Pearl Thusi – Quantico
By: Jamie Steinberg
Q) What are the recent projects that you are working on?
A) I’ve been very consumed with “Quantico.” It’s a lot of work. Usually, I am off on weekends or one day every other week off as well. We work twelve to fourteen hour days, but sometimes I have a shorter day. I usually use it to recover and restore myself for the next day. Otherwise, I have a haircare line in South Africa that I’m busy with. I’m planning to go to South Africa soon to do a photoshoot for that. I’ve got a film coming out in South Africa on the 5th of March. I’m going back to shoot another show there that I’m not ready to talk about yet. It is a Sub-Saharan African Show that I was doing before, but I need to make sure is in line before I speak. I’m busy taking a very long time to write a book. I’m not writing an autobiography like other people. At home, I’m always asked how I do this motherhood thing slash celebrity/actress slash fame thing. I’m kind of sharing my journey. I was a mother at nineteen years old so I’m kind of sharing my journey of being a young woman becoming a young mother and becoming a woman while raising a child at the same time. At home, we have a big issue (as do many other countries) about teenage pregnancy and HIV/AIDS. I want to make sure I do my part to curb that so people have futures that are brighter and also more focused and concentrated. It’s more of having people not having unwanted children. Not to say that my child was unwanted. She has definitely made my future bright. Just sometimes not everyone is strong enough to build themselves up from the situation I was in. I think the book is to share with young women and communities with young mothers in their midst that there is always hope. You are strong enough to survive that; however, it’s not necessary for you put yourself through that when you can find yourself in a situation where you are ready to have a child.
Q How was Dayana originally described to how and how did she evolve to what we see on screen?
A) She was described exactly how the press release came out. She was a Type-A, driven, a lawyer and an African girl that was raised in America for most of her life. A lot of details were sketchy. The scene I even auditioned with I was so touched by. I saw another character performing it and was like, “That’s the thing that made me fall in love with this character! What is this?!” The other actor did an amazing job, too, but this was how I got my job. The way she ended up was a lot more multifaceted and convoluted. I found in a script that I read something I was just not ready for. I think in the last episode Dayana became a bit more three dimensional for most of the audience and the new audience was the first time they met her. There is a history that is still going to unfold, but her conversations with Ryan (Jake McLaughlin) were about her history with torture and her history in her own country. That is still going to be explored. I can’t say too much. I wish I knew a lot of things that I could have prepared for a lot better, but the information I was given was very helpful and incredibly useful to perform Dayana to the best of my ability. But she was a lot darker than I imaged her to be.
Q) What did you add to her that wasn’t originally scripted for you?
A) It was an accident. I am one of those actresses that follow directions as close as possible to what I’m asked to do. But you also have to add your own things in there. For me, if Dayana was a Christmas tree I added little decorations. The core of who she is though was determined by the story. The accent for her was complicated because it has to be convincing enough for everybody to know that she is not really American, but that she spent a lot of time in America. So, it couldn’t purely Sub-Saharan. There are so many accents from the country of Africa, but I had to keep it neutral. It sounds very British because most of us at that part were British colonized. Then, I have to add the “are’s.” Like, “we are here together” – things that for me I have already adopted from hearing people talk around me. As an actor, that comes very natural to me. “Together” instead of “togetha” – as how I would say it. Even in terms of me, I had to think what did I adopt quickly and when I put on my American accent what do I struggle with. Those are the things I had to keep for Dayana. Sometimes I say things in two different ways and I kind of let that go because it happens since you are thinking in two different accents. For me, the little things make the biggest difference. I worked with wardrobe to make it a bit sassier than what it actually is. More than anything, I learned a lot from Dayana so I tired not to add too much, but to take in a lot of what they were giving me and use that so people (especially from South Africa) who know me well don’t recognize me in her clothes, hair and makeup as much as I’m still me. In terms of character, it’s very different. It all comes down to the accent, which really excites me.
Q) What keeps challenging you about playing Dayana? Is it the accent?
A) There are much bigger challenges. Like I said, there is something I found out during the course of shooting that I hadn’t been told before – like it was big surprise. I had to read two books on it to try to understand someone who had been in that situation. I have a lot of loss in my life so I try as much as possible – and it’s impossible for an actor to do this…I had such a dark history with death in my life (that has nothing to do with soldiers and torture by the way), I had to apply that to her history of being a young child in that situation and losing a lot of people that she loves. In the last episode you hear her talk about her sisters and her mother and the soldiers who came to do whatever they did and consequently the situation she ended up in which is going to come out later. For me, that is something that I read about. Those things happened further up north than in South Africa that I had to kind of really, for the first time, empathize with. Especially in South Africa, we exclude ourselves from what happens in the rest of Africa which is really, really bad. I think this role challenged me and it has made me more African. It’s funny that an American show made me more interested in what is happening in the rest of Africa than what I had been before. If anything, it was to empathize with what is happening in the rest of Africa than what I had before. Empathizing more about those kids who are child soldiers and learning more about the country and what is happening and why it is being done to so many people really challenged me to feel and confront the issues that are happening in Africa. I think my personal challenge in moving to America, I brought them too to the character. One of the things she does is struggling to fit in. I’ve had that problem since I was a kid. So, I remembered those emotions of having to fit in when you know so well what you already know and then find yourself in a new situation where you have to start at the bottom and climb your way up. It’s a new challenge and she would never say no to a new challenge, but she wasn’t ready to leave what she was already doing. That is the same with me. I have a very strong career where I come from and now I am here I am a new actress. There are so many new and different challenges that I faced and I think it came through on screen. But the main challenge was the story behind her and what I found out once I got there. The African story is so true in her and in me because of her. I’m very thankful to the character for that.
