LONDON’S LATEST: Lashana Lynch

Lashana Lynch making her entrance at one of the many premieres across the globe for her recent film “Captain Marvel.” Photo by Gareth Cattermole.

Lashana Lynch is having a moment.  She received raves in the recent worldwide hit Captain Marvel in which she co-starred as Maria Rambeau, an Air Force pilot and best friend of the title character played by Brie Larson.  She can next be seen as Agent 355 in the much-anticipated FX series Y: The Last Man.  Producer and writer Shonda Rhimes spotted the actress early on when she cast her as the leading character, Rosaline Capulet,  in the period drama Still Star-Crossed.  Lynch’s stage work in England has included the title character in Educating Rita at the Chichester Festival Theatre and Tybalt – yes, Tybalt – for The National Theatre’s most recent production of Romeo and Juliet.  Last year she was in the acclaimed production of ear for eye at the Royal Court written and directed by debbie tucker green.

I met Lynch for this London Edition of in her Barbican neighborhood to talk about her career, being “wild,” and how a young black woman navigates it all – show business and her art and conversations such as this – with a sense of grace even as she grapples with being representative of more than just herself. 

KEVIN SESSUMS:  We are sitting here in Barbican after the big openings around the world for your new film Captain Marvel.  Are you having postpartum?

LASHANA LYNCH:  I love that: postpartum.  Yes – and no – because it’s been wonderful to hang out with the cast again.  D’y’know what I mean?  You film something and then suddenly you’re away from each other for a long time. You go off and do other jobs.  Play other people.  Get into other people’s brains. Then you’re thrown back together and you get to have fun and talk about it finally. But then you’re separated again. 

KS: And yet that ersatz family aspect is part of what you do for a living.  There is a sense of loss in a way when it is all over.

LL:  Exactly.  Exactly.  And I experience loss with work quite deeply.  I’m from a theatre background so I’m used to creating the family.  D’y’know what I mean?

KS:  Was your character Maria Rambeau from Louisiana in Captain Marvel?  It almost sounds like a voodoo priestess sound to it.

LL:  Okay.  I’ll take it. That make sense for that region.

KS:  I assume the role was written for a black woman.

LL:  Yes.

KS:  Are you aware of the two different kinds of roles that you play – those written for a black person and those not written for.a black person but you are cast in them?

LL:  You can’t not be aware even as a young black performer you always hope to be just an actor amongst other actors and doing a job.  i think the more you grow in your career – well, for me anyway – I do hope to be the black actor who is representing a black woman of our time – or that time when the film or the play is set in – because I always want my characters to be authentic and I want the black community to be proud of who is representing that person for them.  But I don’t like the awareness of it.  I don’t like the awareness of it on set or how much it can stand out sometimes unnecessarily or how much it is talked about unnecessarily.  The only time I love to talk about it is when I’m talking about change, which is what we’re experiencing right now.  Obviously, I do like talking about my character in Captain Marvel being a strong black woman because she represents so many communities I have respected for a long time.  Monica Rambeau is from the comics and, no doubt, she was going to have a black daughter unless she were adopted.  It was a pleasure to be able to represent a strong southern woman, a strong single mother, a female black fighter pilot – which are all very rare superhero qualities that are seen daily, but never really get their spotlight. 

KS:  And was your upcoming role as Secret Service Agent 355 in the FX series Y: The Last Man written for a black person?

LL:  Yes, she was.

KS:  Because when you read about these casting choices, you do have the thought now: Hmm, I wonder if it were written for a black person or they decided to color-blind cast it.  We’ve reached that point – a bit.  More than in the past, at least. 

Lynch photographed by Ryan Pfluger for Marie Claire.

LL:  Right.  Exactly.  And then you hope that people will appreciate it, get over it, and then they can get engrossed in the show and they can get engrossed with that character – or get engrossed in that actor and, in turn, follow their career.    But in this circumstance she is absolutely – and thankfully – written as a black woman.  A southern woman also, actually. 

KS:  What is it about you that makes Americans cast you as southern women?  What makes you seem southern to directors – other than you’re black and these characters have been southern black women? 

LL:  There’s that.  Both my parents are Jamaican.  I’m proudly Jamaican. 

KS:  That’s even more south than The South.

LL:  That’s way, way, waywaywayway south.  But there is a certain way I discovered with my upbringing that Jamaicans hold themselves.  When I come into a room, I’m very present.

KS:  Well, you made an entrance in this cafe.

LL:  Well, there you are.

