Nicole Beharie knows good things come in small packages. Take, for instance, her affinity for intriguing anthology storytelling. There is the “Striking Vipers” episode of Black Mirror, in which she plays a woman whose marriage is put to the test when her husband begins exploring his sexuality through a virtual reality game; Monsterland, Hulu’s collection of one-off horror stories, where she took on the role of a socialite grappling with the haunted realities of her seemingly idyllic life; and now Solos, the seven-part Amazon Prime series that explores the human experience through various instances of isolation. “I love that you get to make these mini movies with different creative and brilliant people,” Beharie tells me over a Zoom call in late April. With a run time of about 20 minutes, each Solos episode offers a glimpse into a different person’s life in the not-so-distant future and what they might be going through alone. It’s a thinker with unexpected twists and turns and an all-star cast, featuring Beharie, Anne Hathaway, Helen Mirren, and Uzo Aduba, to name a few. After over a year in quarantine, the subject matter couldn’t be more timely.
Beharie herself was settling into her quarantine life when creator David Weil came to her with the idea for the project. She had just completed press for the film Miss Juneteenth, for which she won the Gotham Award for Best Actress, and the pandemic was in full swing. She had her hesitations about filming, but when she read the material and heard who was attached to write and direct the episode (Stacy Osei-Kuffour and Tiffany Johnson, respectively), she jumped at the opportunity. “I was like, ‘Wow, there’s going to be these three black women involved for Amazon. That could be really interesting,’” she recalled of the early conversations surrounding the project. It’s also worth noting that Shiona Turini (Insecure, Queen & Slim) is the show’s costume designer—yet another reason to tune in. Beharie’s episode took only two and a half days to film and is a jaw-dropping take on the relationship between mother and child.
With all seven episodes hitting the streamer today, I caught up with Beharie to chat about the inspiration for her character Nera, the music trick that got her through lockdown, and being a moody dresser (her words, not mine).
Photo:Nicole Beharie for Who What Wear
Solos is a seven-part series exploring the deeper meaning of human connection through the individual lens. How did you come across this unique project?
I was in the middle of this pandemic, and I didn’t know if I was ready to get out or what shooting was going to look like. I had spoken with David [Weil], the showrunner and creator, and he said, “Everyone’s doing an episode, and it’s loosely about the experience we’re all having of isolation and being alone, and it’s like a slice of life of what someone could potentially be going through alone.” In my case, my character Nera is giving birth, and I was like, “Well that sounds interesting. That’s pretty crazy.” Cut to reading it and being like, “Okay, there’s a lot going on here.” Having that conversation [with David Weil] and then finding out that it was written by Stacy Osei-Kuffour and being such a fan of her work in the theater and film and television and this new—not new, but new to me—writer/director Tiffany Johnson, I was like, “Wow, there’s going to be these three black women involved for Amazon. That could be really interesting.” That’s also before I knew who the rest of the cast was! Then, because of COVID, we ended up shooting in two and a half days. It was an adventure. It was a really wonderful journey and a fun exploration. There are so many themes in the script speaking to the world we are living in with the vaccines and the medical system—in terms of being a person of color in maybe the wrong place and the wrong time—and things you had planned meticulously going awry, which I think is [the case] for everyone right now. You can watch it, and at first glance, it feels like, oh, it’s these weird performance pieces, but there are some pretty amazing themes that they managed to get into this little thing.
What do you love about an anthology series like Solos as both an actor and a viewer?
Oh, I did Black Mirror. I did Hulu’s Monsterland as well. I love it. We all have less of an attention span because there is so much information and so much to watch, so it’s nice not to have to make a huge commitment. It’s nice to just drop in and get a taste of a different world but still know thematically what you might be getting. I love that. I also love that you get to make these mini movies with different creative and brilliant people. And also, you are not married to anything. So if you don’t love it as an audience member or even the creative, you get to move on! I actually love watching them, too. I like to be surprised. I’m looking forward to seeing not just my own but the other episodes, too. I know that the worlds are all about isolation, and it all takes place in this not-so-distant future, but that can mean a lot of different things.
Photo:Nicole Beharie for Who What Wear
In your episode, you play a woman named Nera who is expecting her first child. Even though we are only getting a glimpse of one day of her life, the set design does a fantastic job revealing to the viewer that this is something she has been planning for a while. What kind of prep did you do to get in the mindset of Nera?
