It’s more than obvious that Taylour Paige is up next. At the beginning of the year, the actor’s highly anticipated movie “Zola” (based on the plot-twist-filled viral Twitter thread from 2016) debuted at Sundance to enthusiastic praise. Last week, her movie “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” (in which she plays the romantic interest of Viola Davis and the late Chadwick Boseman) premiered on Netflix.
But amid all of the new momentum in her career, Paige isn’t losing sight of why the work really matters to her: she’s just trying to make sense of the human experience. In this interview, Paige discusses coping with fear and anxiety, the importance of getting to the bottom of our emotions, finding the beauty in pain, and what it was like acting opposite Chadwick Boseman in his searing final on-screen performance.
So the first question I always like to ask people is: How are you?
Aw, that’s so funny. I feel like I do that, I’m like, how are you really? I’m actually good. I’m doing good. I keep saying it, but it’s true, I have my 10 fingers and my 10 toes and I can hear, and I can see and I can speak. And I don’t have to even think about those things. Like I just moved my fingers and it’s instant, like what a miracle to be alive and right now. And this year was supposed to be, there would have been a couple of things for me coming out, but all in the timing of where we’re at. And I mean, there’s a makeup artist I met on set a couple of weeks ago. Her sister got in a motorcycle accident, almost died and lost two of her toes, like a couple months ago, because this year is just dragging us all for filth. But I’m fine. I’m good.
I’m expanding my mind. I’m learning, I’m finding my voice. I feel like my throat chakra is open and alive and well and maturing and I’m just taking it all in like, “Wow, I’m here.” I am really sensitive to the world and this place. But I just keep bringing it back to myself and just kind of my biggest quest for me. And it feels like it extended to the characters I’m trying to play, just asking myself how it is I want to feel. I want to feel free. And though the world may try to compress that or squash that or laugh at it, I feel like it is between me and me at the end of the day. From my vantage point, I have all the tools to give myself the freedom. And whatever I do and who I speak to and what I share and that is so liberating because the world can do whatever it’s doing and I can still vibe.
At the beginning of this year in January at Sundance, with “Zola,” everyone was like, “Yo, this movie is fucking amazing.” And now we’re in like the dredges of 2020. So, can you talk a little bit about where you were at the beginning of the year and where you’re at now?
It’s funny because every year I’m like, “This is going to be my year, fo sho!” And then, you know. [Laughs] But actually, the week of Sundance, before we went out there, I was like, “I don’t know how people are going to see this movie or how they’re going to receive it, but I’m going to do my very best to remember how irrelevant that is.”
We did the work. I enjoyed myself for once. I actually had fun and I actually love these people. I love who I worked with. I got a best friend out of it, you know. And then also I’m like, let’s just think about the magnitude of the fact that there was a woman. She existed. She wrote some shit on the internet. She rewrote it, she rewrote it, she rewrote it, she perfected it. She figured out her words and the world was like, “Hold up.” And we’re here. Because also that was her way of processing her trauma. And then now we’re at Sundance? Like that’s pretty, wow.
It’s kind of a miracle.
And a Black woman directed this. I remember consciously going a little girl in me would never believe that I’d be mentally as healthy as I feel right now, spiritually able to just kind of be feeling like I’ve given myself the gift of finally just relaxing. None of your worth is predicated on this and really knowing that. And then it was crazy because their response was so positive! I’m like, “Ain’t that something?”
It’s when you let go that you get all of that feedback.
Because it’s trust. You’re telling the universe I trust. And then the universe was like, “Great, so here you go.” You know?
I’ve watched “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” three times now, and every time that I’ve watched it, I’ve focused on a different performance. It’s such a performance film. I’m really interested in your character Dussie Mae because you are this pivot point between Viola Davis’ character Ma Rainey and Chadwick’s character Levee. They’re sort of orbiting around you. How did you approach playing the role and what it was like to be the center point of these two amazing actors?
I remember sitting at our first table read, and Chadwick was right at the end of the table. And then you’ve got George [C. Wolfe] at one end and you’ve got Denzel [Washington] on the other end and you have Glynn [Turman] and you have Colman [Domingo] and you have Mike [Potts]. And I’m just like, “This is my frequency. We are here, we belong here. These are my people.”
I’m just going to start at the top. It’s the minutiae of a living, breathing Black woman, regardless of how small she is in the movie and regardless of who she’s reacting to. I have felt very much like Dussie in that, it’s not so much that I express myself sexually in that way, but that she’s on this quest for survival.