KS: I didn’t see you at first, but I certainly felt you and, yes, your presence. 

LL: I think one’s energy is highly important, and Jamaicans are people who let themselves be known.  Not necessarily in the most brash way or the most excitable way, but you can feel their presence in the room.  I like people to feel that I am having a positive effect on the room.  I think that’s what southerners do.  Southerners have a charm and a brightness and an air about them that is very light and very family-orientated and very open.

KS. They carry a history with them.  We do.  I’m southern.  There’s no way I can shirk it.  Once southern, always southern. But we carry a heavy history under all that lightness you mention. 

LL:  Oh, my gosh.  Absolutely. 

KS:  Because underneath all that positive energy you are describing is some real dark history.  So it gives a us a little heft to go along with the lightness.

LL.  Yes.  A weight.

KS:  Did you seen the play Nine Night here?   I loved that play. Adored it.  It’s all about Londoners with Jamaican heritage.

LL:  Absolutely.  I took my mum to see that play.   What did you love so about it?

KS:  I’m a theatre nerd so I try to see everything when I’m here in London.  My last trip I got a press ticket to Nine Night at The National before it moved to the West End.   Didn’t know anything about it really.  And it blew me away.  I love when a play invites me into a world I’ve never known before and allows me to inhabit it.  Plus, it was just so well-written and acted and directed.  Most important, I discovered the actress Cecilia Noble in that play.  I became her biggest fanboy.  She’s now in Downstate at The National and is just as brilliant in that in a completely different role.

LL:  I adore that woman.  I love her, too. 

KS:  She’s a great, great actress.

LL:  Yes.  She’s absolutely fabulous.  Honestly, I am so happy for you to comment in that way about something that represented my culture because that is one of the first times since  … well .. .. childhood that I’d seen something that my family or people I know from Jamaica had experienced when it comes to bereavement in the family and what happens and how the family is affected and how the household is affected.  It was really interesting for me and my mum to be nudging each other during it when we saw it together and saying, “That’s Auntie So-and-So and that’s Cousin So-and-So.” 

KS:  But that play goes back to what we were saying about the south and how Jamaica for you connects to southernness.  That play and its characters were so light and funny and had such presence in the room, and yet there was such a dark history running beneath it all that made it turn at the end and hit you in the emotional solar plexus.

LL:  I’m so happy you loved it so much.  My friend Roy Alexander Weise directed it.. 

KS: And we should mention Natasha Gordon, who wrote it.  Let’s give her a shout-out.  I am so glad you agreed to do this interview, Lashana, so I could give you such a richly deserved shout-out too here at  As an editor, I was having trouble finding people of color to be in this special London Edition and it this London iteration was becoming too white.  I wanted – editorially and culturally and even politically – for people of color to be represented.

LL Absolutely.

Lynch photographed by Daria Kobayashi Ritch for Darling magazine.

KS:  I had asked Kwame Kwei-Armah, the new Artistic Director at the Young Vic but never got a response.   I asked Edward Enninful, the Editor in Chief of British Vogue but he had committed to an exclusive with another publication and site.    I asked the artist Anthea Hamilton but she turned me down.   I asked Layton Williams who is now starring in Everybody’s Talking About Jamie but was told he didn’t have the time.  I kept getting thwarted.  So I am grateful for your taking the time to talk to me.  I still haven’t heard from Cecilia Noble.  I put in a request with her but it doesn’t look likely. All that said though,  does that relate to what you said earlier – that you want to represent, but you don’t want to talk about it a lot? 

LL:  I’m definitely not the person at the forefront.  D’y’know what I mean?  I am one of many who have a story to tell and who are representing, thankfully, at this time.  But I am talking about it so much because I’m aiming not to talk about it.  I want everybody to talk about it for us then to shift into a time when it’s not even questioned or mentioned.

KS:  In America we had eight years when we had a black president and we were told we were moving into a post-racial era in which people wouldn’t be talking about race so much.  But as a reaction to that in many ways, we’ve ended up with Trump based on the racist campaign he ran and the racist way he continues to govern in his demonizing of “the other.”  So  keep taking about it, Lashana, because racists never go away.  They just bide their time until they are given agency again, as they have been given it now back in America by a racist president. 