I know some women who have gone through IVF, and I’ve seen their dedication and their resilience, and some of them had partners, and some of them did not. Either way, it takes a massive toll. There is so much planning with being so intentional about wanting that connection, wanting to bring a child into the world. It’s also extremely expensive. I wanted to lean into that experience and what I knew from them. I spoke to quite a few people who had done [IVF]. But because this takes such a turn, I don’t want to say it’s for them because they will be like, “What?! What are you talking about? That’s crazy.” That was some of the research I did and some of what I wanted to explore. I’m also really fascinated by home-birth videos and seeing this amazing act that we all, literally all as human beings on this planet, went through the same portal to get here. That is crazy to me that it’s so dangerous and so miraculous and also so mundane at the same time, that it’s constantly happening. Every second, someone else is being born, so I wanted to explore that. I was thinking about how rare it is to see what happens with women’s bodies on camera other than the sexual act. So just exploring different ways of the wonders and horrors of our bodies.
Each episode showcases a moment of isolation for a different person, which feels particularly timely with what we all have been experiencing during this global pandemic. How have you personally been dealing with any feelings of isolation or loneliness?
Thank you for that question. We do have to focus on that, especially in moments like now with the constant inundation of bad news and all the terror that is happening around us. All of the FaceTime calls with friends and the dinner dates online, I had never done anything like that. There were people who live far away, and it’s always been, “Well, when I come visit you…,” but now that the option isn’t there, it’s like, “Hey, why don’t we do this dinner date?” I love music, and there has been a lot of dancing. Dancing at the house and dancing with family. I started gardening a lot more. I already had a green thumb and lots of plants, but this was the first time I was really able to watch everything happen. You are literally there watching that bad boy come out of the ground. And then, I also had the pleasure of cooking more. So that’s been really amazing.
And seeing—this echoes back to the episode—the resilience of people. I think we were all like, “How are we going to get through this? How do I navigate grocery stores?” All of these little things, and now, here we are. We are still pushing through and still managing our relationships, our marriages, our careers. It’s still not over, but I feel like I am stronger and different than I was a year ago, hopefully for the better. But yeah, lots of music and maybe way too much TV. A lot more TV than I have ever watched in my life. But it’s actually fun.
Photo:Nicole Beharie for Who What Wear
You mention music. Who are some of the artists getting you through this time?
I’m listening to Moses Sumney, John Coltrane, Joni Mitchell. I’m listening to this group called Hiatus Kaiyote. I’m kind of all over the place. I was on a kick for a while of just ’90s hip-hop and R&B because I read this thing. They did this experiment at an elderly home where they had them go to a party that was themed around the time period that they would have been in their heyday. They tested their blood and agility beforehand and then took them to this party and dressed them up for the times and put on their old favorite songs. The people were more mobile and had all this energy, and they ran the same physical tests, and everyone had more than 60% improvement. I was like, “Wow, can you imagine?” And this was when things were really rough with the protests and at the height of coronavirus. So I got into this ’90s kick, and I actually felt a difference. It’s really interesting, the power of the mind and suggestion. I’m going to do it again.
I want to talk a little about fashion. What would you say is a Nicole Beharie style signature?
I am a moody dresser, but I do have a utilitarian thing about me. I think a lot of my friends know me for either being in a carpenter onesie or something super flowy or high-waisted tight jeans and a tight shirt. It’s literally the same staples. I love a comfortable shoe that also has a heel. Alaïa has some that are super high, but they have a nice little grip on the bottom, and you can actually dance around on them all day. So those are my go-tos. I do like a waist cinching, though, because I’m short, and I can look a little squoosh—like, Where’s the middle? Right now, I have on some bohemian massive joggers and this Mediterranean shirt thing. It’s all black, so it doesn’t look like anything, but I could tuck it in and put on some earrings, and it would be a look.
Photo:Nicole Beharie for Who What Wear
I love that you describe yourself as a moody dresser. Can you elaborate?
If I’m in a bad mood, I’m going to look like I’m in a bad mood, but with some edge. But then other days, I will have on a big bright-orange jumpsuit. There is this brand called Bonne. They literally make jumpers, and I’ve bought some of them in lavender and orange.
You called out your height. Having worked with experts in styling and costume design throughout your career, what are some good tips you’ve learned for shorter women?
You just have to tailor. I was in a smaller-budget movie, and my character was someone who had money, and they kept pulling these suits and dresses, and I was like, “Nothing fits right. It looks crazy. It’s not the same as when you buy a properly made dress.” One of the dressers was like, “I know a tailor, and he can do anything,” so we were like, “Okay, let’s give it a go.” You look like a gazillion dollars if it’s tailored to your body properly. So that’s a big secret, especially if you are petite or curvy. Get a size a little bit bigger and then have it tailored to your body. And not being afraid of color. Color is great. If you are ever feeling bloated or whatever, just put on a big, bright something and you are good to go.
Solos is now streaming on Amazon Prime.