Ahead of the release, Nikyatu and Anna sat down with ETimes to discuss the significance of their new film, the personal stories of struggle and triumph attached to it and getting their debut feature off to a winning start.
Anna, a ‘Quantico’ alumni, also let us in on her ’embarrassing first encounter with Bollywood actress Priyanka Chopra and what it was like working with the desi girl on the hit drama series. Excerpts:
You made your feature film directorial debut with Nanny and it is already off to a winning start. What do you think makes it stand out from other horror films?
It is a different type of horror, especially in the American cinematic paradigm. It’s a lot less paid-by-the-numbers jumpscare horror and more of a social horror. Some people call it elevated horror, folk horror, or a psychological thriller, I think all that is a testament to the fact that it is cross-genre. All of that, in addition to me being a new voice, is helping the film to stand out.
I would be remiss to say that my success was because of my ensemble cast and my collaborators behind the camera. I had a stellar team.
Anna Diop, was this the first horror movie as a leading lady?
I had done a short film, but this was my first lead role in anything in this capacity. Aisha is in almost every single scene of the film.
How did you prep for the role, especially since you have a lot riding on you, and you don’t have too many other actors to play off?
I prepped as I do in any role. I investigated my character, asked all my questions, and tried to find the parallels between her and myself. I have this amazing collaborator and director who answered any and all questions for me. I created a storyboard of myself because she goes through so much emotionally. I colour-coded the scenes based on her emotional experiences because that helped me track everything. We were filming out of order, so I kept my head in the sand and did as much work as I could.
This story has its roots in lore, Nikyatu, what made you want to bring this particular story to the big screen?
There are pieces of both our mother’s stories in this film. I am a first-generation American, my family is from West Africa and my mother is highly educated and highly ambitious and an artist in her own right, but had to put everything aside to access the work that accessed her. The most accessible work for black and brown immigrant women is typically domestic work. So, I always felt that it was below her, as a child I was worried about how she was being treated in these households and who these people were. So that was a springboard, but I knew that I didn’t want to tell a straightforward drama and didn’t want it to feel like a PSA.
The lore happened organically, as an external manifestation of her internal journey. I knew I wanted African diasporic lore. Spider Anansi is the name we call them in my culture, but they are called many different things in many different cultures. But everyone knows the mermaid and the trickster spider. It felt like two of the more visible West-African lore that I could incorporate.
Anna, you starred in Quantico, so I have to ask, what was it like working with Priyanka Chopra?
I worked with Priyanka Chopra, at the time, didn’t realise was as huge of a star back home in India as she is. She is so down to earth! I asked her, her name, which is very embarrassing… because I didn’t know. She was so sweet and she carried herself in a very gorgeous way on set and is also very focused and professional and very talented. It was a pleasure working with her and I hope to run into her again. She’s great.
‘Nanny’ follows Aisha, an immigrant from Senegal, who is hired to care for the daughter of an affluent couple in New York City. Haunted by the absence of the young son she left behind, Aisha hopes her new job will afford her the chance to bring him to the US, but as his arrival approaches, a violent presence begins to invade both her dreams and her reality, threatening the American dream she is painstakingly piecing together.