LL:  Absolutely.  I think it is times like that when people get comfortable.  To me, change doesn’t really happen until we’ve had a good ten or fifteen years of something, when it doesn’t come, “Oh, yeah, I have to remind myself that the president is black.”  Or, “Oh, yes, I have to realize there is a black lead in this show.  Okay, let me adjust my brain.”  When it actually isn’t even in your self-consciousness  is, for me, when change has evolved – not when we’re in a time when the general masses have gotten use to this one thing and hoped that other countries will follow suit or other industries will follow suit.  As an example, the conversation, say, about women in this industry or women across the board in other industries.  That is a continued conversation.  The suffragettes were working hard and thought now we can rest and pass the baton down and the next generation can continue our work and it’s going to be great.  And here we are in 2019 still talking about it.  So it makes me question whether concrete change is even going to happen while I am on this earth.  And that makes me scared. 

KS:  I’m 63 and seen so much political and societal and cultural change in my country and here we are: We’ve ended up with Trump right now. 

LL:  This is it.  Things can reverse.  That’s what’s scary. 

KS:  It’s interesting to be in London for all this Brexit controversy.  But even with all the criticism of Prime Minister May, the criticism doesn’t seem to be tinged with sexism as it would be in America where it would be more than just tinged with it.  We have never had a woman leader in America – well, Speaker Pelosi is third in line to the presidency – but we’ve never had a female president.  Here it it is taken for granted.  In Germany, it is taken for granted.  In New Zealand, it is taken for granted.

LL:   But could we have a black man as prime minister?

KS:  Could you?

LL:  For me?  Bring it yesteryear.  I would have been very happy with that.  But I don’t know if the UK would have allowed that to happen.  It is much easier – in my opinion – to have a woman in power in the UK than to have a black person in power. Let’s hope that everything will change.  Let us hope.

Lynch in “ear for eye” written and directed by debbie tucker green at the Royal Court. Photo by Stephen Cummiskey.

KS:  One thing I love about London is how multiethnic it is and seems to be accepted in a way that it is not at this present moment in America.  I know that much of the bluntness, if you will, of the Brexit vote as a blunt instrument, a blunt societal and cultural statement, was based on an anti-immigrant sentiment perhaps.  You had colonialism here and all that has done to thread your national narrative, but you didn’t have slavery in the way we did in America that still informs our national narrative there.

LL:  We did have slavery here.  There was slavery here.  Very deeply.  We had a whole slave trade here that probably the world needs to learn about because I think that is where the ignorance comes in about England having had it easy.  Yes, America is a younger country than the UK, but this country has come with its problems. I feel as if we have just been better at covering it up.

KS:  You just have tea and don’t talk about it.

LL:  Basically.  We literally sip tea and focus on distractions. 

KS:  So you’ve just entered your 30s, right?  You’re 32.   30 – 35 is what I call “prime rib.”  It’s the time of life when the meat is just falling-off-the-bone-prime.  There is an ease.  A kind of grace descends if you’ve done the work.  It’s a delicious part of one’s life.  You’re no longer a child and just becoming an adult, but you’re still hot and have lots of energy.  Prime rib, honey.   

LL:  I am having the best time of my life.

KS:  After 35, it’s all downhill.

LL:  So I better enjoy it while I can?

KS:  Yes.  But with each decade one enters – I’m settling into my 60s, I turned 63 yesterday …

LL:  Happy birthday.

KS:  Thank you.  I think each decade one enters offers one the opportunity for renewal and a way to become newly young.  Trying to figure out a new way to live as one gets older by approaching it in a youthful way in an interesting part of getting older. 

LL:  I think one should do that daily though.  Because there is existing and then there is literally using yourself being alive to change things. 

KS:  Do you think you could ever live in the United States?  Do your agents want you to do that?  You are certainly having a moment right now professionally, so there is that agent-thing of wanting a client to be in the traffic, so to speak.

LL: Some of them do, I’m sure.

KS:  You really are having a big career moment with this movie and this much-anticipated FX series, Y: The Last Man

LL:  I have family in the states.  I enjoy certain states.  I am getting accustomed to certain ways of living there – in terms of personal ways. But I would be moving there as a young black woman who hopes to raise black kids in the future … and .. ummm … well, let’s say it doesn’t fill me with the most comfort knowing that I might have to move there at some point and subject them to such times there, which makes me think that maybe they should be safe somewhere like the UK or the US and then just travel the world like a hippie and give them all the experiences that children should have, which is not a bad way to live, I’d think.  Maybe I will live in the states.  Let’s see.

KS:  You were raised by a single mother.

