Right before New Year’s Day, Jayme Lawson sat down to make a list. She wanted to outline all of the big changes that had transpired over the past twelve months. It was an impressive array of accomplishments. In May, Lawson graduated from Julliard. A month later, she was cast in her first indie movie, “Farewell Amor.” Then in quick succession, she nabbed a showy part in the Public Theatre’s revival of “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Enuf” and a key role in Matt Reeves’ “The Batman.”
“It’s been quite a year,” Lawson says during an interview at a Brooklyn coffee shop. “It’s truly a testament how your life can start out looking like it’s going one way, but if you keep investing in the things that are important and in your dreams, everything can change in an instant.”
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Lawson is enjoying her last gasps of anonymity before “The Batman” makes her an instantly recognizable face. But even before she heads off to London where the superhero adventure is filming (her first time out of the country), she’s gearing up for another career milestone. “Farewell Amor,” a low-budget drama about a family torn apart by the Angolan Civil War and their difficult reunion in the United States nearly two decades after they were first separated, will debut at this month’s Sundance Film Festival. The film required Lawson to master an Angolan accent and kizomba, a style of dance popularized in the country. With the exception of a student film, it also represented her first time acting on camera. She credits director Ekwa Msangi and co-stars Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine and Zainab Jah with helping her learn to relax and modulate her performance for the screen.
“I was nervous,” says Lawson. “I was so scared of all the different elements that I had to juggle. I was like we’re going to pack it all in on my first film.”
Other things about the story were familiar. “Farewell Amor” unfolds in the apartment buildings, streets and bodegas of Crown Heights, and was primarily shot blocks away from where Lawson lives. “It was a nice commute,” she jokes.
Lawson said she was drawn to the project because it provided a unique perspective. “It’s an immigrant story that I hadn’t seen before,” says Lawson. “It’s not focused on the trauma they’re escaping. It’s not even focused on the immediate challenges of trying to make ends meet. It’s mostly about this family trying to heal the scars left by distance and time. That makes it universal.”
Like most comic book movies, “The Batman” is cloaked in secrecy. Lawson can’t even say what role she’ll play. But if the film succeeds, it should push this rising star even higher. Right now, she says she can’t even process the turn of events. She did two rounds of auditions for “The Batman” in New York in September, reading for several different roles. When she got the call in November, she was at the gym, finishing up a workout.
“I Was shocked,” she says. “I thought they’d moved on. In that moment my first thought was just, ‘oh thank God, I have another job.’”
Of course, it’s not just any gig. “The Batman” will require Lawson to hold her own with A-listers such as Robert Pattinson, who will play the title role, as well as Paul Dano (the Riddler), Zoe Kravitz (Catwoman), and Colin Farrell (the Penguin).
“I’m so relieved that I was able to do ‘Farewell Amor’ beforehand, because I would be way more scared to be joining this big venture had I not had any experience at all,” she says.