There’s a scene in the movie where you come to blows with another actress. Did you have any real-life fighting experience?
Not at all. I’d never physically hit anybody until I was doing the rehearsal. They had a stunt man, and we were getting ready, and the timing got screwed up and I really connected with this guy’s chin. And, I have to say, it was gnarly! [Laughs.] But, also, I’ve never felt worse. It’s a whole other thing to hit skin. It didn’t feel good at all, and yet it was like, “Wow, that worked! I can really hurt someone.” It just goes to show you that the smallest person can inflict the most damage if they know what they’re doing, and it’s good for women to know that.
Listen, I'm not someone to be played with! If need be, I can hurt someone.
Would it have felt better if you punched someone you can’t stand, instead of an innocent stunt man?
I would never feel good, though. I’m not that person—I’m much more of a lover than a fighter. I’d be violent to myself before I would to another person. Besides, my hand hurt afterward.
But it’s always good to know that you’re capable of knocking someone out.
Definitely. Listen, I’m not someone to be played with! [Laughs.] If need be, I can hurt someone. I don’t think there’s a problem with that. I just try not to be like, “Oh, I really want to sock this person in the face.” That’s not saying that I’m perfect. Ideally, I want to be a person who tries to have some compassion. But I have said things, like, “I’m going to strangle this person,” or, “I want to murder them!” [Laughs.] Which is horrible. I’m such a.... What’s the word for it? I waver back and forth; I’m many things at once.
There’s a duality to you, in other words.
Yes! Duality! Thank you, that’s the word I’m looking for. I want to be peaceful, but I have a lot of violent rage inside of me. Mission: Impossible was great for helping me get some of that out without really hurting anyone.
Hollywood is definitely lacking in female action heroes. Is that something you’d be game for?
Hell yeah. I’d love to do more action films. I was always athletic as a child, so for me it’s fun to run and jump and get physical. I love all of that. It would be amazing to keep kicking ass in other films, or in more Mission: Impossible films—whatever comes my way. I’m just open to wherever life takes me. I try to put up light guardrails in my life, and leave room for things to come my way and surprise me. If you’re too rigid in your quest for something, you might not see the other amazing possibilities that are thrown at you.
Didn’t you make documentaries before you started acting?
Well, since I was a little girl, I always wanted to be an actress. I would put on plays in my parents’ backyard and wear my mom’s dresses—playing dress-up was my favorite thing in the world. But in high school I became friends with this guy who was this Spike Lee wannabe, and he took me to see Do the Right Thing, and it just changed me. From that, the idea that I could create stories and characters for black women and men to play who weren’t just stereotypes, was incredible for me. I actually made a couple short films after that.
Is that inner revolutionary still inside of you?
Absolutely, but maturity has let me know that there’s a way to deliver a message and still entertain the audience. Back then, I didn’t care about entertaining anyone— I had a point to make, dammit! [Laughs.] The most important thing for anyone who wants to make movies is to entertain people. If you find a way to layer it, give them more depth, and make them think about things, that’s the ultimate success. It’s sad, we now live in a place where commerce is more important than art, but you have to move with the times.