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Video/Q&A: 'Pariah' star Adepero Oduye

January 05, 2012|By Matt Pais | RedEye movie critic

Michelle Williams. Elizabeth Olsen. Adepero Oduye?

Yep, the star of “Pariah,” who doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page, has joined those big names as a nominee for best female lead actress at the 2012 Independent Spirit Awards. Oduye, whose biggest movie role to date has been the “Crack Smoker” in “Half Nelson,” can’t believe it.

“It hasn’t really sunk in that I’m actually a nominee, as opposed to listening and watching for other people,” says the New York-native. “I’m telling people I’m just taking it one hour at a time. I try not to get too far ahead of myself because then it’s just like, ‘What’s happening?’”

Something many people can’t believe is that in “Pariah,” opening Jan. 6, the 33-year-old Oduye plays 17-year-old Alike, a lesbian who has come out to her friends but not to her parents (played by Kim Wayans, Charles Parnell). In mid-December at the Four Seasons Hotel, Oduye talked about the Sundance hit, saying “You don’t have to be a young, black lesbian from New York City to get something from it.”

She’s right.

How do people react when they find out your age compared to Alike’s age?
Either applause or people are people are like, “Whoa!” Some people think I’m just straight lying. People just think, “No, you can’t be.” And I tell them, “I’m pretty sure that’s my age,” and I take it as a big, huge compliment because it means people really believe [the film], and that’s all I really wanted.

Have there been other times in your life when people comment that you look younger than you are?
Oh, yeah, yeah, I get that all the time. All the time. People are like, “How old are you? 23?” I’m like, “Oh, no.” It’s always like 23, 24, 25, and it’s always flattering but I’m always just like, “No, no, no, nowhere near that age.” [Laughs.] It’s funny, at Sundance, people were like, “Oh, so are you still in school?” I can tell they’re still thinking I’m maybe in college perhaps. And I’m like, “No, I’m done with school.”

“What do you want to be when you grow up, little girl?”
[Laughs.] “So, do you think [you’ll do this for a career]?” And I’m like, “Yeah, I’ve been doing this for some time.”

“What do you think of the new Miley Cyrus album?”
[Laughs.] I’m like, “Who’s that?” But it’s flattering.

You had an assignment to go into a black and Latino lesbian club in character. What was going through your head during that experience?
It was interesting. I was in a club full of women but I felt like I was in the club with men and women. The women were either really butch or really femme. I had to keep telling myself, “I’m in a club full of women; there’s no men here.” But it’s like people check the box. It was very clear, the gender roles were very, very clear, and very extreme. So the women that were femme were ultra-femme and the women that were butch were ultra-butch, and then there was a small group of women who were in the middle but they all hung out together. And for me I felt like I was on the outside looking in. Nobody was talking to me. Pernell Walker who plays [Alike’s friend] Laura, she was dancing with women, getting numbers, ‘cause she was in a very clear, she was clearly defined. I was in the middle and people were just circling around me and outside looking in. and I felt very awkward and uncomfortable. I didn’t know how to stand, I didn’t know how to dance, ‘cause I’m dressed a certain way but my body wants to dance another way. It was overwhelming and I just had to stay frozen.

Do you think that’s why they didn’t come up to you?
Yeah, when you saw me, it was like this weird middle thing so people were just kinda like, “OK, I’m just going to ignore her.” I felt truly invisible. That was the first time I got specifically into the world of Alike and what that was all about.

Did you and writer-director Dee Rees establish a limit to staying in character? Where would you have drawn the line?
[She was] there, kind of watching, making sure everything’s OK, but they didn’t interact with us at all. They just basically threw us in there and it was kinda like, “Whatever happens, happens. Whatever you’re comfortable with happening, just go with it.” I definitely felt super uncomfortable, and I think Parnell she tried to get me to stick a dollar, there was like a go-go dancer in the bar, like stick it in her g-string, and I was like, “No, no no!” I was like, “Ahh!” It was a lot.

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