Out this weekend: a new song from Lady Gaga and Ariana Grande, a new film starring Mary J. Blige and season two of “Homecoming” with Janelle Monae.
Janelle Monae is many things: an eight-time Grammy nominee, LGBTQ icon and breakthrough actress seen in “Moonlight,” “Hidden Figures” and “Harriet.”
But one thing she’s not, is inspired.
In quarantine, “I haven’t been working on music,” Monae says by phone earlier this week. “Music is so rooted in the reality I lived in pre-pandemic and I’m still trying to grasp this new reality. But hopefully soon I can start.”
Instead, she’s been finding comfort in DJ-ing, the new season of HBO’s “Insecure” and Megan Thee Stallion’s “Savage” remix with Beyonce. She’s also been working overtime promoting Season 2 of Amazon’s “Homecoming” (streaming Friday), taking the reins from Julia Roberts, who starred in the first season of the psychological thriller. (Roberts remains an executive producer on the show.)
More: What to stream this weekend: Netflix romantic comedy ‘The Lovebirds,’ Mary J. Blige’s ‘Body Cam’
The latest installment opens with a military veteran named Jackie (Monae), who wakes up in a canoe floating in the middle of a lake. She can’t remember how she got there or even who she is, and frantically searches for answers over the season’s seven episodes, which bring back characters played by Hong Chau and Stephan James and expands on the government conspiracy mystery of Season 1.
Singer/actress Janelle Monae joins the second season of Amazon’s “Homecoming,” based on the hit podcast and executive produced by Sam Esmail (“Mr. Robot”). (Photo: Ali Goldstein/Amazon Studios)
Monae, 34, talks to USA TODAY about the series, playing a queer heroine and why she idolizes the late Little Richard.
Question: You recently said that when you first read Season 2 of “Homecoming,” you could see other great actors playing Jackie. What did you think you could uniquely bring to the table?
Janelle Monae: Well, I don’t think anybody could’ve played the role like me, but it wasn’t specifically written for a black woman. For the first time, I got a script and it didn’t say “African American” or “black.” So I got an opportunity – because I am black – to bring my experience to the role, and I got an opportunity to play around. I watched a lot of films (and TV) to get prepared: Olivia Pope in “Scandal,” “Memento,” “The Bourne Identity,” “Before I Go to Sleep” with Nicole Kidman. A lot of those films dealt with memory loss and I needed to decide how I was going to play Jackie.
Q: Was your character’s queerness already in the script?
Monae: Yes, it did specify that she was queer and I was really excited about that.
Q: What did it mean to you to get to depict a loving, supportive but also very complicated relationship between Jackie and another woman?
Monae: I always am a big believer in representation. And when you think about screen time – especially black queer women and queer women in general leading television shows – we’re still in the minority. So it was just an opportunity to show a different side of love: the ups and downs, the highs and lows. The journey these characters take and what they go through, we haven’t necessarily seen in a television show to date.
Q: Through this show, you’ve also said you hope to start a conversation about how we treat returning veterans. Why is that important to you?
Monae: My stepfather served in the military and I have friends (whose family members also) have. PTSD is a real diagnosis, and I don’t think we put enough money and care into our mental-health facilities, especially to support our vets. This show follows the journey of multiple people who are dealing with that, and my heart breaks at the thought of anyone suffering memory loss and PTSD, by way of serving this country.
Q: The upcoming release of your horror film, “Antebellum,” was pushed back from April to August 21 due to coronavirus. Why should it be seen in a theater, as opposed to VOD or streaming?
Monae: I know it’s super important to the directors who wrote the script and I agree. I think it’s better seeing it on a large screen in a theater with people. I’m being optimistic about it, but I’m just hoping that by August 21st, we can safely enjoy that. But my No. 1 priority is just making sure people are safe. So whatever needs to happen to ensure the health and well-being of of humans who are dealing with this pandemic, that comes first.
Q: You played a live-streamed concert from your house a few weeks ago. What have you learned about yourself as a performer during this time?
Monae: You just gotta get creative. I performed with the mannequins in my home and I just made them the band. And I love it. I think it’s stretching us to to remain creative and to learn to do without so much; bring it back down to the basics. This is also allowing us an opportunity to see what we are made of. We rely on people and it will be the people that will get us through this pandemic: all our essential workers, from the nurses, the doctors, those delivering our food, the post-office workers, the custodians, the scientists. It’ll be humanity that saves us – it won’t be this administration. And I hope once we get through this, we will remember who those real heroes are.
Q: Earlier this month, you paid tribute to rock ‘n’ roll pioneer Little Richard on Twitter after he passed. Did you ever get a chance to meet him?
Monae: I didn’t get an opportunity to meet him, but I’ve always felt he was part of my DNA. As sad as it is that he is not with us, I think those of us who are out and proud and want to remain innovative and artistic, we’ll look to him because he is the blueprint. He is rock ‘n’ roll. He paved the way for all of us, and he was outspoken about it. He was confident during an era where people were not receptive of him and his gifts because of his presentation or the color of his skin. So I think for me, I’m just going to help keep his legacy living on by striving for excellence in all that I do and speaking his name whenever I can, to uplift myself and others around me.
Little Richard: Statue of icon to be erected outside ‘Tutti Frutti’ singer’s childhood home in Georgia
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