At the 26th Annual Satellite Awards, The Black Cape caught up with The Underground Railroad’s breakout child-star, Mychal-Bella Bowman. In the harrowing Barry Jenkins drama, Bowman masterfully plays a character named Fanny Briggs (also known as Grace) who is confined to the small attic belonging to a secret abolitionist. In Episodes 3 and 7, Fanny acts as a guide to the newly arrived escaped slave Cora (Thuso Mbedu) when the latter faces danger while crossing into a highly bigoted religious town. In this interview we talk to Bowman about her collaboration with Jenkins, growing up as a child actor, things that she both admires and uses as inspiration to guide her on her path.
Destiny Jackson: As a young person making your way in the business, how did you feel getting your hand on this incredible script? But more importantly, how did you feel when reading about the journey of your character?
Mychal-Bella Bowman: Honestly, when I was reading through the script, I kind of didn’t really [understand the impact], because I was nine years old at the time. [laughs]. But when I was on set and saw everything coming to life that’s when I realized that this was real. Even I thought [my character] died! And I was so surprised, but of course, then you realize while watching that I escaped.
DJ: You’re 12 now, but as a nine-year-old then, I mean, you’re lucky! What was it like working with not only Barry Jenkins, but also working as a young actor playing a character who acts as a guide for an older character in the show?
MBB: It was amazing. It was just… I kind of felt like a role model to Cora, but then Cora also kind of taught me things, especially when she was living inside of the crawlspace for a couple of months with me. It was very sad when she had to go and when they caught her trying to come back up into the crawlspace and then all that. But it was just incredible. It also taught me a life lesson for myself. I want to be brave like that. And then working with Barry was just amazing. He’s like family. I saw him at the Critics’ Choice Awards, and I saw Thuso Mbedu and people like that, and it was just really amazing to kind of reunite with them and everything. The whole Underground Railroad was just a big family. I still talk to my cast, like Thuso, Chase Dillion. I still talk to them.
DJ: What are some of the things you did to help you get into the headspace of that character at such a young age? Any playlists?
MBB: Not music, no. But, seeing [the cast and crew] each morning and reading [our] scripts inside of our trailers over and over again really helped me get into that mode. And especially once we’re on set and you see all of the construction that they build to obviously make the TV series come to life.
DJ: Now that you’re older, do you have any favorite artists right now, at all?
MBB: My all-time favorite artist is Billie Eilish. I just love her. She’s an amazing person, and of course, her music is amazing.
DJ: You’ve been in the awards circuit this last year going to the Critics’ Choice Awards and SAG, and now you’re presenting at the Satellite Awards with some legends in the room, how has this helped inspire you? What are some goals you have right now so early in your career?
MBB: I want to keep doing what I’m doing and try to exceed and learn more things. Of course, coming to events like this and listening to people talk and listening to what they’re passionate about also helps me also figure out what I’m passionate about. So things like that, but then it’s also already kind of in my mindset what I want to do and what my life goals are.
DJ: Outside of acting, what would be a skill you’re really good at?
MBB: Math, I skipped a grade so that I could go up an extra grade for math.
I’m in seventh grade, but I’m supposed to be in sixth, and I do eighth-grade math. I do Algebra I.
DJ: Who is someone you admire in the industry right now? Who do you look up to?
MBB: Zendaya, especially from her early Disney days all the way to Euphoria — even though I’m not allowed to watch it — and Dune. It’s been great to see her expand as an actress and model, she’s an amazing person.
[Originally published on Medium — The Black Cape]