So she’s looking for some window of possibility and I’ve looked for that window of possibility. I’m still looking for that window of possibility. And though so much of this character for me required so much from the inside out. Dussie is who I used to be when I waited on the world to tell me who I was from the outside in. So I felt like, she’s doing anything she can to solidify her purpose here with these people. If I swing my hips that way and I’m sexy and my lips are perfect. And I say this, and maybe if I say it like that, maybe she’ll put me on the intro of the song. Maybe you all will realize my energy isn’t disposable and you need me here to be on tour with you. So that I have some kind of stability, so that I have some kind of meaning.
I think in between Viola and Chadwick, who are these incredible life forces, it was the childlike enthusiasm.
There’s an innocence to her.
Yeah. And I think though that that’s what they have squandered in their lives because they live a life, we all have to, because well, we’re all Black. [Laughs] So, when I zoom in on the look like, “Well, you got to put it in my hand” and you think about Levee with his shoes. And they’re really just children that never got to really be children because to be Black and to exist is such that the world isn’t shaped for you, it doesn’t nurture you. I still find myself discovering more and more about Dussie.
I feel like when she came to me, I felt like, OK, I’m finally available to even be able to even find the play in this, ’cause you can say that it’s serious obviously, but there’s laughter in it and there’s joy but it’s really like we’re all processing. When we step outside of these walls, we don’t know if we’ll see each other again, like, you don’t know if you’ve turned wrong, you do this, you know. I’m gay. Ma’s gay. That’s illegal. Black life is just all so fleeting.
At the end of the movie, the play, it was actually — for that scene, I had more to do, but Viola was wrapped and it was our last day and it was really emotional because I was just taking it all in, it’s just a lot. But I played it [the end scene in the car] as a death, the death of our ancestors’ voices. And though, Dussie’s fictitious, I think, Dussie is — she’s in you, she’s in me, she’s our ancestors. She’s our great grandparents. It’s just a bunch of people’s dreams that we never even got to hear of. People who didn’t even get to dream. People didn’t even know what a dream was because just opening your eyes and putting on your clothes and finding something to smile about was like, it’s a miracle. It’s a miracle.
What’s something really difficult that happened this year that you had to endure and survive and work through?
The voices in my head. I think realizing those voices aren’t even sometimes my own; they’re childhood, they’re unhealed things from my mother ... Just being a lot kinder to myself and patient with myself and patient with process and like, “OK, it’s not that big of a deal. It’s fine. You know, like you’re still here.” I think also it’s hard for me because when really good things happen — like even right now, things are feeling really good — I’m like, “OK, when’s the shoe gonna drop?” Which is really trauma. It’s like, OK, we can acknowledge the little girl, but like ...
That’s not your reality anymore.
And it’s just things weren’t able to ever be good. So when things are good, I’m like, “OK, so when is the joke? Like, something bad has to happen,” and it’s like, don’t call that in. Don’t declare that. But just letting a good thing be good and receiving it. Someone goes, “You did good work,” and being like, “Thank you.” And not needing to explain or overexplain myself or compare. Just allowing the good and not being so damn hard on myself. ’Cause it’s just like, who wants to be this miserable all the time?
What’s something really good that happened this year?
I mean, it’s been hard. I did lose a lot of people this year. A lot of deaths around me, for sure, and that’s always hard of course. And three were people I worked with, but two were like my on-screen lovers. But I know that they’re in the Great Beyond and I think you touch who you’re supposed to touch in this body and then you go. So I’ve been able to reconcile that better. But the good thing I think is just self-realization, healing, loving myself more and more and more. Deepening my relationship with myself so that I am better to all of those that I love and care about. And even those that I don’t even know. When I am, regardless, I say this a lot in interviews, but like, whether you think I’m good, whether you think I’m bad, whether you like me, whether you don’t, whether you’re on the fence, at least you can look at me as a pure example of like, “She did it, so I can too.” Like I’m no better than you, I’m no different than you. I’m just trying to ascend. I’m just trying to get it right.
How are you finding ways to connect with people during this time?
I think through music, sending art. Like, “Oh, I just watched this, I think you’d like this.” I’m sharing books and sharing what I’ve learned. I find it, even in my relationship, like I’ve recently bought a bunch of plays and books that I’m just discovering a lot and I think as I mature, I’m more available to actually take in what these people were saying. And I think talking about it with my partner helps me even more so process and discover. He knows he’s got 10 years on me and has experienced life differently. He’s like, “Oh, I didn’t even think about it like that.” And then me feeling validated like, “Oh, you didn’t even think about it like that.” Like something you knew, you know? That’s been a fun way to connect. There’s so much more to know and grow and learn and challenge and it’s so exciting. ’Cause there’s no reason to really ever be bored because there’s so much to take in and expand your soul.
What has your self-care looked like during this time? How are you showing up for yourself?
I’m reading a lot. I drink a gallon of water a day. I’m spending time alone in my apartment. You know, my apartment is very pastel vibes, which makes me happy. It makes me calm and like, girl, it looks like Easter up in there.
