Taylour Paige Thinks "Ma Rainey" Co-Star Chadwick Boseman Should Win an Oscar

Elena Nicolaou
·8 min read
Taylour Paige Thinks "Ma Rainey" Co-Star Chadwick Boseman Should Win an Oscar

From Oprah Magazine

  • Taylour Paige stars as Dussie Mae in Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, an adaptation of an August Wilson play streaming on Netflix.

  • Paige had several scenes with Viola Davis and Chadwick Boseman, who passed away in August.

  • Speaking to OprahMag.com, Paige opened up about what she learned from Ma Rainey.

Taylour Paige began her year as the belle of Sundance. The 30-year-old actress stars in the buzzy movie Zola, adapted from a viral Twitter thread by Jeremy O. Harris and Janicza Bravo. With her prominent role in Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, out now, Paige is ending her year as the belle of Netflix. Paige's Ma Rainey character, Dussie Mae, is the lover of the openly queer blues legend Ma Rainey (Viola Davis), and also has a brief dalliance with Ma's ambitious trumpeter, Levee Green (Chadwick Boseman, in his final role).

After a breakout appearance in High School Musical 3 in 2008 and four seasons at the helm of the VH1 dance-centric series Hit the Floor, her latest back-to-back performances have formed Paige's breakout moment—although, in a strange time to have a breakout moment.

Between Zola and Ma Rainey's premiere dates, the world as we knew it shut down. Zola's theatrical debut has been delayed indefinitely; most people will encounter Ma Rainey by streaming the August Wilson adaptation on Netflix. Within this new world, Paige has a new metric to determine how she's feeling: "I have ten fingers, I have ten toes. I can breathe without assistance. I'm doing fine," she tells OprahMag.com about how she's doing.

In an interview, Paige reflected on up about her unusual 2020, her Ma Rainey co-stars, and why she empathizes with Dussie Mae.

Photo credit: David Lee
Photo credit: David Lee

On Instagram, you described yourself as a "little soul hoping to ascend." With so many professional breakthrough moments this year, do you feel as if that "ascension" is happening?

I feel like I've been able to apply a bit of relaxing. I don't mean relaxing physically on the couch. I mean not putting so much pressure on hurrying up. Sure, it helps that we've all been forced to pause. But even before the world was forced to pause, I was trying to take those pauses. Then I'd get caught up in the loop of the world. And now it's like, Oh, I was on to something here. Let it go. Be kind to yourself. You're doing great.

What made you say yes to Ma Rainey?

It's August Wilson. It's George C. Wolfe. It's Viola. It's Chadwick. It's Denzel. It's Colman. It's Glynn. They're all this beautiful, high-flying frequency that I wanted to ride with and learn from. I'm just truly, truly inspired by all of them and their wisdom and their experiences.

So, I auditioned for it. When I had my call back, I actually had to do the audition on Zoom before Zoom was even a thing, 'cause I was in Italy for a couple of days with my boyfriend [actor Jesse Williams]. I really thought like, Oh, this isn't happening. I set my alarm wrong and woke up with four minutes to the call. I quickly washed face, brushed my teeth, and threw my hair up.

Normally, in the morning, I would like to like drink my coffee, have some water with lemon, say a prayer to my ancestors and August Wilson. But the energy of Ma Rainey was like, Just act! Speak it. Be honest. Be present. Honestly, I think because I was so rushed in that moment, I was present. I thought I had failed. I was crying. Then my manager was like, Well, you're a sucker, cause you got it. Now you have to fly back. I'm so grateful I have that forever. It was an incredible experience.

You have a lot of one-on-one on-screen time with both Viola and Chadwick. What did you learn from them?

Everything that comes out of Viola's mouth is a bar. Everything is so profound, well-intended and deeply caring—and also honest, raw, and true. I learned so much by the clarity of her example. Off-camera, she's giggling, and wants to talk about life and the world and what she's learned. She so deeply loves being an actor. She's aware that it's cool that this is what we get to do.

With Chadwick, I felt that he was such an old soul, but that old soul was so old it was able to be young. We saw eye-to-eye. We wanted to find the playfulness. Our two characters were looking for a window of possibility, or of like hope, just like a child does. Both [Chadwick and Viola] are powerful because they lend themselves in service to the truth.

Photo credit: Netflix
Photo credit: Netflix

You've stated that you think Chadwick should win the Oscar. What would that mean to you?

To be honest, I'll be both sad and happy. I think from where he is, he knows that he's already won. We touch who we're supposed to touch, and then we go. It would be so much better if he could be here physically. But from where he is, the place where he graduated, he's already gotten his Oscar—in life, by living a life of integrity and telling stories that matter, stories our kids can look up to and be inspired by.

Being on this planet is really rough and painful and uncertain and scary. We're all acting like we're okay, while we're all fighting battles no one knows about. To be experiencing something like what he was, and still be so kind and ready and willing and just present with us—it's a reason why we need to sing his praises forever.

Being on the planet is hard, as you said, and that's why we turn to stories. What impact do you hope Ma Rainey has on audiences?

I hope that because of where consciousness is, we can now be somewhat more sensitive and thoughtful about what August was trying to say. Which is essentially him connecting the past, present and future. August [ed note: the playwright passed away in 2005] is of our past, and he's talking about our past, but it presently affects us. And the only way that we'll have a better future is if we process it and talk about it and find a better way to articulate what's not okay: This glaring racism and unfairness. The gas-lighting of being Black, a woman, of trying to just exist—Why are you being so irrational? Why are you so angry?

Photo credit: Rich Polk - Getty Images
Photo credit: Rich Polk - Getty Images

That takes me back to the scene where Ma Rainey is pulled over and is trying to state her case to the police officer.

I watched a clip of Miles Davis. He had a Lamborghini or Ferrari, but he always had to call the officials in Malibu to say, I'm going for a drive. If he didn't, he would get pulled over because they were like, Whose car is this? Cause it's definitely not yours. How many people have had a broken tail light and then ended up dead? It's sad. It's disgusting. It's humiliating. You're so busy trying to convince other people of your worth that you don't feel worthy.

That's what the play speaks to.

And it's ambiguous in the end, too. What do you think happens to these people?

Speaking of which: Did you empathize with Dussie Mae? What do you think she's after?

Dussie is wounded and afraid of being found out that she's disposable. From a macro standpoint, it's like, You're a black woman. You're the most undervalued in the world. But also in her world, she's thinking, If I say it this way, if I do what Ma says, she'll feel like I'm a really important part of her energy and this tour. If it doesn't work out, maybe I'll try Levee. She's thinking, Is there anyone that will just love me? Hold me? Walk with me?

Dussie is hoping for some kind of freedom. Some kind of certainty. Stability. Direction. Please, I don't want to go back there. I don't know where we're going—but I know I don't want to go back. Will anyone love me? Maybe if I do it like this, someone will.

[Ma Rainey's characters] are bound by this glaring sadness as the descendants of slaves living in the Jim Crow world. It would be ignorant for me to not empathize with that heaviness. All of us want to feel like there's possibility and hope, even today. With this virus, we want to feel like, We're going to be back in the world and hug each other again, right? Something good is going to come of this, right? There has to be a point of all this commotion.

Or really, are we always alone? That's the existential magnitude of being alive and also being a Black person. Am I ever going to matter to anyone?

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