Tashiana Washington's acting career is off the a fantastic start as she makes her feature film debut, starring in Adam Leon's GIMME THE LOOT (I don't really count Girl 2 in the indie GUN HILL ROAD as her rookie effort). And once you see her absolutely capture the screen in her role as graffiti artist Sofia, a tough, street smart hustler trying to elbow her way into some room as a respected member of this sub-culture, you know that she's going to be a force to be reckoned with in future motion pictures, films that are sure to benefit from her electric on-screen presence.
Starting her career as a model and going her fair share of commercial work, Washington is a triple threat in the entertainment world, also sporting a background in song and dance. However, it's her performance as Sofia that threatens to leave those talents behind in the dust, as she proves in GIMME THE LOOT she's the real deal, capable of portraying the type of strong woman that Hollywood too often is afraid to back.
I had the chance to talk with Tashiana a couple of days ago before GIMME THE LOOT, which was well-received on the festival circuit in 2012, including Cannes and SXSW, receives the start of its theatrical release in New York City. We talked about the differences between her and the harder exterior of Sofia, the difficulties for women in firmly establishing themselves in any walk of life and the sneaky appearance of love where you least expect it. It was a pleasure talking to this young actress, as she is one to watch out for in the very near future. Enjoy.
The Kidd - The film was shot awhile back, now and you played Cannes last year, and you went through the film festival circuit, between San Francisco and L.A. and Seattle and South by Southwest, so what has it been like to kind of sit on this film for it to get the chance to be seen theatrically?
Tashiana Washington - Well, to me it didn’t seem that long. It feels like we shot it just a few months ago. We shot it and it was edited and ready to go to South by Southwest within a three months, and from there we did all of the film festivals, so it’s not like I was impatient. I was just enjoying going to all the film festivals and seeing people overseas as well as in the states. So it didn’t feel like... I wasn’t too antsy. I wasn’t frustrated. I was enjoying the ride, and enjoying the build up to the climax of this film coming out.
The Kidd - Let me ask you about the look of Sofia, because she's meant to still be a very good looking girl, but from where she comes from and what she loves to do with graffiti art, she doesn’t necessarily know how to embrace the feminine side of herself. With you background in modelling and doing stage performance and what not, can you talk a little bit about dressing down to an extent in order to kind of create this character of Sofia who lives in this world where it makes sense for her to look like that even though she is meant to be attractive, at least to put across the love story aspect of this film.
Tashiana Washington - It wasn’t hard for me to dress down, because even though I am more feminine than Sofia, I feel like... I do wear sweatpants and jeans. I may not wear a really baggy shirt like her, per se... I think her main focus was, like you said, was her love for the scene, so I don’t think that she was into the whole fashion thing, and wearing things more form fitting. Maybe she’ll grow into that... It wasn’t hard for me at all. When I read the character description, I came into the audition wearing cargo shorts like the ones I wore in the film, as well as a large t-shirt that had graffiti on it. It was a black shirt and it said my mother and my father’s name on the side in bubble letters. So after reading the description, I knew that was what they wanted, so I came dressed as the character. It wasn’t hard at all.
The Kidd - Well how difficult is it, though, to still maintain some level of physical appeal? Because we’re still talking about a motion picture, and the way audiences perceive the characters and perceive who they want to be involved with or engaged with in a love story. So how difficult is it to maintain that for audiences to buy into it, while also staying true to who the character is?
Tashiana Washington - Well... When I read the script, and I talked with Adam when we had rehearsals a month in advance before shooting, he basically just explained to me what he wanted. We shared the same vision as far as the story we wanted to tell, and that was basically it. I didn’t play too deep into, “Well this is what the people want, what she should be...” I feel like Sofia... even though it is a 180 turn, because we’re somewhat opposite, I feel like Sofia is another side of me, as Tashiana Washington. So I didn’t get too in depth as far as what other people would think about it. As long as me and Adam had the same vision, and I was telling his story the way he wanted it to be told, that was all that really mattered to me.
