An older movie holds more value than a newer movie. As context can alter a conversation between boyfriend and girlfriend, context can alter your perception of your favorite movie. Or your least favorite movie. As you age, you change, and your old movie changes with you.
“So words are just words,” she continues, “until you really realize how influenced they are by all the circumstances that led to this moment in this conversation. That’s why I tend to watch the same things over and over and over. Everyone thinks I’m crazy because I get anxious about new movies and TV shows. It’s like, ‘Ugh, it’s a whole new world, and I’ve not even finished this world yet.’ I know it’s my fifth time watching Grey’s Anatomy, but I feel differently than I felt the first time I watched Izzy do this or George do that. I need to dissect why that happened.”
Revisitation also applies to her own roles. Javicia Leslie lived within Batwoman for 31 episodes and for another five episodes of The Flash. Looking back at her time under the cowl, the actor still marvels at what she could do with the character. Playing an iconic DC Comics figure might feel like a responsibility to some, but not to Leslie. Ryan Wilder was something much more than a duty.
“I don’t know that it feels like that,” says Leslie. “Maybe it should. I have to give you my instinctual response. It feels like an honor. It feels like I got to play superhero, and I got to take on the life of a young black girl in a very dangerous world like Gotham, who stumbles upon the world of the Bat and the accessibility of the Bat and what that comes with.”
Batwoman was like Double Life. She recognized the history behind these roles and those previously allowed to play them and wanted in. Once there, she also understood what it meant for others to see her in that costume.
“The only responsibility was Ryan’s responsibility,” she says. “I didn’t have a responsibility. My responsibility was to have fun. The responsible person is me as Ryan because of the weight of being the Bat, but me as Javicia, no. That was an honor. I got to lose myself in that, and I got to be such a hero and not just a hero in the aspects of I’m that woman, I’m a superhero. Every day on set, there was a kid that would come there, or there was someone that had never been on a set like that before or someone that had never seen a black person in this role before. I got to be that kind of hero. And that was cool. That was fun.”
Javicia Leslie loves being her characters. Nothing is a performance. It’s living. Once the assignment is hers, she takes on the person. Their pains are her pains. Their wins are her wins. Working her way into filmmaking’s other aspects only enhances her ability to live those lives and be those heroes she admired in her youth. She’s already a writer. She’s already a director. You might as well live all the parts on and off the set.
Double Life is now playing in select theaters, digital, and VOD.