GRINDHOUSE: EXCLUSIVE Interview with Sydney Tamiia Poitier
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GRINDHOUSE: An EXCLUSIVE Interview with Sydney Tamiia Poitier
April 2, 2007
Outside of playing a leading role in a film, there aren’t that many strong supporting roles for females in the film business. Yes, there are the ones that get nominated at the end of the year, but that’s only five roles and those roles are mostly dramatic. Comedians always get ignored, and so do roles in thrillers. It’s all up to the writer to come up with something great and you can always count of Quentin Tarantino to be very supportive in that area. From Pulp Fiction to Jackie Brown to Kill Bill, Tarantino has written pretty impressive roles for women, and with his next film, “Death Proof”, which is part of a double feature, along with Robert Rodriguez’s Planet Terror, in “Grindhouse”, Sydney Tamiia Poitier is the beneficiary of a fantastic role. If you left off her middle name and just said it, you would be assuming that I was talking about her legendary father, Sidney, but I’m not. For most of her film or TV career, Sydney Tamiia has played the goody-too-shoes character (Joan of Arcadia, Veronica Mars), but with her role in Tarantino’s Death Proof, hopefully all will see her in a different light. Sydney Tamiia plays Jungle Julia, a sexy DJ who hooks up with her college buddies (Vanessa Ferlito and Jordan Ladd) for a night on the town when a stalker (Kurt Russell) comes by their way to ensue mayhem. In speaking exclusive with blackfilm.com, Sydney Tamiia talks about getting cast in a Tarantino film, getting her name confused with her famous dad, and working with the cast in this thriller.
How was it playing the part of “Jungle Julia” in a Tarantino flick?
Sydney Tamiia Poitier: It is definitely the best acting experience, professional experience I have ever had. I am a huge fan of Quentin Tarantino and when I got the call to go and audition for Jungle Julia, I was just beyond myself with joy; and then when I actually got the script and read the part, I was ten times that joyful because she is such a cool character and so different from who I am. She’s so different from the parts that I usually get cast in that it was such an incredible opportunity and I was just so excited.
It’s also a big part.
Sydney Tamiia Poitier: Yes. It’s a big part. I’m blessed.
With so many female parts in the film, was this the part you were going out for?
Sydney Tamiia Poitier: He had me in mind specifically for this part. I had auditioned for him in a couple of his films. I had auditioned for “Kill Bill” and he did an episode for “C.S.I” that I had auditioned for, so when he was writing the character of Jungle Julia, he had in mind actually for that just based on the auditions I had had with him. I was always going in for Jungle Julia. Originally he wanted me to read for Jungle Julia and Abernathy and then that change and he was like, “No, she’s just Jungle Julia”. So, I only went in for Jungle Julia but when I read the part it was as he said, the exact part that I was looking for because I’m always to play something so different from who I am and different from what I normally get cast as, and so for someone like Quentin Tarantino to see me in that way or to believe that I can pull it off was such an honor and I was so excited.
What do you normally get cast as?
Sydney Tamiia Poitier: I’m normally the nice girl or the sweet girl or the girl next door. I get a lot of those roles; the young, naïve one. I don’t usually get the tough girl roles or the bitchy girls or the really sexy girls.
It’s funny that you say that because the last two films that you have done have been in the horror, thriller genre and you are not so much the “nice” girl in those films. Do you appreciate that sort of genre?
Sydney Tamiia Poitier: I do. I used to love horror films when I was younger and then for some reason, I stopped loving them. They freaked me out too much. When I got “Grindhouse” I sort of started to get back into it. I started watching some horror films; I would come across one on TV and watch it. I’m back in the phase of liking the horror genre. I don’t know about all the crazy ones like “Saw” and “Hostel” and stuff that comes out in the theaters, but I definitely have a little bit more of a desire to watch like that.
Recently out of college, Jungle Julia just sits around and hangs out with her girls when they come to visit. Were you like that when you finished school?
Sydney Tamiia Poitier: Oh yeah! I’m like that all the time. I think Quentin has a knack for writing dialogue and I was so shocked on how well he captured women. I was really amazed that dialogue was exactly the dialogue that I would have with my girlfriends on any old day. In fact, it was really bizarre because I would be driving around after working on set with Jordan (Ladd) and Vanessa (Ferlito) and we would be going to whole foods or something for dinner and we would be having the same conversation about boys and half way through we would stop and we would have almost verbatim the same conversation in the car in the movie and it’s trippy.
How was it working with the rest of the girls, Jordan and Vanessa? Did you get to bond with them after shooting stopped?
Sydney Tamiia Poitier: We, really, really, really did bond. I think part of Quentin’s genius was that he had all of the girls come to Austin, Texas three weeks early for rehearsals and he had everybody stay in the same hotel and it just became this big girlfest. Everybody was in everybody else’s room until 5 o’clock in the morning being silly and drinking and laughing and talking about guys and all sorts of things that girls talk about. By the end of the three weeks we had all really established genuine friendships and bond and I don’t know if he had some sort of special intuition in the way that he cast us, but he really cast girls that out chemistry naturally together was just awesome. I genuine love all these girls. I have a real friendship with them. By the time we got to film anything, it was already there. It didn’t have to be worked on. It was just natural and really organic.
Being that Jungle Julia is a DJ, what sort of music do you listen to?
Sydney Tamiia Poitier: I listen to everything. I’m a fan of pretty much everything. I love rock. I love R & B. I love hip hop, although older hip hop, not as much as the newer stuff. I like jazz. I like blues. I really love everything. In fact, when I had to prepare for this character, I did like a mock radio show for Quentin and I sat down and recorded myself for about two hours and playing the sort of things I thought Jungle Julia would play.
