The Oscar race has officially begun! Since it premiered at Sundance, critics having been raving about Fruitvale Station and its stars, Michael B. Jordan, Octavia Spencer and Melonie Diaz.
The film tells the true story of Oscar Grant on the day before he was murdered by police at a San Francisco train station in 2009. “Indie darling” Melonie Diaz (Be Kind Rewind, Lords of Dogtown, Raising Victor Vargas) gives a beautiful and heartbreaking performance as Oscar’s girlfriend and the mother of his daughter.
We got a chance to sit down with Diaz (who, it was just announced, will soon be appearing on season three of Girls) about the film, attending a performing arts high school, and being in a Mary J. Blige music video.
VH1: What is your favorite thing about Fruitvale Station and about your character, Sophina?
Melonie Diaz: My favorite scene in the movie is the scene in the kitchen when we’re all cooking. It’s one of the lighter moments in the whole entire film, and I think it really shows the chemistry between the cast and how much of a family we are off screen.
VH1: You have such outstanding chemistry with Michael B. Jordan, and you both give such beautiful performances. What was it like delving into Oscar and Sophina’s relationship?
MD: Well, we just spent a lot of time hanging out. You know, that was really important to us. Like, one of my biggest pet peeves is whenever I get on set and they’re like, “You’re supposed to be married with a child.” It’s like, “I don’t even know you.” That’s like not realistic.
You know, conflict is easy because we’ve all had conflict, but to really bond with someone and to have a genuine connection, it needs to come from a place by knowing them.
So, we just hung out. We went to basketball games, and he cooked for me, we drank a lot, we hung out. And you know, we’re lucky. Sometimes there isn’t an easy chemistry, but [director] Ryan [Coogler]’s smart and he knows that casting is an important part of the movie.
VH1: You mentioned the family aspect. You play a mother in this. Did you guys also bond with the little girl who played your daughter off set?
MD: That was hard for me. I’m not a mom, and although I’m maternal, I think being a mother is something completely different. It’s something I’m obviously not familiar with.
But that little girl is smarter than all of us. She knew all of her lines and was far more professional. So it was easy to work with an actress of that age who was so on it.
VH1: Sophina is a real woman, and I know from our red carpet interview with you that you’ve met her in real life. Does knowing her personally make it more daunting for you as an actress to portray her?
MD: I didn’t want to imitate her. It was more about a representation of who she was, is, and who she was at that point in the last day of Oscar’s life. And it is daunting because if I were her, I wouldn’t want to watch a movie about myself and be like, “I don’t know who that person is.” This is a movie and this is entertainment, but this is also someone’s life story, and also there’s the daughter that’s involved. You want to make sure that one day when the kid’s going to watch it that she’s going to be happy with how her mother’s portrayed. So that’s a lot of pressure obviously, but we hit it off. The first day we hung out it was more about just like getting to know each other, and you know, she had a lot of opinions about how I pick out my nail color, and we went shopping. We went to a carnival.
I really just wanted to get a sense of who she was as a mother, and the day we went to the carnival was pretty telling. You know, she’s just like raising this little girl on her own and she’s just doing it so graciously despite the trauma that she’s experienced and I was really moved by that.
The next week we began shooting and I was like, “You know, Sophina’s a really strong woman and she’s also unconditional.” We spoke about her relationship with Oscar and how tumultuous it was. How hard it is to take a person back when you know what they’ve done.