More than sixty years after the classic sci-fi series aired on television, horror mastermind Jordan Peele has reimagined The Twilight Zone for the 21st-century. As the series narrator and host, Peele takes his audience through ten episodes that explore the intricacies of the modern world through the Us director’s haunting lens. The third episode of the series, “Replay,” starring Sanaa Lathan and Damson Idris, is one of the most superb of the electric first season.
In the episode, Lathan stars as Nina, an acclaimed attorney who is driving her son Dorian (Idris) to get him settled into his first day at a fictional Historically Black University. Eager to capture the memories, Nina records their road trip on an old camcorder. When the mother/son duo find themselves in the crosshairs of a racist state trooper (Glenn Fleshler), Nina discovers that the camcorder can rewind time.
Ahead of the “Replay” premiere, Shadow And Act sat down to chat with Damson Idris and Sanaa Lathan about stepping into The Twilight Zone and why this particular episode will stick with the audience for a good long while.
“I used to watch the re-runs of the original, and I was always just so fascinated with them,” Lathan explained. “To this day I remember images from some of the episodes. When I read the script I was like, ‘Sign me up!’ It’s a whammy what this woman, Nina Harrison, goes through. She goes on this real emotional journey, and I just was super excited to play her.”
After Lathan signed on, Idris was handpicked to portray Dorian. “I actually watched an episode of the original called “Eye of the Beholder,” because a friend of mine recommended it and I was instantly blown away,” the British-born actor remembered. “Then, weeks later I got a script in from Gerard McMurray who directed our episode and was a huge fan of mine and wanted me to read the script and play Dorian. So the universe really just aligned. Reading that script, I was on the edge of my seat the whole time, and I knew instantly it was what I wanted to do next.”
The source material —police harassment in the midst of the Black Lives Matter movement—was something that both Idris and Lathan were more than willing to grapple with. “The conversation and dialogue between the police and Africans in general —regardless of where you’re from in the world—is a universal thing,” the Snowfall actor reflected. “That was one thing I definitely connected to from reading the script and from playing the character. The beauty of The Twilight Zone is that it reflects on issues that can happen and that are happening now.”
Since the foundation of “Replay” is the dynamic between and mother and son, both Lathan and Idris knew that the chemistry between their characters was essential in creating the realism of the episode. “I really identified with Nina, because she is every mother who wants the best for her son; she wants her son to survive,” the Shots Fired actress explained. “Like so many Black mothers with Black boys in this day and age and for centuries in this country, the landscape is not a safe one for our Black boys in America. This is the emotional journey of a woman, the emotional journey of a mother, into her worst nightmare. It’s also a testament to the strength of a mother’s love. I think everybody will be able to identify with that. Damson and I hit it off right away. He really is all about the work, and we had fun. We’re both Virgos, so we’re both perfectionists.”
Bonding with his co-star was also essential for Idris. “I knew I’d love Sanaa because I was a huge fan of Love & Basketball,” he laughed. “The first time I met her was at the table read, and I remember her walking in, and the first thing she said was, ‘You’re too tall to be playing my son!’ I was like — ‘I love this woman.’ That’s the character. Nina is lit, and Dorian plays on that. That’s why they have such an amazing relationship. I’m very much a method actor and so is Sanaa, so we really did treat each other like mother and son. She’s really nurturing and gave me a lot of advice on my career going forward and taught me so many things on set. Her process was amazing to watch and to work with.”
The entity of time was also a major factor in “Replay,” especially since the episode does not adhere to a linear timeline. “It was interesting because it’s a quick shoot and I was in every scene, we had to do everything out of order,” the Native Son actress explained. “So it really felt like an acting exercise at times because the character is in all different kinds of emotional states. So, it definitely was challenging. For me, that’s exciting. I’ve been wanting to be challenged like this.”
Idris also had to dig deep when it came to “Replay’s” tricky timeline. “It was definitely the best continuity test I’ve ever had in my life,” he said. “For Dorian, he constantly has to go back to exactly what he was doing 5 minutes ago, 10 minutes ago, an hour ago. It was interesting to remember that, and I was constantly talking to the writers and producers. It was a beautiful thing. I’ve never had to do that before, so I can’t wait for people to see this episode because I think it’s gonna be one that a lot of people are going to talk about for a very long time.”
Though Jordan Peele was in the middle of editing Us when “Replay” was shot, Idris wants to make sure the audience keeps their eyes open for any Peele Universe Easter eggs that may be sprinkled through the episode. “He’s such a genius,” the Farming actor said. “After you watch this episode you’re going to be able to watch it 4, 5, 6 times after that because there’s gonna be so many things that you missed, so many wonderful Easter eggs and so many Jordan Peele sprinkles of magic.”
“Replay” will debut April 11, 2019, on CBS All Access.
Aramide A. Tinubu is a film critic and entertainment writer. As a journalist, her work has been published in EBONY, JET, ESSENCE, Bustle, The Daily Mail, IndieWire and Blavity. She wrote her master’s thesis on Black Girlhood and Parental Loss in Contemporary Black American Cinema. She’s a cinephile, bookworm, blogger, and NYU + Columbia University alum. You can find her reviews on Rotten Tomatoes or A Word With Aramide or tweet her @wordwitharamide