Michaela Coel’s musical debut in Been So Long has dropped on Netflix, and Coel spoke to BET about her role, her daring shaved head and the one part she wouldn’t do without permission.
Coel said her reason to take part in Been So Long was Che Walker, who wrote the screenplay.
“Che Walker is the reason I ended up as an actor in the first place,” she said. “He saw me do a poem, and he said you should be an actor. And he introduced me to Arinzé [Kene], who plays Raymond. I also met Ronke [Adekoluejo], who plays Yvonne, through Uncle Che; that’s what we call him, Uncle. I was really desperate to be a part of it because I know that I can honor his words, I can honor his ideas, and I can honor him because he gave me so much.”
Coel also said she was she was a big fan of Walker’s original stage production of Been So Long because the lead character of Simone was someone Coel hadn’t seen portrayed as a Black woman.
“Originally, I was to play Yvonne, but I saw this romantic lead, and I thought you know what, when I was growing up I never saw no girls that looked like me doing romantic leads and being the apple of someone’s eye, and I thought I need to do this for the things I didn’t have,” she said. “Because there are loads of little girls like me looking for something on the screen that shows they can be vulnerable and they can love. So, I was pretty determined to do it.”
Coel said her character wasn’t originally going to have a shaved head. But her hairstyle was decided independently by Coel herself.
“…I shaved my head after the audition,” she said. “This was a week before we shot. I spoke to the head of hair and makeup, originally there were ideas about an afro or wearing flowers in her hair. And I said I don’t wear flowers in my hair. Who wears flowers in their hair? And I said what do you think about me shaving my hair? And she was enticed.”
Fans have also wanted Coel to play another Simone, musical legend Nina Simone. But Coel isn’t interested unless the family wants her to play the role.
“It’s funny; I chose ‘Strange Fruit’ by Nina Simone for my audition piece to drama school. And only after that people started saying ‘you look like her’ and then I looked at the pictures and said, ‘Oh my God, I do.’ However, in all of that, would I?” she said. “I watched the documentary What Happened to Miss Simone?, and I felt like that was an eye-opening three-dimensional portrayal of a legend. I’ve always had a connection to Nina Simone. But I respect her and her family so much that I would only do that if they were (asking) me to do it. I’m not gonna be looking to play Nina Simone as if she were a character and not a human being, a legend…When her daughter tells me, ‘I need you to go play Nina Simone,’ that’s when I’ll play her.”
You can read the full interview at BET.