Teyana Taylor Has Embraced Her Most Dramatic Role Yet


There's an old adage that feels more timely than ever: "Those who tell the stories rule society." Throughout history, narratives have been wielded to oppress marginalized communities by chipping away at their humanity and the truth. Even today, we are still collectively fighting against the long-ingrained whitewashing of history. But despite this fact, we can't deny the immense strides we've seen over the past few years, especially in Hollywood. A legion of creatives has led the charge in shifting how we tell our stories through films, a recent example being the critically acclaimed Focus Features project titled A Thousand and One

Released last weekend, the project was the brainchild of rising Black screenwriter and director A.V. Rockwell. The drama follows the life of a formerly incarcerated mother named Inez de la Paz (played by Teyana Taylor) who decides to kidnap her own child after being forcibly separated by the foster care system. It's a story that centers a Black woman's story, and it depicts the everyday struggles that Black mothers face. The project is a prime example of how the act of storytelling has been given back to the people whose stories are being told.

And who better to embody a story of transformation and motherhood than Harlem's very own Teyana Taylor? The New York native is no stranger to change, as her entire career has been in a constant state of evolution. She's gone from choreographing some of the most popular music videos (including Beyoncé's "Ring the Alarm") to dominating the Billboard charts with her buzzy R&B albums to cementing herself as a style icon. But her first-ever leading acting role is, by far, her biggest switch-up yet. Taylor's ability to transform on a personal level is deeply felt through her portrayal of Inez in the decade-long plotline of the filmNot every actor can empathize with, much less portray, the evolution of a mother as she grapples with childcare, poverty, police brutality, abuse, and gentrification, yet Taylor does it magnificently.

Her ability to ground the story in truth through her acting and lived experiences is what has made her someone to watch—quite literally. This is why we jumped at the chance to speak with her about the project. Ahead, you'll hear from Taylor herself about what it was like to work on this project, how its elevated her craft, and what she hopes viewers take away from it.


(Image credit: Nina Westervelt for Variety via Getty Images; Rob Kim/Getty Images)

Thank you so much for making time to speak with us. We'd love just to hop right in. You're doing press tours now for your leading role in the film A Thousand and One. Can you tell us a little bit about what drew you to this project? 

The moment I read the synopsis and even just the little bit of information I had heard about the character [Inez], I was immediately drawn to her. Her spirit spoke to mine. So from my introduction to the project, I treated it as if it was my story to lose rather than treating it like a regular audition. 

Without giving away too much, this project follows your character Inez, a former orphan who is grappling with the challenges of motherhood, incarceration, and poverty. As a mother, how, if at all, did your own experiences inform how you approached this role?

It's crazy because there were a lot of feelings and emotions that I was dealing with just in my life at that point that drew me to Inez's story. I feel like Inez was an outlet for me to be able just to let out all the tears, whether it was from things that happened to me earlier on in life or the things that were happening in my life at that time of the project. So I think that Inez was an outlet for me to cry for her but to cry for myself and all the women in my life and women in general. When we began filming, I was dealing with a lot. I was six months postpartum and having to grapple with the death of loved ones while still trying to raise a newborn and 6-year-old. In all the little quiet battles that I was dealing with, this film was my outlet, so I'm very grateful for that. In a way, the film was emotional, but it was also therapeutic. 

You've been in the entertainment industry for some time, but this project it's arguably one of your largest drama roles yet. For you, were there parts of the film that were challenging? Or are there things that you learned through the process that you feel elevated your craft as an actor?

I think the whole experience elevated my craft as an actor because this was the first leading role that I had been number one on a call sheet and carrying the film on my back, so that in and of itself was a lot. But it was the work that I was ready to do. It was what I had prayed for, and I had got it, so I did everything I had to do to step into this role fully. I think it was easy to channel all the emotions for the film because I was already there.

The most difficult part was honoring the different mental states of Inez, from who she was as a 22-year-old to who she was when she was 35 years old. The film follows almost a decade of her entire life, and that was tough. One day, I would have to portray a defeated Inez, and then the day after that, I would have to evoke Inez's inner child, and then I'd have to switch to show her being in a finally stable place. Having to balance all of those different emotions to show her moving through the motions and display how she's evolved as a character in different eras in her life was a great challenge for sure. 

Your performance shows the humanity of that character. It also shines a light on the experiences and injustices that many foster children, mothers, and people of color face in this world. Is there one lesson you hope viewers glean from your role in this film? 

