Wunmi Mosaku: 'Alice, Darling has the power to change a person'
Mosaku stars alongside Anna Kendrick and Kaniehtiio Horn in the hard-hitting film from first-time feature director Mary Nighy.
Wunmi Mosaku's career has gone from strength to strength in recent years. After winning a BAFTA TV Award for Best Supporting Actress back in 2016 (for her role in the BBC One TV film Damilola, Our Loved Boy) she's gone on to appear in a string of well-received TV shows, including key roles in the likes of Lovecraft Country, Luther, and Loki. She's also starred in a wide range of interesting films from Remi Weekes' terrific haunted house horror His House to Phyllis Nagy's abortion drama Call Jane, the latter of which gave her the "mind-blowing" experience of working with Sigourney Weaver.
For her latest role, Mosaku stars alongside Anna Kendrick and Kaniehtiio Horn in Alice, Darling – which is now available to own digitally in the UK following a limited theatrical run. The film is directed by first-time feature director Mary Nighy and chronicles a holiday between three close female friends during which it quickly emerges that the title character (Kendrick) has been living through a psychologically abusive relationship.
It was a script that instantly appealed to Mosaku, who explains to RadioTimes.com that she has a particular interest in film and TV projects that have the ability to dramatically alter the way audience members think about certain subjects.
"Any story that changes a person internally is something that interests me," she says during an exclusive interview. "To go into a movie or a TV show with one idea, and then coming up at the end with another idea or revelation, or deeper understanding, that is something that really appeals to me when I read a script."
She goes on to give an example of the kind of project she herself has watched that gave her a new perspective on something, one that wasn't far from her mind when she first came across Alanna Francis's script for Alice, Darling: a documentary about the Serbian conceptual artist Marina Abramovic. One work that featured prominently in the documentary was the artist's 1974 performance art piece Rhythm 0, in which she sat in a room with a table containing 72 objects including a feather, a pen, a bullet, a knife, and a gun.
Throughout the six-hour piece, audience members were given permission to come in and do whatever they wanted to her with those objects – and having started the piece sitting on a chair fully clothed, by the end she was stripped naked, with one audience member having carved into her body, and another having loaded the gun and attempted to have her pull the trigger.
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"That little moment in the documentary has stayed with me so clearly because that's how I see any relationship," Mosaku explains. "You give people all the tools – the things that can make you laugh, smile, send you to sleep, or the things that can literally kill you and make you cry and make you feel belittled. So I always think about that experiment as like relationships, because first of all, you have to be careful who you invite into a room, and what you put on the table.
"And that was just a documentary and that has really, really changed me and how I interact with the world. And when I read this script, all I could think of was: careful who you invite into that room and what you put on that table. Because that is a relationship – it's being vulnerable and trusting. And you just need to make sure that they're the right people with the right tools."
Another thing that particularly struck Mosaku about the script for the new film was that rather than focusing on the abuse itself, it instead hinged on the effect this abuse had on the character's other intimate relationships – particularly those with her close friends. She believes this might make the movie more likely to resonate with viewers who might be going through something similar to the central character, looking at how "her spirit is broken and her relationships are suffering." She also thinks a lot of viewers – especially women – will find it very easy to recognise and relate to the central friendship.
"I think friends know," she says. "Friends know probably quicker than family knows sometimes, if someone's not themselves or something's changed. And I think you can tell from the first scene that Alice doesn't come out as much, that we have to persuade her to come – we have to do everything to make sure that she just comes on the trip. You can tell from the script that her and Tess's [Horn's character] relationship is strained and that Sophie [Mosaku's character] is in between the two of them, kind of seeing them both and having sympathy and empathy for both of them.
"I've been in that situation before, I know that friend – in all my friendship circles you could spot that person, that middleman. And these women turning 30 who have a friend who's in an abusive relationship – I feel like most women would be able to identify with that scenario, someone who has changed not for the better because of a relationship. And so I just really understood her, I understood the situation, I know the situation. And she just felt like someone I knew."
Perhaps the most effective aspect of the film is just how believable Alive, Sophie, and Tess are as a friendship group. The way in which the three main cast members interact with each other feels incredibly natural, and Mosaku credits this partly to the unusually large amount of time they were able to spend in each other's company before they started shooting – a beneficial but unintended consequence of shooting during the lockdown.
"We were filming in the pandemic," she says. "We had a two-week quarantine in Canada, and in those two weeks we all lived next door to each other. And at a social distance we just got to know each other. We had two weeks of not being able to do anything but get to know each other and talk about the film, talk about ourselves, talk about our relationships – our past relationships, our platonic relationships. And we just got to rehearse really, it was a really cool way to start the shoot."
The dynamic was also helped further by director Nighy – daughter of actor Bill – who Mosaku claims did not seem like a first-time feature filmmaker.
"Mary was really... I want to say gentle," she explains. "Her approach is definitely gentle, but she knows what she wants, so I felt very confident in how she would talk you through everything. If it was a different perspective or a different way to play something, she would talk through it and we would have time to really see if there was something else to find in the scene."
Although in many ways the film is heavy hitting, there were some parts that Mosaku had a great time filming – especially the sections of the film where Alice "was kind of herself again." She says she enjoyed any scenes in which she didn't need "to play dread underneath that we all feel" and could focus simply on drinking at a bar or swimming in a pool. But ultimately it's the more involved, serious parts of the film that she reckons will live with her – and audience members – the longest.
"I think the part of the script that really stood out to me was the scenes with Alice when we're sat on the door and she's like, 'Where do I put my shame?'" she explains. "That just really hit me. I just thought that was really powerful. And also when she says, 'what are the chances?' And just knowing internally that there is this dread of like, how far could this go?
"I don't know what the stats are in Canada or America, but in the UK pre-pandemic, two women a week were killed at the hands of a partner or ex-partner. So that line. 'What are the chances?' – that thought being at the back of your mind every single day just fills me with dread, that someone is living with that real fear that it could be the worst it could be."
Alice, Darling is in select UK cinemas, and available to own digitally from 10th February. Check out our TV Guide or Streaming Guide to see what's on, or visit our Film hub for more news and features.