By Darlene Donloe
You can hear it in Mamoudou Athie’s voice when he talks about his latest role in the indie film, Patti Cake$, slated for release Friday, August 18.
It’s the sound of enthusiasm, gratitude and satisfaction in playing, what can only be described as one of the more unique characters he’s ever played in his career.
|Mamoudou Athie as Basterd in Patti Cake$|
In Patti Cake$ Athie, 28, plays a shadowy man named Basterd, who doesn’t speak much vocally, but who speaks volumes in his actions and intent.
The gritty coming-of-age film tells the story of an unlikely rapper who goes by the name Killa P, although her real name is Patricia Dombrowski. Killa P’s goal is to blow up and gain fame in the hip-hop world. While on her personal and professional journey of discovery she is met with opposition, setbacks and lots of disappointment, but she remains undeterred. As luck would have it, one day she comes upon a mysterious man named Basterd (Athie), who piques her interest. She follows him home only to discover he’s a brilliant music producer, who refers to himself as the anti Christ. After some persistence and persuasion, he agrees to help her on her musical quest.
Athie, a Yale School of Drama graduate, is described by Patti Cake$’ first time feature film director Geremy Jasper (best known as a commercial and music-video director) as an actor who “Brought real depth and authenticity to a far-out character. He’s an actor with a capital A and we were so lucky to get him.”
Patti Cake$ was a hit at the Sundance Film Festival, resulting in a bidding war that was won by Fox Searchlight for $9.5 million.
I recently caught up with Athie to talk about his role, the film and his career, which includes having made his stage debut opposite Diane Lane and Tony Shalhoub in The Mystery of Love and Sex at the Lincoln Center Theater, playing Grandmaster Flash on Baz Luhrmann’s The Get Down on Netflix, starring in the NBC comedy pilot Me & Mean Margaret and appearing in The Circle based on Dave Eggers’ novel of the same name. Athie is a busy, highly sought after actor whose star is on the rise.
DD: What drew you to the role of Basterd?
MA: The director, Geremy Jasper. Initially I had reservations. I said, ‘I don’t think I’m the person to play this part.’ I have a religious background. Long story short, a friend of mine and a casting director - they both hit me up and said I need to come in for this part. I met Geremy and I said, ‘Oh, please let me in your movie. He has an extreme sensitivity. He has a way of protecting himself from the world. That's his armor. That’s an interesting way to go about life. He is overtly rebellious.
DD: You mentioned that you have a religious background.
MA: I came from an extremely religious background. We are a Christiam family. My mom does mission trips occasionally. I’m very much a Christian as well.
|Mamoudou Athie as 'Basterd' in Patti Cake$|
DD: Any apprehension in playing a character who calls himself the anti-Christ?
MA: That was literally my thing. That’s what I was concerned about. I thought, ‘I don’t think this is for me.’ Then I met Geremy and the casting director and I talked to my friend Yahya. This is a great script.
DD: Describe your character, Basterd, for me.
MA: He’s an introvert. He lives alone. He’s an extraordinarily talented musician. His is a post, punk industrial hardcore kind of music. He’s in to all kinds of music. He has specific tastes. He has a great ear. He is sensitive. One of the things that connects him and Patti is that they are lonely.
DD: What do you like/dislike about him?
MA: I love him. He’s a great guy. He’s innocent in an extraordinary way. There’s not a lot I didn’t like about him except maybe that penchant for calling himself the anti Christ. In terms of who he is – he’s a sweetheart.
DD: Is there any part of your character that you can identify with? Are you like him at all?
MA: Absolutely. I’m not as sensitive, but I can be at times. I think he has a deep love for his friends. So do I. Those are the two things I share with him.
DD: How did you go about developing Basterd?
MA: I feel like a lot of it came from outside help, like Jon Carter, who helped with the hair, the dreads. That wasn’t my hair. I couldn’t tell where my hair stopped and the clips began.
DD: Do you have to like a character in order to play them?
MA: I know there is an argument for that, but I don’t think so. You should find a point of view and find something within yourself that can relate. There are certain situations where you’re dealing with a morally reprehensive person like a neo nazi or a rapist. You don’t have to like that guy to play them. If you take the job you have to do it. You have to get into their skin. You can feel disgusted. I’ve played characters that weren’t the best of people.
DD: How do you go about shaking off characters that weren’t the best of people?
MA: When I was younger, I played characters closer to me. When I do it, I do it. I don’t have too much of an issue. Although I will say this, if you say something enough it will have an effect on you.
DD: The movie is about a female rapper pursuing her dream. Do you like rap? If so, do you have a favorite rapper?
MA: I do like rap. I can’t get enough of Tribe [Called Quest]. I don’t listen to a lot of today’s rap, though.
One of my favorite songs is by De La Soul. They are just great. Eye Know is one of my favorite songs. Ok, I’m going to sound corny when I say this, but I don’t care. It’s so open-hearted. The lyrics are amazing. It’s a beautiful song. Tribe has a lot of songs like that.
DD: What kind of director is Geremy Jasper? Were you able to adlib?
MA: He was open for anything. This was his first feature film. He was so generous. The sun was setting and he would offer me another take. He was totally down for adding more lines. The interesting thing for Basterd or Bob was that he listened a lot.
DD: You are a Yale trained actor. Why did you want to become an actor?
MA: I went through three stages. When I was a kid it looked like a lot of fun and I thought I could make a lot of money. Then when I went to school, I started to get obsessed with acting in a technical way. Then, in my final year of grad school I honed into how I can do it for the rest of my life. It felt like being an actor would be a socially useful piece of art.
DD: Your director, Geremy Jasper, had nothing but praise for you. Following is his quote about you. “He was clearly really sharp, but he is so different from Basterd when you meet him,” says Jasper. “He was very preppy and I just didn’t see it. But he brought real depth and authenticity to a far-out character. He’s an actor with a capital A and we were so lucky to get him.” Your thoughts about what he had to say about you?
MA: That’s actually amazing, generous and moving. I love that guy so much. I think he’s brilliant. That means the world to me. He’s the next rising hotshot in town.
DD: What’s next for you?
MA: I’m doing Unicorn Store opposite Brie Larson. This is her directorial debut. She is incredible. It will be shown on Sept 11, at TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival). I call it the sister project to Patti Cakes. I love this movie so deeply. I’m also doing a blockbuster thriller called Underwater.
(Unicorn Store is about a woman named Kit who receives a mysterious invitation that would fulfill her childhood dreams.) The film also stars Samuel L. Jackson, Joan Cusack and Bradley Whitford.
(Underwater is about a crew of underwater researchers who must scramble to safety after an earthquake devastates their subterranean laboratory. The movie stars Kristen Stewart, Vincent Cassel, John Gallagher Jr., T. J. Miller, Jessica Henwick). The film is set for a 2018 release.)
|The cast of Patti Cake$|
DD: The chemistry between the Patti Cake$ cast seemed authentic.
MA: The cast, particularly Danielle, was incredible. As we come to the close of this press junket thing, I miss them already. They were and are such a pleasure to work with.
Patti Cake$ stars Danielle Macdonald (Every Secret Thing, The East), Bridget Everett (Trainwreck, Fun Mom Dinner), Siddharth Dhananjay, Sahr Ngaujah (Broadway’s “Fela!,” Money Monster), McCaul Lombardi (American Honey, Sollers Point), Wass Stevens (Public Morals, House of Cards) with hip hop legend MC Lyte (The Dempsey Sisters, Civil Brand) and Cathy Moriarty (Raging Bull, Analyze That).