No, you're not going crazy: it's definitely feeling like DeWanda Wise, the star of Spike Lee's Netflix series She's Gotta Have It (which returns for its second season on May 24), is in all of the things. She recently starred opposite Gina Rodriguez in the Netflix original Someone Great, played a flight commander on a mission to Mars on The Twilight Zone, and even stars in Stella Meghie's The Weekend. Let Wise tell it, that's just how things have been happening.
"It's because all my stuff comes out," she informs us during a recent interview ahead of Season 2 of She's Gotta Have It. "The same thing happened, Underground and Shots Fired came out the same time. And I was like, 'that's great,' you know, "I could do all the PR at the same time."
Season 2 finds Nola in an interesting predicament, both as an artist and in her love life. While battling the fight between her more outspoken work and the shit that pays the bills, she's also trying to figure out where she stands in her relationship. "This love shit," Nola says, "is a motherfucker." Through the season, we get to see Nola and company exploring Puerto Rico and Martha's Vineyard, all the while bringing us deeper into the complicated webs being woven around everyone in the supporting cast. And if you watch long enough, you might just learn something.
During our chat, we got into a lot with DeWanda, from her ability to "nerd out" and add subtle nuances to the characters she portrays on TV and in film to Nola's journey over the 18 months between Season 1 and Season 2 to how close her relationship with Spike Lee really is.
Does it ever feel weird having people be like, "I just saw you on TV, I just saw you in this." Or are you just used to it now?
Thankfully I'm used to it, it's not what—being the introvert I am—it's not anything that I was like afraid that it would be. People are really lovely, super respectful. Which is probably also because my characters are, you know, laying down the law.
You're not playing any trash people so you know you're good to go so far.
Yeah. No one's hit me in the street yet.
I saw that you not only got to travel to Puerto Rico for Season 2 of She's Gotta Have It, but you're also on Martha's Vineyard. I don't want to say you got to go on vacation because it's still work, but talk about this season expanding out of New York.
Both of those definitely felt like vacations. Puerto Rico, you know we get to dive more into Mars' story a lot. [Then] getting to see Daniel Patterson, our DP, flex and kind of really capture the nuances and the beauty of both of those places. It was a very meta moment for me because the workload on both of those episodes was a little less wordy and more experiential and taking things in. [We went] bike riding in both of them and so yeah it was really beautiful, and I love it when Spike gets "edutaining." I love it when he uses art to educate and inform people about places that they might not know about and histories they might not know about. In that case of Puerto Rico, reminding folks that there's still a present relief effort happening still. It was really an honor to witness.
With a character like Nola, one of the big things in Season 1 was a look at how she was an artist but she was really working towards getting more of an activist stance, giving a real message about social issues in her art. I watched your recent episode of Twilight Zone, so I saw you with the bonnet on, and one thing that really stood out to me in Someone Great was that you had in your room you had on the wall, you had a Black Lives Matter piece of art on the wall. Were those decisions that you made for your character specifically?
Yeah, they were, definitely. Thankfully, I work with artists who are highly collaborative; also I think it's just indicative of how I work and how nerdy I am and I feel like [with] every project I kind of enter into [it] and I have to dip my toe and feel out how nerdy the directors are. In the case of Twilight Zone, you know [episode director] Jakob [Verbruggen] and I just happened to be super-simpatico. And he was interested in capturing those private moments. The working out was my contribution because there was just that single line that "Alexa wasn't eating." So I just took it to mean, "Oh, she's not eating." Like I think her deterioration should be physical. If we can do some dope gaunt makeup, you know to symbolize weight loss, that'd be really cool. You know, no one's been annoyed by it yet so I'm going to keep doing it.
It'll be one of your prerequisites. "Know that I'm going to try to nerd out a little bit on this set."
Yeah, just know.
One of the other interesting things about She's Gotta Have It Season 2 is that there is a year-and-a-half time jump in between both of the seasons. Can you speak to a little bit of what Nola's gone through in that year and a half?
I love it because I feel like it was tempered. We realized when we were doing the table read that it had to be 18 months because they incorporated Hurricane Maria into the series. And we already time-stamped Season 1 with the election, so there were adjustments that were made to kind of reconcile and accommodate what the time frame would actually be. In the process of doing that there were other changes. Would she still care about the men if it's 18 months later? She's been in a committed relationship. Those relationships would evolve and grow and some would turn into friendships, some would turn into nothing. [So we had to] make sure we reflected that.
I think my favorite thing about it is, careers take so much time and there are waves of success. There's kind of an unfortunate toxic notion of our big break, of it just being one thing that's going to establish you and no one can ever deny your talent again. And that's not how it works. Especially as an artist. You're actually constantly kind of re-imagining and defining and proving yourself in a way, especially if you're an artist who is trying to do things that you've never done. So I love that we come back to the story and we come back to her and she's not super sure. She's not super successful. She is still struggling and working through and figuring things out and experiencing artist block and all the things that I find to be true of the life of an artist.
I think that's something we all struggle with. You're in an interesting spot, too, because a lot of people have been hearing your name more over the last couple of years but it's not like you just started acting the last couple years. Have you ever felt like you reached a point and then had to erase that thought because of what's come about afterward?
Yeah, I mean and for me, I had to settle into it because I am trying to always play roles that no one's ever seen me do. You know? I try not to have any feelings about what each project requires. Whether it's a meeting or auditioning a trillion times. Whatever it is, for me the work comes first and you know people need to feel assured that I can tell the story and that I'm the right person to do it. I'll be there and I show up every time.
In terms of the notion of the big break, if I went through the number of what you could qualify as false starts in my career. When you experience that, it builds a certain degree of temperance and I'm really thankful for the way that things have unfolded for me because it definitely keeps my nose to the ground and I'm just like, "I'm about the work." It took off the veneer. The curtain was pulled back super early for me and every time I'm in the process of building a character and getting ready for that first day on set that's all it is. There's no glitz or glamour about it. It's just how do I disappear into this story and into this character.
After watching Someone Great recently, it looked like that set was just a lot of fun.
It also felt like there were a number of bits in the film that might not have been in the script.
Oh yeah, oh yeah. It happens a lot with comedies, especially in the case of Someone Great where she has all these comedians, to not allow them to do what they're experts at [would be] such a disservice. Gina and I trained together at the Atlantic and it's really funny, too, whenever you do something you know you've never done because everyone's always like, "Can you do the thing?" We took clowning, we were practicing improv.
[Someone Great director] Jen Kaytin Robinson [embraced] the nature of collaboration. Gina made her character Latina. I made Erin black. The nuances of that and the colors of that and also the shades of it. Obviously, we're not a monolith so what it meant to be Erin, to be a queer woman with straight friends to have a friend group—which by the way looks like mine—is kind of organically diverse. It meant something very different, very specific and she was super open and not at all arrogant, I would say, at recognizing that we were the experts of a certain experience.
Finally, I don't want to get too personal, but what's your relationship with Spike Lee like? Like if he wins an Oscar, are you able to like call him that night or the next morning be like, "Yo, I'm so happy for this," or do have to kind of like wait until you guys are a function or something? Is your relationship with Spike like really just bigger than just like, "He directed me in this thing that we work on for Netflix"?
A trillion percent. He's one of the—first of all if he has an assistant, it's just it's more anecdotal. He's super tactile, he's very hands on. He, from my understanding, before this last season, like he will hand pick every single background performer.
You know? Actually, I saw him the night that he won the Oscar and gave him a huge hug and we took photos and that is a trillion percent who he is, like if you're working through something or something's not working out he's like, "Why didn't you call me?" Yeah, it's definitely IRL. Definitely in real life.