In the realm of storytelling, Afrofuturism has emerged as a popular genre, blending elements of science fiction, Black culture, and social commentary to envision a future that celebrates and empowers marginalized voices. Actress Teyonah Parris (known for her role as Monica Rambeau in Marvel’s WandaVision) continues to push boundaries and challenge narratives as Yo-Yo in her latest project, They Cloned Tyrone. In this exclusive interview with Taji Mag, Parris talks about the world of Afrofuturism, the importance of representation, and how They Cloned Tyrone delivers an exploration of identity, conspiracy, and the power of community.
Dapper Dr Feel (DDF): What’s your favorite part of portraying the character Yo-Yo in They Cloned Tyrone?
Teyonah Parris (TP): Yo-Yo all starts with the script. I had a great script to work off of. Juel and Tony did a wonderful job creating this world. So while reading it, I couldn’t stop turning the pages. I flew through that script and then read it again. But Yo-Yo specifically, I just loved how ambitious and fearless she is, and really getting the opportunity to share her story. She’s a sex worker, and she really becomes the hero and driving force of this story. I mean they’re all heroes, but sometimes you need a little extra push and Yo-Yo serves as that push for her community.
I started with conversations with Juel (our director… he’s also our writer) and another one of our writers about what they were trying to accomplish, where they were pulling from (inspiration-wise), and then just really kind of letting all of that go and just having fun telling this woman’s story.
DDF: Speaking of having fun, you star alongside Jamie Foxx and John Boyega. What was it like working with them and were there some parts that were improvised? One possibly improvised scene I noticed in particular was when “wet wipes” were mentioned.
TP: There are many scenes that are improvised, but what I did love about working with John and Jamie is that we all started from the script. We had a wonderful script to begin with, and so we started there. And then after that, when you’re working with a GOAT (la comedic GOAT giant like Jamie), you gotta let them do their thing. And so a lot of it was watching, admiring, and cracking up at Jamie just going for it. I even sometimes forgot that I was in the scene too. I can’t just forget that I’m a part of the world and the story we’re telling! So that was a lot of fun. There was a lot of improvisation and there also was a lot of “let’s do what’s on the page and then take it from there”.
DDF: Did you improv the scene in the elevator as well? Was that your flow?
TP: That elevator scene was written to where Slick Charles (Jamie’s character) was the one singing, and John’s character and I were just supposed to be like “what are you doing? Like, okay”. But what ended up happening on the day we were filming, we did it like that a couple of times and there was a take where Jamie started beatboxing, and it felt like he handed me the mic. I’m not trying to step on no toes. It’s Jamie Foxx! I felt like “let me let him do his thing”. He was doing it and so he kind of like threw the mic to me and I jumped in like “I’m gonna go for it” and I went for it. It was hilarious. In that scene, you can see I broke character. I just started laughing because it was so funny to me. And then John turned around; he kept character very well. That moment epitomizes a lot of what we were able to accomplish and explore while making this film. It was just fun.
DDF: There were some pretty relatable and unique themes in this movie. How do you think the film will resonate with audiences and what do you think viewers will look forward to in regards to the story of the film?
TP: I hope that audiences are entertained by this story above all. Some people are gonna come in and they’ll [notice], because it’s there, many different themes like socioeconomic disparity, trauma cycles, things like that that they could talk and go on for hours about, debating what’s to blame, where does blame and responsibility intersect, and where does it separate. And then there are people who may not wanna do all of that and may just want to enjoy a film.
I think there’s something for everyone in this film and so, ultimately, I hope that people are entertained, period. Some people may be entertained so much that they go on to talk about different themes and ideas that we’re exploring in the film.
DDF: The film does have some elements of Afrofuturism. What does Afrofuturism mean to you personally?
TP: For me personally, Afrofuturism is taking our roots… the diaspora is so wide and so vast, we pull from so many different places; ultimately, the motherland and where we started is Kings and Queens in Africa… taking that and reimagining it differently but in the future, allowing the space for it to take form and shape in ways we might not have expected. And to be able to be in these sci-fi futuristic spaces as Black people.
DDF: If you ran into a clone of yourself, what would you do and could you coexist with them?
TP: If I ran into a clone of myself, what would I do? Child, I probably would be really scared and just walk the other way. Then I’d need to know what’s happening. Maybe I could go talk to them and see if they are the clone. Am I the clone? Who’s the clone? Yeah, so I would need to have a discussion and say, “okay, who’s life is better?”. Because maybe you wanna do like the dishes, cooking, cleaning, walking the dog and things like that. And then I could go lay on a beach while you work. Or, like, how can we make this work for ourselves? Like, what do you like to do, clone? So I would need to have that discussion so that maybe we could figure some things out and just both do all the things we love to do.
DDF: So wait, you would still act, though, right?
TP: Would you, the audience, know there’s someone else acting? Who knows? I have to see what they like to do. For example if, in their world, they’re a bomb actress and they’re like “no, you need to sit down [because] I’m better than you”, I’m gonna have to let her have that. And then maybe I could do something else. It’s all up for discussion.
DDF: Like this film and films such as The Marvels in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, we’re seeing a surge in Black sci-fi projects. As a leading lady in Black sci-fi, what do you think this means for the entertainment industry?
TP: I’m excited for this time when we can have Black women in these spaces, in the sci-fi spaces as leading ladies. And to be a part of it [myself] is even more exciting. It’s literally my dreams personified. I hope that we see more diversity in these spaces for Black people, for people of color. All of these stories are such interesting stories, and I think we’re seeing a lot of that now as we’re starting to explore different cultures’ pop culture.
Yeah. But for myself, I’m excited to be a part of it. I wanna see more of it. There are so many more stories that Black folk have to tell in these different spaces and genres. So, I hope to be a part of continuing to tell them.
DDF: Who were some of your favorite Sci-fi characters growing up?
TP: Sci-fi growing up, hmmm, my favorite sci-fi characters. This is so weird, but I’m gonna say it. I really love The Fifth Element, is that considered sci-fi? That’s sci-fi futuristic. Yeah, I loved The Fifth Element. There’s obviously Storm from X-Men. I loved The Matrix, but it wasn’t a specific character in that.
Oh, did I mention my favortie character from The Fifth Element?
DDF: I was hoping you’d say Chris Tucker.
TP: Of course I was going to say that! Also, I am obsessed with Diva Plavalaguna. I still be doing that dance in the mirror that she did in her opera performance.
You also have classic characters and legends like Michelle Nichols from Star Trek.
DDF: What theme song would you chose for Yo-Yo?
TP: You know, I don’t know her theme song, but I can tell you that in order to prepare sometimes before going to set, I was listening to Trina.
DDF: Just all Trina.
TP: Oh yes I was; because I’m like, you need this energy around somebody like a Slick Charles and a Fontaine, you need that bad chick energy to be able to go up against them. And I love how Trina just sits in hers… and this is like the late 90s, 2000s Trina. That was some of my “all right, let’s go get ’em girl” music to prepare.
Make sure to watch Teyonah Parris as Yo-Yo in They Cloned Tyrone with all her “bad chick” energy. In select theaters on July 14th and streaming on Netflix on July 20th.