I love it!
And dancing, listening to music, just taking in artists who were willing to profess themselves. I was watching a random Miles Davis interview the other day. But just overall the throughline of like when even those who find out the artists ended up being trash in real life, right? But the thing that we all gravitated toward was that it felt like in that medium, whatever, whether it was a song or the movie, you just felt something. Which means there was honesty on the other end as they were making it. And so I’m like, “OK, I want to feel something as I’m creating” and as I feel through it, and I give that, again, you might not like the character. But if, like you said it, and it really made me so happy, that you felt empathy, that you even felt something for Dussie, that tells me that, “OK, I’m on. I’m warmer, I’m on the right track.”
What advice do you have for anyone who has been struggling to cope?
This is so basic, but first of all, breathe. Breathing and really watching your breath. Putting your feet in the grass around some soil, drinking water. Like a lot of the time you feel you could be feeling anxious, you could be feeling, I don’t know, crazy foggy and like ...
But you’re just dehydrated. [Laughs]
Yeah, you’re dehydrated! And also just knowing, you aren’t alone. I’m really thankful for where I’m at in terms of my consciousness and my mental, but there have been times where I’m like, “I don’t know how I’m going to get out of this bed.” I feel for those who really just struggle and are just like, “I can’t get out of this.” I think reaching out to people that make you feel warmer or that love you and see you and want you to be better and want you to feel better, surrounding yourself with those people. Even if it’s just one.
I think also getting down to the bottom of what it is that you’re resisting. What is the pain trying to show you? Because we often run, push back on it, we don’t want to look at it, we avoid. Maybe, I don’t know, but maybe the whole point of this experience as a human being is to figure out how to [look at pain]. Because you’re so powerful, because you are an extension of source. Maybe the whole point is to transmute pain into beauty. I think also just basking in how, if you were able to zoom out, you’re so much more powerful than any of these little conditions.
What are you manifesting for next year and beyond?
I’m manifesting a loving world. I’m manifesting a world where we slow down or where we really are bringing it back to ourselves. There’s so much power in our thinking and our thoughts. And you don’t think that it’s a big deal, but holding the door for someone, letting someone over, taking the time to ask, like you just so generously said, how are you? What does it look like if you were to just listen? Put the phone down? Like if we were all just doing a little bit more of that, I think we have the ability to raise consciousness.
We need to get back into the feeling and nurturing and embracing and slowing the fuck down. Like you’re all in a rush to go where? Y’all look so crazy on the freeway. Like where are you going? You know? [Laughs] When you really think about it, like, “OK, I’m going to hurry up and go to my job. And then on Saturday I’ll be looking forward to the weekend.” But you really can, and it can become fun where it’s like, “How can I find the fun and the love, the joy, all of those things, one in the same, how can I find it? Like in my day to day, how can I be kinder and more present?” That’s what I’m manifesting. That more humans can start to actually balance the bullshit. There will be more and more singing and dancing. I mean, more symbolically. We’ll realize like what really matters, the only thing, is love.
But, like, deadass though.
That’s it. Like, OK, great. You made more money and are you happy? Like, are you any good, emotionally? Let’s find our way back.
Finally, what art, books, movies, TV shows, music, anything has been feeding you and moving you this year?
Girl, your Instagram feeds me. Deadass. Seeing our people joyful, relaxing, celebrating, like it’s just the spirit of it all. Like you can really feel your care and your intentionality in generating these images that have existed. That came to mind. I have recently been taking in a lot of Toni Morrison. A lot of James Baldwin. A lot of August Wilson. And I’m not gonna lie, it has a lot to do with obviously the prep for this movie, but I just felt like it was a responsibility. It really annoys me that I won’t be able to sit at a table physically with August and Maya and Tony and James and just be like, “So what’s good?” I feel very strongly connected to them. But reading them lately has just made me feel so expensive. So immeasurably good. Like, “Oh, I get that. I hear that.” Like, “OK, I know, I get this.”
And, I just, it depends on the day. If you’re asking me today, what I’m feeling at the moment, okay, well today I listened to Mary J. Blige and then I listened to Minnie Ripperton. But then the other day I was listening to Ariana Grande, like real talk. [Laughs.] I’m taking it all in. Whatever makes me feel good and sexy and slow down and just makes this whole life a stage where I can just let go.
“Getting Through…” explores the ways in which people from all backgrounds and walks of life — artists, scientists, entertainers, healers, activists, entrepreneurs and “everyday” folks — are processing, connecting and taking care of themselves and others during these wild times. Hopefully, these conversations will serve as a record and a guide for anyone who reads them. Read interviews with author Fariha Roísín and yoga instructor Mominatu.