Q) Who have you enjoyed working with from the cast?
A) It’s really hard for me to say. The people I have worked the most with are Russell Tovey, Priyanka Chopra and Tracy Ifeachor, Blair Underwood. Those are people I have worked closely with and we’ve become like a little family because we’ve spent so much time together. I think it is obvious by my social media that I spend a lot more time with Russell Tovey. It has been an absolute honor for me. It’s been an unbelievable time working with him. It’s an honor for me to work with someone who I have respected for so long like Blair Underwood. Where I am from he is like an acting God. He is so well known and such an experienced and incredible actor. Watching him work in front of my eyes is like a master class every single week day (almost) and is an incredible experience for me. It’s something I never could have dreamt up when I was planning my life last year and the goals that I had. I didn’t think it was possible. I didn’t even imagine it. Then, there he was in front of me and treating me with such kindness and grace and poise. He is so kind with information, advice, time and energy. He’s an incredible human being. For someone of his stature I didn’t expect him to do as much as he did, but he is so giving and kind. I couldn’t thank him enough for everything he said or has done for me. Priyanka is the leader of the show and she has been absolutely incredible and kind as well. She is really kind of a good leader. She is the glue that sticks us all together and I’m very honored to be working with her.
Q) What have been some of your most memorable moments from filming “Quantico?”
A) There are so many! I have never done a proper fight scene before so that is expected. I did my first proper, proper, proper fight scene. There were times when I was an archer and worked with arrows and swords, but that wasn’t a proper physical fight scene. It was more challenging than I’d ever done before and that was quite memorable. I did a fight scene that was, for me…My body was in extreme pain the next day. I never thought pretending to hit someone would be so painful. So, I can imagine what it is like to really do it somebody. That was really, really exciting.
Q) What can you tease is in store for the remainder of the season and with Dayana?
A) We get our scripts sometimes a day before we start shooting that episode because information needs to be economic – even to what is shared with the actors and I have to respect that. But I can tease that you think you know what is happening right now, but you have no idea what is coming. We figure a lot of things out and we figure out who the bad guy is, but then there is worse coming even after that. Specifically, for Dayana, her journey and having to prove herself and validate herself to herself (what happened in her last episode) grows her confidence. She is able to tackle a lot more than having already been tortured, I guess. She becomes very sure of herself. I think in the last episode you see her being tortured and her torturing Owen. All of a sudden, she is more confident because the dark part of her comes out and she allows it and says it’s fine. SO, now she is more confident and willing to go there because she thinks, “This is what I’m meant to do and at least now I think I’m really doing it for good.” And she kind of goes into that and believes in what she is. I think the big question in “Quantico” now is really who is good and who is bad because the very people you loved in last season are the people you are questioning now from the last episode. You don’t know who is good and bad and I think the question is to ask yourself – are you good or are you bad. It makes you question what we believe in and makes you question what you fight for. Sometimes you need to look inside to see if you have that potential or not.
Q) You are a part of social media. Do you enjoy the instant fan feedback you receive to episodes?
A) Yeah, it’s always great to communicate with people who are enjoying our work on screen and to know how they are feeling in the moment. The instant feedback helps you process exactly at the moment as it is happening how people are not just judging your performance, but about the scene. The principal on screen and the chemistry…When you see what they react to versus what you thought they would react to it is very interesting. You learn so much form the audience and what really touches them. So, I’m really enjoying reading more not just from our worldwide audience, but about what touches people around the world from what we do. It truly makes our artistry a lot more validating than what it must have been before from your audience. I also think me being in America right now and doing this show, it is such an incredible time. It is definitely going to be a landmark (if I can call it that) in the history of American with what is happening. For me to be here and doing this type of show at the same time is really special. It’s really daunting. It’s a colorful time in American history right now and I’m happy to be here for it. It’s funny because what we’re tackling right now on the show is happening in American politics, in terms of intelligence. I look at what we’re doing and I look at what is happening and I never thought me (a girl from rural South Africa) would be now reflecting something so pivotal in American history. For me, that is absolutely incredible and I see it on social media. I see it in our script, our producers and in the other actors. The people who are seeing it in India, Germany, France and now in Africa as well are also there and it is amazing to see all these amazing opinions on the work. It really makes me proud and I appreciate it.
Q) Is there anything else you want to be sure fans know about Dayana Mampasi?
A) I think unlike a lot of the other characters who you know what to expect, Dayana has been the character that has been the longest to unravel. She has taken the longest to open up and unravel on screen. That should be quite telling and I think for me…Obviously, I love Dayana because I play her, but she is special and complicated and a lot of people are upset about what she did the last episode to Leon (Aaron Diaz). So, going into the next couple of episodes there is a lot you are going to learn about Dayana and the sacrifices she is willing to make for the people she loves. Sometimes she does it without permission. Sometimes she does it because she is a lawyer and she has to be convinced. Her conviction drives her with her decisions and the decisions she makes for other people because other peoples’ lives depend on her work. I think about those things. When she is convinced about something and decides she’ll make a decision, even if it is going to hurt the other person it is okay as long as she thinks she is protecting him. Even for her, it is okay as long she is protecting America who has created this amazing cocoon that has protected her from her history – a place she was able to forget a lot of what she has gone through. She is here to protect America and the people she loves because that is something she struggled doing before. That’s why she is a lawyer – to protect other people. People should keep that in mind as the episodes roll on and continue.