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:: Spotlight :: Feature interview with Nina Daniels

By: Carmine Pascuzzi

One of the success stories from the recent Sundance Film Festival was the film “Pariah”. Executive produced by Spike Lee, the film is directed by up-and-coming black filmmaker Dee Rees.

The coming-of-age story follows Alike (Adepero Oduye), a lesbian teenager in Brooklyn, as she juggles multiple identities to avoid rejection from friends and family. At one point, Alike’s father (Charles Parnell) gets a glance into his daughter’s world and the homophobic hatred that exists when he watches a young ‘butch’ lesbian (Nina Daniels) suffer verbal taunting because of her masculine appearance. There is a fine young cast and the story received great reviews from its Sundance screenings.

Therefore, while on my trip to Los Angeles, it was a pleasure to be able to meet Nina Daniels, an actress who has featured in several interesting supporting roles, as well as being an on-stage performer in comedy and in theatre. Firstly, I asked Nina for a brief rundown on how she has reached this exciting point in her career.

A. I am originally from New York and moved to Los Angeles two years ago. Things have been pretty incredible since then. I have played cello in a play, done many theatrical performances, though acting is my main artistic talent. I always loved performing yet my parents didn't like that aspect. Because I did well at school they tried to push me down an academic path.

Q. Once you try out acting, it must be a hard thing to not pursue it…

A. Yes, once you get the bug you can't turn away. I've done a lot of stage work, possibly every classical play you can think of. Now it's exciting to move forward into films.

Q. You must have done a lot of Shakespeare…

A. Shakespeare is the base for everything you do. I've done much of it on stage. All you do can be brought back to Shakespeare.

Q. Tell us about appearing in the film Notorious?

A. I appeared in "Notorious”, which details the life and death of rapper Notorious B.I.G. It starred Angela Bassett, Anthony Mackie, and Derek Luke. I did a lot of research into B.I.G. and created this whole character for myself and improvised it. By the improvisation (which I love doing) I got into the film and that was a lot of fun.

Q. Now you set to be even more noticed with “Pariah”. Tell us about Sundance and about setting up the film?

A. Sundance is an amazing festival and we premiered the film there. Everyone responded to it. The opening night was unbelievable. It got a standing ovation there and at every subsequent screening. “Pariah” covers a sensitive topic. The way our director Dee Rees wrote the script and the characters was very smart and intelligent. She was very meticulous and it's an exciting time for the subject matter. You really live the story.

Q. Does it reflect her own situation?

A. Yes, it is semi-autobiographical. It is part of Dee's own experiences with her mother and of coming out.

Q. When you read the script did you immediately think it was right for you?

A. As soon as I read the script I knew it would be something powerful. I knew I could do it and really get involved in it. The casting director is very influential and I put myself on tape for it. I knew it was my job. The producers saw my tape and put me in. I was so excited as I knew it would be a great opportunity.

Q. Tell us about your character?

A. My character (Gina) knows that she is “butch”. It's what makes her different from the main character Alike. Alike is trying to find who she is. That is the premise of the movie. Gina is completely comfortable in her own skin. A major scene takes place at a liquor store. I won't reveal much now, though. She experiences a great deal and the audiences will fall in love with her. It gave me an idea on what an actress really can do. I am able to portray a person and to tell the audience what I am going through.

Q. It must have been immensely satisfying personally and professionally…

A. On a personal level, I was excited to represent a piece of someone. On a professional level, previewing the film at Sundance was terrific. My work in this film put the nail in the coffin for me to be able to show what I can do. Not one person had recognised me in the film as Gina. People were stunned to see how I looked when I later related it to them. I want to be able to continue doing that - playing gritty, meaty roles. It's a real plus for me. Sometimes you get pigeon-holed. But I like to dig deep into a role. The response to my work in this film has been humbling.

Q. Audiences will note a new bunch of actors when they see Pariah…

A. Yes, almost everyone in Pariah is new to the acting scene. It's not often you see that happen collectively. It was great for several of the actresses to work together in a film like this. They showed real talent. You go through history and watch films like The Godfather and Pulp Fiction, and see the ensemble casts where careers were launched. I believe this can happen with Pariah. I'm excited and honoured to have been a part of it.

Q. Who have been some of your film idols?

A. My mum loved old 1940s and 1950s films, plus black and white films. I love Humphrey Bogart, Bette Davis (my all-time favourite), Sidney Poitier, Samuel L Jackson, and Sam Rockwell. In the black and white days, the acting was so broad and appealing to me.

Q. What does the immediate future hold for you?

A. I have another film coming up called “Seven Days Miles” - based on Miles Davis. I get to play an amazing character - a woman who spends time with Miles and actually tries to convince him not to give up his drug habit, when he was trying to kick the habit. Shooting will commence soon. Watch for Arnell Powell as Miles Davis. It's an exciting project.

Focus Features has landed the distribution rights for “Pariah”. There is already Oscar buzz for 2012 about the film.

Nina is pictured right with Charles Parnell - from “Pariah”