Queen & Slim star Melanie Halfkenny joins us on Close-up Culture ahead of the film’s UK release date (31 January). Melanie – who is also a recording artist under the name 5ive – discusses what drew her to the film’s story, her experience working with director Melina Matsoukas, her character’s style, and much more.
Q: ‘Queen & Slim’ is your first acting role in a feature film. How did this opportunity come about for you?
A: Yes, this was my first role. It actually came as a result of RPM casting agency reaching out to me on Instagram and asking me to do an video audition.
Q: This is a moving and timely story that speaks to the current climate in the US. What spoke to you about ‘Queen & Slim’ and its themes?
A: This role and the script really touched me because it was not only a black love story, but in addition speaks to the current injustices that are currently happening in our country. The movie was very powerful, and I knew it would touch and intrigue all those who watch it.
Q: I really enjoyed the scenes Naomi [Melanie’s character] is in. I’d say it’s Slim and Queen’s most compelling stop on their journey. Can you tell us about Naomi and what she brings to the film?
A: Naomi is very outspoken and strong-willed. She is not submissive and is willing to stand up for herself. What she brings to the film is personality, rawness, extreme confidence, and emotion. You can instantly tell she has her own story within Queen and Slim’s story, which many fans have requested to see.
Q: I would love to see that story too! The scenes you are in are quite tense. What was it like being in that house with the likes of Daniel Kaluuya, Jodie Turner-Smith and Bokeem Woodbine? Was there any room for fun or did you all want to keep the tension going?
A: It was a career changing experience and it forced me to raise my level of skill. Being around such incredible talent made me want to work even harder on capturing what my character embodies while matching the level of acting and ability my co-stars were bringing to the table. All three of them were humble and everyday people.
This movie was made on film like the old days. So we didn’t really have room for fun on set, but we did have the ability to cut up and network off set.
Q: Director Melina Matsoukas has long been a force in music videos, but ‘Queen & Slim’ puts her stamp on the world of cinema. What did it mean to you to collaborate with – and learn from – her?
A: As not only a music artist but also now an actress, it meant a lot to collaborate with Melina due to her experience and talent. Not only was I able to learn from her but I also got a first look at how things go behind the scenes and how to put together a seamless work of art. Her creativity is unique and she did an amazing job of putting Lena Waithe’s words into imagery and cinematography.
Q: There’s an incredible style that permeates the film. It manifests perfectly in that photo of Queen & Slim – which later becomes this almost mythical symbol. Can you tell us about your costuming and hair in the film?
A: My costume was designed and styled by Shiona Turini, who is another amazing talent. She put together very aggressive and sexy outfits, which were bold but beautiful. They showed off my artwork and confidence in my body as Naomi isn’t afraid to express herself. My hair was actually from my personal style I happened to have during my audition. They liked it so much that they actually had me wear it for filming.
Q: There’s a wonderful clip on Instagram of your family and friends cheering for your big-screen apperance at a screening of ‘Queen & Slim’. What did that moment mean to you?
A: My personal screening was a very exclusive and epic experience in my career, because it truly showed that all of my grinding had finally paid off and was all worth it. It felt rewarding being able to share that special moment with people close to me. We actually sold out an AMC theatre with 140 plus VIP guests, family and friends.
Q: I also saw you got to hang out with Snoop Dogg at the premiere! How do you reflect on this incredible journey being a part of this film has taken you on?
A: This has been a great opportunity and introduction to the Hollywood for me. Having an opportunity to network with an icon like Snoop and other dope artists and celebrities has truly afforded me the exact exposure that my career was missing, so that I can take things to the next level. It has been a true blessing! I am right where I belong.
Q: Do you see more acting in your future?
A: Absolutely! This was a great experience and I can’t wait for my next role!
Q: What else is on the horizon for you in 2020?
A: This year I plan to drop a new music album and music vidoes. Now that I am a Sag Aftra affiliated actress, I will be taking on more acting opportunities and continuing to build my brand! Please follow me on Instagram and join me in my journey – @iam5ive. My actress name is Melanie Halfkenny and my recording artist name is 5ive.
Title photo by Lelanie Foster