Well, man, I hope you know it opens the eyes of the young'uns to see how moms are superheroes and to be aware of the struggles and sacrifices we make. So much of the work surrounding raising children (whether they're single mothers or even mothers with partners) falls on the mothers—you hear me? And I think Inez's story shows mothers everywhere that it's okay to stand in your truth and embrace your strength, and you shouldn't let anyone manipulate you into minimizing yourself. It's also a reminder that you can give love to others, but you also have to give it to yourself. It's okay to be a little selfish because you can't be out here spreading yourself so thin that you have nothing left for yourself. Do you know? I'm saying that it's a reminder always to make sure you make room for yourself before you make room for anybody else.

One of the things that we feel this film hones in on is precisely what you're saying: We don't take time to refill our own wells. And one way we think people can do that is by being in a community with others who empower them. Even for this project, there are so many incredible creative women behind the scenes, so what was it like for you to work with them to hone in on that message and bring this project to life? 

I mean, it was amazing. From Lena Waithe [the producer] to A.V. Rockwell [ the director] to me, it was just three Black women getting it. And we really tapped into that sisterhood through the project to bring Inez's story to the screen. It was a genuine form of empowerment and uplifting of one another that I'm so grateful for.


(Image credit: Courtesy of Focus Features)

The entire production team was very intentional about not only researching the plausibility of the film's plotline but also ensuring they paid homage to the surroundings of Harlem. As someone who grew up in Harlem, what does it mean to be a part of a project that highlights your community? 

It meant the world to me. One of the major pluses of the project… When I saw the synopsis and the fact it would be filmed in Harlem, I was like, "Oh yeah, this is mine." It felt amazing to go back home to a warm and genuine welcome and be able to be back for this project. And it was also fascinating to see how much the neighborhood had changed over the years because I've had a salon out there and have always been back and forth. But still, to be there on set and see how the art department could completely dress up a building to look like how we used to look in the '90s and '00s, that shit felt good. Living a little bit in how it used to be like [and seeing] it again before it changed for a little bit was special. 

We can only imagine how special that was, especially considering how much generification has changed so many boroughs in New York. One of the other things that's beautiful about this film is that, in addition to honoring how the city used to look, it feels like the costumes, hair, and makeup reflect the community. What was it like to work with the costume and makeup departments for this film? Was it a collaborative effort? 

Oh yeah, absolutely. Everything was a collaborative effort. And I think that that's what made it dope. … Some of us came from different eras, and some of us came from different places, but we all came together to, you know, make that happen and create Inez. 

We'll finish with one more question. Obviously, you've spent your career being a multi-hyphenate creative—from working in music to fashion to films. Now that this film has come out, how do you hope to continue to push yourself forward, and how do you hope people perceive this project through the wider lens of your career? 

I hope to push myself by remaining a student—always being willing to learn and take in new things and, most importantly, taking accountability for my continued growth. I think that's the most important thing because I still have much more work to do. A Thousand and One is my first big film where I've been able to show people what I can do. It's already been an incredible learning experience to be able to go back and watch myself and be like, "Okay, wow, this was really dope" or "This is how I want to improve my craft."

I'm always working on how to be a better version of myself, whether as a singer, an actress, a mom, a wife, or who I am as a person in general. And hopefully, that's what reads through my portrayal of Inez as well. Look where her character came from: She was a young 22-year-old scamming girl to where she ends up at the end of the film. In that role and in my life, it's all about evolving. And I hope people take away from this project and my career in general that change is essential. We're all still learning, and it's important that we take accountability for our life and become okay with that evolution. We're in charge of our own stories. 

Next up, From Yellowjackets to The Boogeyman, Sophie Thatcher Finds Her Dark Side

Opening Image: Leon Bennett/FilmMagic

Jasmine Fox-Suliaman

Jasmine Fox-Suliaman is a fashion editor living in New York City. What began as a hobby (blogging on Tumblr) transformed into a career dedicated to storytelling through various forms of digital media. She started her career at the print publication 303 Magazine, where she wrote stories, helped produce photo shoots, and planned Denver Fashion Week. After moving to Los Angeles, she worked as MyDomaine's social media editor until she was promoted to work across all of Clique's publications (MyDomaine, Byrdie, and Who What Wear) as the community manager. Over the past few years, Jasmine has worked on Who What Wear's editorial team, using her extensive background to champion rising BIPOC designers, weigh in on viral trends, and profile stars such as Janet Mock and Victoria Monét. She is especially interested in exploring how art, fashion, and pop culture intersect online and IRL.