The Kidd - Sofia is very much a girl with a hard exterior. Very rough edges in terms of her demeanor and her actions... In such a male dominated area of doing graffiti art and trying to have some sort of recognition and credibility, is that really the only way for her to survive in this world? To kind of behave in a sort of macho way herself?
Tashiana Washington - I mean, I personally think so. I think it already is hard for her getting respect as a female, trying to be a great writer. I feel like she has to be tough, and she naturally is tough. I feel like she’d get even less respect if she walked around in a tight wife beater and short shorts. She wouldn’t get the respect that she wants as a writer. She would be looked at as just a female. Not somebody that’s talented. Her look would be distracting to her talent. It would take away from her talent, I feel. People wouldn’t be able to see the bigger picture. What she wants them to see, that she’s an artist and that’s it. So I don’t think she dresses down to show, but I feel like if she was more feminine, and she was softer, I don’t think that she would be too successful with getting the respect and recognition she wants.
The Kidd - Is that the double edged sword, though, of being a female who’s trying to break into new territory? And it happens in real life in a lot of areas. Especially in, even entertainment, whether you’re talking about music or acting or whatever. Women are thought to be perceived in one way, and if they act against that, it’s kind of a knock on them. In that respect, to go back to the film, there’s this part of her that gets stuck in this “friend zone” for a good period of time because of her behavior. Is that a difficult thing, just as a woman, that that is a thing that you have to fight against? Where you have to be strong to get what you want, but if you’re perceived as too strong, that can be seen as a knock against you?
Tashiana Washington - Yeah, I feel like in any industry, in any line of work, as a female, you have to work ten times harder than a male. So... I feel like that’s what Sofia feels she has to do, and that’s what she did do. Like you said, if you’re too strong, you’re perceived as... a female dog... and if you’re vulnerable, then you don’t get where you need to be, and you don’t get the respect as whatever it is you’re trying to do. Whether that’s being the head of a company or being an actress or that’s being a graffiti writer, if you’re not strong and you don’t stand up for yourself and show people that... “I’m not going to let you disrespect me, I can be just as great as you. I’m equal, and we are the same, even though our sexes are different.” I feel like every woman has to have that strong side, because you can’t hide behind somebody else and have them do that for you. You have to represent yourself and you have to be strong for yourself.
The Kidd - The other thing that I find really interesting about her, and it kinda conflicts with the nature of what she puts out there, that there’s kind of a part of her that does want to be treated like a lady. She makes mention of that at one point. She doesn’t want to be bombarded with conversations about wet dreams and guy talk. Is that a no-win situation, then? In order to be strong and to succeed at the level that you want, that you surround yourself with people that are incapable of providing her with that ladylike treatment.
Tashiana Washington - Right. I think that even though... I mean they say that chivalry is dead, but I still feel like there’s a certain amount of respect that males should have towards a female, and even women towards other women. I think that, the way polite society is today, people forget some of the values from the past. It is hard because, like I said, you have to be strong and tough, but at the same time you have to be... How can I say this... I guess I would have to say “respectful.” I know men talk to each other a certain way, but sometimes you can’t always do that with a female because it comes off as offensive. So it is somewhat of a double edged sword, because you want to be treated as an equal, but at the same time there’s a certain level of respect that everyone needs, but especially women.
The Kidd - What I also find really fascinating, too, is that you’re playing within the conventions of romantic comedies in a way. Especially with it taking place in New York, to have the female lead not be this socialite or glamorous type of female character, and have it be this street-smart, hustling, scrappy woman who strives to get where she wants to be at whatever cost, I think is a real difference from what we would see in films of that nature, too.
Tashiana Washington - Absolutely. I think that this film shows a different side of New York. Even though it is somewhat of a love story, or partially a love story, I think it’s almost like a love letter to New York. How much we love the city. Especially from a New Yorker to our New York audience. You see a lot of things that you don’t necessarily see in films like THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA or, like you said, the lead character being a socialite or into fashion... Which is a wonderful part of New York City, but the average New Yorker doesn’t necessarily live that life. Seeing the pizzerias, and the corner stores... That’s real New York, and I think that people feel special and somewhat of a warmth, because they live here, and they experience it. I think it’s great that Adam brought that side to the silver screen. Not that it hasn’t been done before, but I just think that it’s not shown often enough. When people think “New York,” like out of towners, they think, “Times Square.”