What did you play?
Sydney Tamiia Poitier: Jungle Julia, her musically style is lot of classic rock and classic R & B, and really old bootleg stuff that’s hard to find. In Quentin’s words, she is to music what he is to movies. She’s a real aficionado and she only plays vinyl and she only plays things from her own collection on her show. So I play a lot of stuff that would be hard to find. I went through and figured who were the local bands in Austin, Texas because she’s an Austin DJ and she would supportive of her local musicians and I listened to a lot of blues bands and 70s rock homage bands and alternative rock bands and I picked and chose what she would put on the show. It was a real eclectic mix of music.
There are a number of references to your character’s beauty and shape. Do you do anything physically to match Jungle Julia’s appearance?
Sydney Tamiia Poitier: Well, I did and I didn’t. The way that I described her was my body type originally anyway. Jungle Julia, she’s Amazonian. She’s got a big ass. She’s tall and these things that was already me and he physically based her on me and so I really didn’t, but at the same time I knew I would have to be in a tiny, tiny shorts and underwear and whatever, so I definitely did my fair share of squats and lunges and tried to look the best that I could look but I knew I wasn’t allowed to “change” my body. I wasn’t supposed to lose any weight. This is Jungle Julia. She’s a strong, curvy, powerful woman and she owns her body. She has confidence in it. She feels it. She loves it. So it was more about working on the mental part of it and feeling that way about myself so that when I was in character there was no doubting. I had to move with utter ease and confidence.
Did you know that Tarantino has somewhat of a feet fetish when it comes to his films, because yours is on prominent display?
Sydney Tamiia Poitier: Yeah. I did actually. The minute I opened the script, one of the first things it says is, “Arlene’s feet tapping on the dashboard, and then cut to Jungle Julia’s feet walking down the hallway”. I saw that there was already a love of feet when I opened the script and I had actually heard that he has a thing for feet; so when I went in for the audition, one of the first things I did when I started playing the part was that I walked in the audition, sat down on the chair, we got ready to go and I kicked off my shoes and I put my feet up on the table, and I think that helped me get the part because I had her body language and I put the feet on display.
Now that you are starting get your groove going in the film business, will you continue to do TV work as well? Which of the two do you enjoy doing?
Sydney Tamiia Poitier: Well, I love movies. I love movies and I love doing films. I love being able to play different characters. I love the atmosphere of a set when you come together for a film because usually you are on location somewhere you get into this instant sort of bonding family mode. It’s a really special experience; but mostly because I’m just generally a film fan. I think I prefer doing film. I do like the stability of TV. I’d like to be able to go top work everyday not something that you miss that in films because it’s a longer downtime between jobs. For now, I don’t have a family. I’m not having kids anytime soon and anything like that so I prefer to do the film thing because I have the freedom to do so and that’s what I’m really passionate about.
How often do people mistake you for your father because of the pronunciation of your name?
Sydney Tamiia Poitier: All the time and I feel really bad about it. If I have to check into a hotel or if I’m on location or something and they have me under my name, Poitier, and I go to check in and they are so excited all day and they think my dad’s coming and I check in, and then the frown on their faces sets in. You could just see the disappointments and I really feel bad when stuff like that happens, but sometimes it works to my advantage because I get an extra special room. They can’t take it back because that would be rude.
The cool thing about your character, Jungle Julia, is that she’s mention in other film of Grindhouse, Planet Terror, by Robert Rodriguez.
Sydney Tamiia Poitier: Yes. My radio show is mentioned. He (Quentin) had said that it would be in there.
How was working with Kurt Russell?
Sydney Tamiia Poitier: He was so great. He’s such a cool guy. He’s just a really down-to-earth cool dude. He was open and generous. We’re a group of girls and he would come around and chit-chat with us in between takes and laugh with us. Quentin has this huge booming laugh and all you would hear in between takes was the two of them cracking up.
What sort of roles do you look for? Is it still challenging for you to get in the door for auditions?
Sydney Tamiia Poitier: It’s always a challenge and it’s still challenge. This movie hasn’t come out yet and I hope that when it does, that it may be less of a challenge. I don’t really know. I’m a little spoiled now. Once you do a Quentin Tarantino film and you say that dialogue, and you’re in a move that being made by someone who is so passionate about films, it’s going to be hard to top the experience but I do hope to play more roles that are at least close to what I was able to do in this film that are really fleshed out, that really multi-faceted, interesting characters.
Do you have anything else coming up?
Sydney Tamiia Poitier: No, I’m just looking for that next project. It’s a hard act to follow. There’s a lot of stuff coming my way. There’s a lot of movies that are not so great that are being made and it’s really hard because you really want to work but you also want but you also want to do a certain kind of work and so I’m just reading a bunch of stuff and I’m just looking for that next thing that impassions me as much as I was in this movie.
For all those non-Tarantino believers, what would you say to have them come out and see your film and “Grindhouse”?
Sydney Tamiia Poitier: I would say that it’s really a cinematic event. It’s an experience. It’s like nothing anybody has seen before, ever. It’s worth going just because it’s going to be a really wild ride for the whole night. You are going to go and spend three hours seeing stuff that just is going to blow your mind. It’s over the top. This movie has gore but it has so many other elements. There’s girl bonding, there are relationships, there’s love, there’s lost, there’s car chases, there’s crazy over-the-top action, and there’s female empowerment. I think Quentin’s movie is such a female empowerment movie. There’s all these tough, strong, kick ass brawds that are so cool. I think from that alone women will really appreciate it.
GRINDHOUSE OPENS ON APRIL 6, 2007
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