Updated: Mar 5, 2021
Numa Perrier creates a subtle and sexy lane in the world of cinema with her feature film Jezebel.Perrier shares some insight on how she sculpts the aesthetics of her shadowy slice of Las Vegas. The following interview offers a peek inside the mind, and "Subtle Core" of what makes her style shine:
1. First, I love how quiet Jezebel is as a film. It has the cadence of a symphony orchestra-- there are moments, visual melodies in mood and tone that are delicate and skillfully refined as violin solo, juxtaposed with intensely loud and fiery brass section scenes. This dynamic is beautifully displayed in the back to back scenes where the family argues after finding out their mother has died followed by the quiet scene with the two sisters in the bathroom. It's a pitch perfect example of artistic control-- extremely loud and then expertly quiet, almost like a post-rock tune. My question is this: What's your approach to sculpting quiet moments of connection in a scene? What guidance, and advice do you give your actors in regards to laying out the groundwork for such an emotional journey?
My approach to sculpting the quiet moments starts in the casting— finding actors who have that range and flexibility to express fully yet nuanced. I can tell from the first few moments of a reel or audition tape or a meeting even. Then as the work unfolds I help tune the instrument- no no too sharp - no too flat — actors with supple instruments and openness allow me to do that and we are in the dance together.
2. That wig gifting scene: It's one of the sweetest on-screen moments I've ever seen that portrays the depth of a sibling bond. You could feel the love, the longing, the sadness and despair as they clung to each other after losing their mom. That scene really stopped me in my tracks-- it's perhaps the masterpiece moment of the film, the subtle core. Can you walk me through your directing mindset on the day you filmed it?
Yes, thank you. I view it the same way. That scene we did in one take.
We took a lot of time before hand building a real sister bond with each other and I took a lot of time talking to my cinematographer about what I wanted in that moment. Then because of her hair and the time we had that day we had to get it in one long remarkable take. Tiffany and I went in emotionally full and just let it sweep over us. A sliver of my mind was still in director mode but that also works for the scene as her older sister guiding and directing her younger sister towards her womanhood. In the edit worked long to get the scene to feel like real time and to do as few cuts as possible. I wanted the moment to be as pure as possible and echo the real life memory that I based it on. 3. I find it fascinating how the wig equally represented sisterly love, and sexual empowerment. It was her cape, her superhero suit, as she made her way through the cam girl dark universe in Las Vegas. I'm curious, do you have something that you bring to film sets, perhaps, a necklace, a poem (a tangible item) that reminds you to stand tall in your role as a director? I think that speaks to the human condition. Kind of like how a baseball player might bring a lucky charm to a game. Do you have a lucky directing charm that you carry?
I have a book that my first acting teacher wrote and it’s a lot about the craft of acting but also a lot about life and how we approach artistry. I will take a deep breath and open up the book to a random page and read it. I consider it a message for the day and i use that for my acting and directing. I also meditate before I report to set. My angels are always guiding me. 4. Let's talk about shadows. Jezebel has some solid achievements in this cinematic lane. One of my film favorites are Jean Luc Godard's Alphaville. What are some of your favorite shadowy scenes, and shadowy characters in cinema? Is that style something you aesthetically gravitate to as an artist? I love shadows and chiaroscuro. I first fell in love with this in Maya Deren’s film Meshes of the Afternoon. And as a kid playing with my own shadow always brought such a sense of wonder. So it’s always been important in my work to dance and play and lean towards natural shadows as much as natural light. In Jezebel this was also about the honesty of how I remembered my life in that apartment. We filmed in the same apartment complex that I lived in and I wanted to stay as close to that reality as possible which was we lived in a very shadowy apartment. We never opened the blinds. When the door opened garish light would fall in and then we would all be together seeing each other and our shadows overlapping in the small space. The darkness and depression was visceral. I wanted the audience to feel this so we leaned into every shadow and never tried to blast it with light. 5. I know you have some erotic centric films in the works. I feel like that's something that's been missing from arthouse cinema in regards to stories centered on Black characters. Jezebel gave us a wonderful introduction to your artistic palette as a director. What's your approach to constructing sexy moments on screen? What makes a film, a project, uniquely a "House Of Numa" thing? Have you figured out a particular aesthetic that you want to be your signature, "your stamp" on every film? Provocative personal and feminine are my staples. And I care deeply about Black Womanhood. Our desires, our vulnerability. Our sensuality, our masks, our rage, our magic. That’s what I seek to focus on and continue to explore. House of Numa is an invitation to that in many forms - films, TV, art immersive experiences, books, brunches, you name it. 6. What actresses, or cinematographers, or collaborators in general, are you eager to work with in the future? Who are some of your dream collabs? Or perhaps, you have a dream location you'd like to shoot at.
There are so many emerging talents that I’m excited about! As an actor I’d love to work with Janicza Bravo. As a director I love Nikki Beharie she’s an indie darling; I’d love to find something for us. I look forward to working with Tiffany again and Stephen Barrington from Jezebel as well. I’m always very open to fresh faces new talent and people who aren’t necessarily actors at all but they inspire me. I’d love to film in Washington state where I once lived I’d love to make a film in Japan, in Paris... so many ideas and possibilities. 7. Thanks again for doing this interview. Is there anything else that you'd like to share about your filmmaking process? Thank you for such a thoughtful and caring interview. The only thing I have to add is I’m excited to get back on set. This time of pause has been tough- a slow rollercoaster of intense emotions. Looking forward to continuing filmmaking keeps me hopeful and in this time of tremendous loss it has been movies that bring me great comfort —so I will be very happy to get back to making them.
JEZEBEL is currently streaming on Netflix.