The Kidd - Yeah, it’s always Manhattan.
Tashiana Washington - Yeah.
The Kidd - I mean, i grew up in New Jersey, so I’m very familiar with the Tri-State area. What you always see is like Rockefeller Center, and the tourist places, and the boroughs are very often ignored, as if the Bronx and Queens don’t exist, to an effect, and that is a very real part of New York. It’s almost as if Manhattan is this fantasy land, now, as opposed to what these areas of New York are really like.
Tashiana Washington – Mmm-hmm. I agree 100 percent.
The Kidd - There’s also a very real quality to Sofia’s relationship with Shakes. It’s not just in their interactions, it’s just this understanding of one another, and I think it’s perpetuated a lot through these other types of films where we get locked onto these feelings of a “dream mate” and we ignore the fact that the people you fall in love with are the people you care about, and that know you the best, and the people that you’re friends with first. So could you talk about the development of the relationship between these two characters and how much was on the page going in, and how much was developed along the way.
Tashiana Washington - Because many people think that because me and Ty’s friendship seems so authentic on screen, that we improv’d. But we really didn’t. Everything was scripted. I’d say about 95% of the [film] was scripted. Little ad libs or things that we may have thrown in at the end, or added small things to. When I read it, I saw the love between the two characters, and I loved that the love is deeper than, “Oh, that’s just my little boyfriend in high school.” I love the fact that they have a deep friendship, that they really cared about each other, and that they really looked out for each other, and... I don’t know. That’s my favorite thing, what really attracted me to the script, besides that the character was really strong... Something that I wish I was more of myself. But that’s one thing I love most about the film.
The Kidd - Well there’s also this very adolescent quality to their relationship. You can kind of see that they care for one another, but it’s on this level of... They don’t actively show it, it’s kind of that, “Yes, I like this person, so I’m going to pick on them, or make fun of them, as my way of showing endearment towards them.” That, also, doesn’t get realistically portrayed a lot of times, and it’s a very real way that people kind of show their affection for other people.
Tashiana Washington - Right. When I saw... Adam had to tell me, “You know, it’s okay to smack him up a little bit playfully.” I thought about when I was in grade school, and this little boy was mean to me every single day, and my mother used to say to me, “Well it’s because he likes you.” And I was like, “No mommy, he hates me! He’s so mean to me. He tricked me...” And I thought it was a really cute way of them showing their love for each other without overdoing it. I thought that was a really cute quality, or a cute gesture, the hitting each other or picking on each other. Because I do that with my friends, whether I have interest in a guy or I’m just playing around with my friends. We do crack jokes on each other and sometimes punch each other in the arms which can... hurt... because my friends are strong, but... yeah, that’s basically it.
The Kidd - Let me ask you one question about GIMME SHELTER, which i know you’re involved with. I guess that’s moving toward release at some point. Do you know when exactly we’ll see it? Can you kinda just elaborate on your role in the film?
Tashiana Washington - I play the role of Destiny. Destiny is bipolar, she’s a teenage mother living in the shelter with the main star, Apple, who is played Vanessa Hudgens. And it’s just... The film is based on a girl who goes through some trials and tribulations... Her mother is a substance abuser, she gets pregnant, ends up running away, and she ends up in this shelter. I live in the shelter among many other females. We look out for each other, we talk about our problems... It almost reminds me of GIRL, INTERRUPTED.
The Kidd - Okay, well thank you very much for taking the time to talk to me today. Like I said, I really liked the film a great deal, and I hope a lot of people take the time to see just a small film like this, as opposed to just seeing the big stuff. It’s the stuff like this that sticks with you over time.
Tashiana Washington - Right. Thank you so much, I really enjoyed talking to you as well.
The Kidd - Thank you.
GIMME THE LOOT opens in New York City today, March 22, before expanding in a few more markets next weekend.
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