Teyana Taylor is an Atlantan with many talents.
At age 15, she was a choreographer for Beyoncé. By age 17, she had a record deal and a minor hit single “Google Me.” She acted in a Tyler Perry film, a VH1 scripted series and Eddie Murphy’s “Coming 2 America.” She helmed her own reality series last year on E! with her husband and former NBA star Iman Shumpert. She won “The Masked Singer” in May 2022 as the Firefly.
But now Taylor is taking a major step forward in terms of prestige by tackling a serious lead role in the grounded and gritty film “A Thousand and One” that recently won a prestigious Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize for best domestic drama. It arrives in movie theaters Friday, March 31.
Taylor plays Inez de la Paz, a feisty young single mom and former foster kid in Harlem, New York City, in 1994. Inez at the start of the film has just gotten out of Rikers Island jail and is trying to piece her life back together while facing numerous financial and personal challenges. Her unhappy son Terry is now in foster care.
On a whim, she kidnaps her six year old, promises him that she’ll be there for him from now on, places him in a school under a new name and convinces on-again, off-again boyfriend Lucky to join her on this escapade. In the end, she tries to create a structured family life she never had herself.
The story spans more than a decade as her son blossoms into a warily bright teenager against the backdrop of a Harlem neighborhood facing gentrification, patronizing (and often rapacious) landlords and Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s questionable “stop and frisk” policing policies.
Taylor seemed tailor-made for the role. She was a young child growing up in Harlem during the time frame screenwriter and film-maker A.V. Rockwell covered in the movie.
“I consider this my big introduction,” said Taylor, now 32 with two young children of her own, in an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution last week at the Four Seasons to promote the movie. “Everything I’ve done up to this point has been funny. This is my first real serious role.”
Taylor said while she was playing Inez in 2021, she was grappling with her own post-partum depression and losing loved ones in Harlem in her real life while shooting the fictional movie at the same time.
“It was easy to channel those emotions into Inez,” Taylor said. “I attended funerals during my lunch breaks. I took my pain and grief onto the set. Then I had to go home and be super mom for two kids. That was hard, too.”
She did enjoy the challenge of acting with three different boys playing her son Terry at different ages. “I’m already a mom and I naturally bonded with all of them,” she said. “I treated it like I had three sons rather than just a single Terry.”
While she is used to critiques about her life’s choices from random folks on social media (she has 16.1 million Instagram followers), she has been surprised by the feedback so far regarding “A Thousand and One” including a 100% rating from critics on Rotten Tomatoes.
“That was what I was most nervous about,” she said. “My team told me not to read the reviews. But I read the reviews. And it was all positive.”
She said she watched the film the first time being self critical but also tried to learn something about herself and her acting choices, admiring the moments when she did things better than she expected. The second time around, she said she was able to step back and better enjoy the movie like a regular person.
Credit: Courtesy of Aaron Ricketts/Focus
Credit: Courtesy of Aaron Ricketts/Focus
In the end, she said she grew to love her character and the tight bond she had with her son. She is open to playing Inez again.
“If we wanted to do a sequel,” Taylor said, “there’s enough there to see where life takes them both.”
Taylor herself moved to Atlanta more than 15 years ago from New York City and has no desire to leave: “I love it here. It’s about Black excellence. There’s so much love and soul here. And of course, the food is amazing.”
IF YOU GO
“A Thousand and One,” in metro Atlanta movie theaters Friday, March 31
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