LL:  I was raised really by both my parents.  I like to say I was raised really by a single mother and a single father.  I am absolutely close to both.  I’m so glad I am because when families separate there is a stigma that everything’s gone wrong and it’s all terrible and what is going to happen to the kids. Whereas for me, I had really supportive parents who enjoyed me going from performing arts to hockey to netball to tennis to ballet.  They gave me the fullest experience I could have as a young inner-city kid.  My mum did an incredible job.  She had three kids who turned out to be very charismatic and funny and ready to change the world in some way.  And my dad was someone – and is someone – I can talk to about the world and about men and what I care about and have a really calm and collected conversation, which for some dads is quite a stretch.

KS:  Are you parents artsy-fartsy?

LL:  No. They are not artsy-fartsy.  My dad did used to be in a reggae band when he was younger.

KS:  You do love music if one judges by our Twitter account and the singers and bands and concerts you highlight.

LL:  Yes. I do.  So my dad used to be in this band and does live vicariously through me from time to time.  We can talk about music, which is beautiful.  I was partly raised by my grandparents and my granddad owned a record shop in Shepherd’s Bush.  I grew up hearing reggae and ska and and blues and jazz and old-school R&B.  My uncles took over that record shop.  We had music continuously in the house.  Oh, and gospel as well.  It was just a part of my family makeup.  My grandmother says I sang before I said my first word.  She’s adamant about that.

KS:  Have you ever been in a musical?  Do you sing?

Lynch at the Canadian premiere of “Captain Marvel.”

LL:  I do.  I was like, “I’m going to finish an EP,” and then acting just took over.  It’s been hard to incorporate the two at the same time.  I was in musicals at drama school.  The usual.  I have been lucky enough to be in productions that found music in certain parts of the piece.  Romeo and Juliet at The National in which I played Tybalt but also wanted to sing as the character and also kind of conducted modern music.  That was a fantastic experience.

KS:  I saw Romeo and Juliet last night at the Royal Ballet but didn’t love it.  I am finally not a story ballet guy.

LL:  I feel you.

KS: I did like the fencing.  I thought they fenced really well for ballet dancers.

LL:  It wasn’t “dancing fencing”?

KS:  No.  Not really.  What was it like playing Tybalt?  I’ve always sort of seen him as a strong black woman.  That’s Tybalt: a strong black woman.

LL. Right.  How could they have not done this before casting me in the part?  I don’t understand.  He’s screaming to be a black woman. 

KS:  Was there some way  they referenced your being a woman in the role?  Or black?  Or did you play it as Tybalt full-out without any references needed?

LL:  There was not a reference.  No.  And that taught me that you don’t have to explain your color onscreen or onstage.  You just be.

KS:  I saw All About Eve the other night at the Noel Coward Theatre and I hadn’t realized that the role of the playwright Lloyd Richards  had been cast with the black actor Rhashan Stone and it was not referenced either in the adaptation done by director Ivo van Hove. Even when I interviewed Gillian Anderson who stars as Margo Channing in the production,  we didn’t even talk about that casting choice.

LL:  I’m so happy about that.   Good.   

KS: It wasn’t even a subject of conversation.

LL:  Why should it be? Someone asked me that question the other day, whether I should be explaining or commenting on my being a black woman onscreen.  I said, “Well, when I leave my house I don’t shout to the rooftops, ‘I’m a black woman!  I’m a black girl!’”  You can see onscreen – it is apparent in Captain Marvel – that I am a black woman raising a black child.  Or: She’s a black Tybalt.  Get over it. Then get involved in the story.  That Shakespeare experience, that National Theatre experience, for me – because it was a half black and half an Asian cast – was amazing.

KS:  The Romeo last night at the Royal Ballet was danced by Ryoichi Hirano and the Juliet was danced by Akane Takada.  They were Asians in families that were not cast with Asians, so that when they saw each other they not only fell in love but each felt seen in a new way in the production.  I did find that resonated in a new way for me.

LL:  Yeeeees.  That’s beautiful.  And necessary. So many writers and producers and directors and heads of companies need to learn by those examples.  Unfortunately, not everyone gets to see theatre or ballet or those subtle changes that are happening right now.  It’s the big changes that most people get to see.  The Captain Marvels and the Ys that people are learning by.  And sometimes people don’t know that there is a black woman who directed Y: The Last Man or that we have a female showrunner or most of the departments are led by women or women of color.  And it doesn’t take a lot to bring those people together.  All you have to do is ask the question. They are either available or not available. 

KS:  Your last two roles were based on comic book characters.  Do you approach such roles differently than those created in other narrative forms?  Comic books to me are rather presentational.  How do you process that through your art as an actor?

