How Till Star Danielle Deadwyler Delivered the Performance of the Year

till star danielle deadwyler
Danielle Deadwyler and the Performance of the YearErik Carter

When Danielle Deadwyler first auditioned to play Mamie Till-Mobley, the heroine of the film Till, she already understood the role profoundly. Putting herself on video for the casting process, Deadwyler enlisted her own young son to play opposite her in a scene that depicts Mamie telling her son Emmett to “be small” when he visits his Mississippi relatives, knowing that any misunderstood move could be dangerous. “I was having the conversations then about how to navigate the world as a young Black boy” with her own child, Deadwyler says. “Not about the South, but about how the world will perceive you or misperceive you, how you have to be hyperaware, but not wanting to instill fear.”

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Danielle Deadwyler stars in Till as Mamie Till-Mobley, who played a vital role in the civil rights movement after the murder of her young son, Emmett. On Deadwyler: Carolina Herrera dress.ERIK CARTER

Till tells the real story of Mamie and 14-year-old Emmett, who was abducted and murdered by white racists in Mississippi in 1955. “I knew the story, but not this story,” Deadwyler says. The movie’s director, Chinonye Chukwu, rewrote an earlier script to focus on Mamie, who insisted her son’s ravaged body be shown to the public, helping to galvanize the civil rights movement. “This is a love story between a mother and a child,” Chukwu says. When she was casting the part, she asked herself, “Can they get underneath the words, in the silences and the pauses, and really communicate a story with just their eyes?” After a long search, “Danielle checked all those boxes.”

Until this role, Deadwyler was best known for a supporting part in the series Station Eleven, but Till has vaulted her to another level. So far her fierce, eloquent portrayal has won Outstanding Lead Performance at the Gotham Awards, the Breakthrough Performance Award at the Palm Springs International Film Awards, the Breakthrough Performance Award from the National Board of Review, a SAG Awards nomination for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role, and landed her on multiple lists of the best performances of the year.

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Before appearing in Till, Deadwyler impressed audiences with her performance in the series Station Eleven.On Deadwyler: Louis Vuitton top and pant; Pasquale Bruni earrings.Erik Carter

She isn’t alone in portraying a mother whose bond with her son drives a powerful film. From Queen Ramonda mourning her child in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever to Steven Spielberg’s recollections of his manic pixie mother in The Fabelmans to the close relationship between Gladys Presley and her son in Elvis, some of the past year’s most lauded movies feature strong mother-son themes. But only Till carries the tragic weight of history and focuses so intensely on the maternal main character.

danielle deadwyler till
Till stars Danielle Deadwyler and Jalyn Hall at Lincoln Center during the 2022 New York Film Festival, where the movie screened.Nafis Azad for the 20x24 Collection


The arc of the film is what Deadwyler calls “a magnificent love” that extends beyond Emmett’s short lifetime. “How is she caring for him when he is there? What is the care and love when he’s taken and lynched?” she asks. “And what is the care and love when it shifts to seeking justice?”

Deadwyler’s performance has had a strong effect on audiences. Barbara Broccoli, one of Till’s producers, says, “Someone told me they were worried about seeing the film because they didn’t know how they were going to handle the emotion, but Danielle as Mamie holds your hand through the process.”

daniell deadwyler in versace, piaget
Danielle DeadwylerErik Carter

Capturing that was a responsibility Deadwyler was also well prepared for. She still lives in Atlanta, where she was raised, surrounded by the legacy of the civil rights movement, and where she and her siblings volunteered at the Southern Christian Leadership Conference as students. In a Zoom interview, she is even wearing a t-shirt from the 1980s that has a giant peach on it with the words "Peachtree Road Race," a local quarter-marathon that her parents have run, and she laughingly says she never has.

She has an easy manner and quick laugh that also helped relieve the pressure of the material during filming. Jalyn Hall, who plays Emmett, obviously adores Deadwyler. “She has such a lovely light to her personality,” he says. “Even when you’re tired, she’s up and at ’em and still breathing life into everyone around her.”

Still, “there’s an impact emotional trauma has on the body,” Deadwyler says about playing Mamie. She has spent the last year trying to restore balance to her life, and her next project, the action thriller Carry-On, will be much less somber. She is also beginning to absorb the fact that her career will never be the same. “I’m trying to parse it out to see what it all really means,” she says. “I have to hold on to a certain quality of self. And I’m just excited for whatever the unknown is.”

danielle deadwyler town and country magazine
Town & Country Magazine

Photography by Erik Carter
Styling by Jason Rembert

Hair by Araxi Lindsey at A-Frame Agency, Makeup by Autumn Moultrie at The Wall Group

This story appears in the February 2023 issue of Town & Country.
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