DearWhite People, a controversial, important, and hilarious Netflix Original, was one of the break-out shows of the year. The show explores topics like racism, police brutality, colorism, the challenges of interracial dating, and the social justice movement sweeping the United States, to name a few. Dear White People, though it discomforted many and infuriated certain groups, opens up important conversations about the many elephants in the room that can no longer be ignored. By demonstrating realistic, day-to-day incidents, points of view, and conversations, Netflix is showing everyone their role in sociopolitical issues, even those who claim not to have one.
Actor, Jeremy Tardy, plays Kenyan student, Rashid, an intelligent, quiet and observant boy navigating America’s treacherous and confusing waters. Tardy went from acting in Milwaukee’s First Stage Children’s Theater to being a talented member of Juilliard’s Drama Class of 2013. He’s been seen in War Dogs alongside Miles Teller and Jonah Hill and has also been featured in the comedic drama, The Mindy Project. Now he’s taken on the role of Rashid with a wonderful attention to detail and humor. TalkNerdyWithUs was able to speak with Jeremy about the importance of Dear White People, playing an African among African-Americans, his past and future as an actor, and what’s in store for Rashid during season two.
Juilliard is an impressive institution and I’m sure it was a rewarding experience. You did a lot of stage work in high school, did that continue in Juilliard or did you focus more on film? Is there a big difference between film and theater production?
Yes. Juilliard’s Drama Division is a theater training program. It was a rewarding experience, but it takes a lot of struggle to reap the rewards. The types of classes I took ranged from Scene Study, Script Analysis, Mask work, Clown work, Movement, and so on. In my final year we had some on camera acting classes, but the program focuses on theater. The philosophy, as I understand, is that a mastery of the classics: Euripides, Shakespeare, Pinter, O’Neil, Wilson, will enable the actor to have great depth because those works require great skill. If you can do the classics well, be understood and compelling, then contemporary writing is a breeze.
The two biggest differences, for me, between theater and film have to do with energy and stamina. The energy and stamina required to perform on a stage, doing eight shows a week, filling the theater with your voice and presence, far exceeds the energy and stamina required for film. For film and TV, it’s only necessary to use as much energy and stamina to get through that camera and to be heard on your mic or boom. Also, film and TV require more flexibility of the actor as you’ll generally shoot a script completely out of order, whereas with theater you will continually work through the full arc of your play.
Dear White People was highly anticipated but also extremely controversial for some. What was your initial thought when hearing about the project?
I was very interested from the beginning. I was able to read the script for the film back in 2013 when it was in the casting process. While I knew the film would be controversial, if only for the title, I knew that the story was important. The event that catalyzes the series was also central to the film: the black face party. There is a lot of documentation showing that this happens throughout colleges and universities across the country and it is highly offensive. It is an extension of minstrelsy which was meant to mock and deride people of the African diaspora. So I was very excited about auditioning for the series because it would have room to explore so many issues in more depth and expose various perspectives which are often ignored.
Rashid is such a wonderful character with a very unique perspective among mainly American friends. Did you do any specific research when it came to getting in touch with his culture?
My research consisted of listening to some of the native languages of Kenya, Swahili and Kikuyu. I also listened to Kenyan comedians, politicians, and musicians. A friend of mine put me in touch with a gentleman from Nairobi who I was able to speak with to get the nuances that only someone who grew up there would know. All of that was very helpful, and I’m continuing that process in preparation for Season 2.
Congratulations on getting renewed for season two! Is there anything you can tell us about Rashid’s journey this season? Maybe we have a Rashid-centric episode coming our way?
I saw Justin Simien the other day when the cast made a surprise visit to the writer’s room. He smiled and told me he’s got some nice stuff for Rashid. At the moment, I don’t know exactly what Season 2 will yield for Rashid, but I trust Justin and the whole team of talented writers. I think it’s fair to say there may be a Rashid-centric episode. I think many viewers would like to get more of his backstory and what his perspective is.
So many Africans living in America have very unique and complicated feelings about our current societal and racial tensions. Did this cross your mind at all when playing a young Kenyan man attending an American university? How much of your own experiences went into your performance?
That was probably all I thought about. It was important for me to understand the cultural and social norms that Rashid would have grown up with and how they contrast with his transition into American culture. I’m still discovering the fullness of what that would be for Rashid, but I think he’s mostly curious as he encounters the differences between the two cultures and societies. In terms of my own experiences, I draw on the moments of curiosity, difficulty, and culture shock that I’ve experienced in my travels.
Both War Dogs and Dear White People share comedic elements, though the latter deals with a lot of sensitive material. Is comedy your preferred genre? Are there any genres you’re dying to explore?
Funny enough, I never thought that comedy was my thing. I don’t actually think I’m funny, but I know a lot of funny people and I do love comedy, so I just feel blessed. Where comedy is concerned, I just focus on timing and heart. I’m actually drawn to more dramatic work, but I’m cautious about separating those ideas into genres. There’s comedy in tragedy and tragedy in comedy. I’ve always loved martial arts films, the work of Bruce Lee, Jim Kelly, Donnie Yen, Jet Li, so I’ve been training in Wushu and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu to be able to tackle those kinds of stories as well.
At TalkNerdyWithUs we’re all about being proud of what makes you excited and passionate. What do you nerd out about?
I love to read and I love a good story. I nerd out for anything Toni Morrison or James Baldwin have written. And I am a big nerd for music. I used to DJ for a while so I’m pretty familiar with most genres of music. I could talk for hours about music.
In preparation for season two, you can binge Dear White People‘s first season on Netflix now!