LL:  For me, I just have to approach it as a-character-is-just-a-character.  I think it all gets really complicated when you try to emulate something that you’ve seen on the page although it is amazing that you are able to have source material to go by.   With Maria in Captain Marvel, she is mentioned only in a sliver of page in the comic book.   So I had to sit down with the directors and writers and talk about what kind of woman she’s going to be, what kind of black child she is raising, and what about the south is she holding at the forefront of herself because she has moved around a lot.  And how strong is she considering all that has happened to her.  I didn’t go by any comics there.  I just tried to be as true and honest as I could be and approach it in an almost theatrical way because I had to play against a green screen and the big things that are happening around her because Maria is probably one of the most “normal” characters in the film – or, “modern” maybe I should say.  And with Agent 355, I was addicted to those books that  the series is based on.  It was a nice escapism to draw on someone who is written so accurately in the books.   But I also got to speak to a real-life African American female Secret Service agent, which was one of the best times of my life.  First of all, I didn’t know that there were really any black female Secret Service agents out there.  That combination gave me what I needed to create an authentic person.  But finally in no way do I feel like, gosh, I’m creating a character.  They all just feel like people to me.

KS:  I read on your Twitter feed this morning a poem by Nikita Gill called “Girls of the Wild.”  It went like this:  “They won’t tell you fairytales/ of how girls can be dangerous and still win./ They will only tell you stories/ where girls are sweet and kind/ and reject all sin./ I guess to them/ it’s a terrifying thought,/ a red riding hood/ who knew exactly/ what she was doing/ when she invited the wild in.”   Is being in touch with your own “wild” and inviting it into your life  important to you? And how do you balance that “wild” and the focus and calm that one finally has to have when acting – or even being an actress navigating a career with grace in this crazy business?  Are you aware of maintaining that balance? Or am I just talking out of my ass?

LL:  No.  Every question is valid.

KS:  Which is another way of saying, yes, I’m talking about of my ass.

LL:  Oh, what’s a bit of talking out of your ass between friends.  I have been very aware of the different aspects of myself from a very young age.  My aesthetics.  My mind and how differently it works from my peers. My wanting to be a nonconformist at the best and worst of times.  My speaking like an adult quite early on in my teens.  My walking to school by myself at the age of eight and nine. These are all things that truthfully exist in me and it would be a shame for me to try and tame one or the other to fit someone’s mold or to make someone else feel comfortable. For me, now that I’m in my 30s, I quite enjoy making people feel uncomfortable because it makes me feel like I’m probably doing something authentic within myself if you think there is a little bit of a problem.  D’y’know what I mean?  So in terms of being “wild,” there are levels to that word.  It is “wild” for people to wake up at 6 a.m. and go to the gym? For me, that’s absolutely perfect. Is it “wild” for me to stand at the train station with my earplugs in and dancing and singing away and not caring what people are saying.   To Sally on my left, she might think that is absurd and not “English” enough.  Right?  So I don’t enjoy taming any part of myself and, if I am, then it means that I might just have a little bit more growing to do. And then I’ll appreciate that.

KS:   Well, it’s been very “wild” of you to talk to me today.

LL:  No.  It’s not “wild.”  I got an energy from your name.  Because I like to look at people’s names.  I went, “Mmmmm .. yeah … this one looks cool.”  And I came and I was right.  I had a great time.

KS:  I thank you for adding a bit of “wildness” to 

LL:  Well, I’m glad.  If we’re not shaking things up, then why are we living?    I just find politeness and carefulness – and everything above and below – quite boring actually. 

KS:  And yet you can be bored by that and still be filled with grace and navigate the world in a graceful way.  One can gracefully color outside the lines.

LL: One hundred percent.  Listen, I was brought up well.  I was brought up very disciplined.  But I was also brought up to speak my mind. So if you’re brought up well, you know how to respect people.  And if you are brought up to speak your mind, you know how to speak your mind respectfully.  It all comes hand-in-hand. 

KS:  Just like when you said that every question I had for you was valid.

LL:  Of course it is.  You could have tossed me a really bad question but it is my job to pull an answer out of my ass.

KS: Well, that’s an exit line if I’ve ever heard one.  

LL:  Yes.  Perfect.

KS:  Thank you so much, Lashana. 

LL:  You’re welcome.  

  • Kevin Sessums is the author of two New York Times bestselling memoirs, Mississippi Sissy and I Left It on the Mountain.

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