Playing dual roles in a film is no easy feat. The fact that Shahadi Wright Joseph manages to pull it off at the young age of 13 is nothing short of remarkable. As teenager Zora Wilson and her doppelganger, Us, Joseph manages to give a performance rarely seen from the most seasoned of actors, let alone someone in her age range. With Jordan Peele's latest film grossing $223 million worldwide and her upcoming role as young Nala in the CGI adaptation of The Lion King, Shahadi Wright Joseph is bound to appear in many movie outlets throughout 2019.
S&A sat down with the budding actress to talk about her role in Us, her upcoming role as young Nala in The Lion King, her favorite horror movies, and what actors and actresses she wants to work with in the future.
S&A: Congratulations on the success of Us.
SWJ: Thank you so much!!
Q: What was the audition process like?
SWJ: It was very difficult actually. So basically, I got an audition from my agent. It was a self-tape audition and of course, the character was very creepy and the movie is very gory. So basically, my Dad and I had to figure out how we're going to tape this because it's really hard to do a very physical audition on a self-tape. You should only really show your shoulders up. That was difficult as well. This is a role I've never played before. It's really different. We basically had to go through all of the lines step by step and subtext, highlighting. It was a lot, but we recorded it and we sent it out to Los Angeles. A couple of weeks later we got a call from Jordan Peele who said he wanted to meet me in LA for a chemistry read. That is where I met with Evan Alex, who plays my brother Jason in the movie. That was incredible. After that, a couple of weeks later, we got another call from Jordan saying I got the role. I was so excited. Overall, it was such a great experience and I loved it.
S&A: There are a lot of Easter eggs in Us. Were those Easter eggs something you caught on to as you were filming or did you notice them when you saw the finished product?
SWJ: I had no idea that there were so many Easter eggs. I did know that my green shirt that said "Thỏ" means "rabbit" in Vietnamese. There are just a lot of Easter eggs all over the movie. It's a real thinker.
S&A: Lupita Nyong'o drew on a lot of inspiration for her character's doppelganger, Red, especially in regards to her voice and physicality. Did you draw on specific inspirations for your Umbrae?
SWJ: It was something I had to adapt to because I had never played a role like Umbrae before. It was definitely much harder playing Umbrae because she was so unique and so different from REGULAR 13-year old girls. It was also a fun challenge because I got to explore myself as an actor. Jordan really helped us with the physicality. I think that was really the hardest part of all these characters. The thing is everybody in the family is so different, but they still come together as a family. I think that's great. You can definitely see it on both sides: the good side and the bad side. I love that about the family. I thought that it was really smart to change things up lightly for all of the characters. If it was a new look or if it was just movement.
Q: What was the dynamic between you and Evan Alex when the cameras weren't rolling? Did you guys bond off screen in order to make it look more authentic on screen?
SWJ: Yeah, we did. I have never had a younger brother, but I do have an older sister. I couldn't even fathom how to be an older sister. Since my older sister wasn't with me in LA at the time, I had to take notes from Evan's actual sister to try to figure out how to be an older sister. That was really fun. I think that we really created a brother-sister dynamic on screen. We would hang out at lunch even off set. It was really fun, getting to bond with Evan and everybody else as a family.
S&A: What are some of your favorite horror movies?
SWJ: I like The Shining, The Exorcist, The Babadook, Get Out, and It.
S&A: Given the film's gory moments, was their hesitancy on your parents part in allowing you to be cast in Us
SWJ: They trusted me to handle it. I'm kind of in love with the horror genre, so I don't think they were worried about me that much. But I think that they just wanted to make sure that I was safe during the whole shoot and it was such a great process. I had no regrets.
S&A What did your parents think of your performance?
SWJ: They were all present during the shooting of the film. They kind of weren't surprised seeing it on screen. But, I was kind of amazed when I first saw it because I never look at myself on camera that much. It was amazing seeing the finished product. It was really nostalgic, going back to shooting the scenes.
S&A: You're also playing young Nala in Disney's live adaptation of The Lion King. What was your experience working on that?
I first saw the movie when I was about 3 years old. It was basically my favorite movie in the world. I loved it so much. Young Nala really inspired me to start my acting career. I definitely want to keep that energy going in the all-new Lion King.
S&A: Who are your dream actors you want to work with in the future?
SWJ: I definitely want to work with Lupita, Evan, Winston, and Jordan again. I also want to work with Kerry Washington, Thandie Newton, Taraji P. Henson, Daniel Kaluuya, and Regina King.
The Lion King will debut in theaters on July 19, 2019.
Photo by Roy Rochlin/FilmMagic