“I’m in Massachusetts as we speak, but I live in Brooklyn,” Karyn Parsons tells Buzz’s Carl Marsh. You most likely know her from Bel Air, as in the fictional Will Smith’s adopted home, where she played his cousin Hillary Banks. This, however, is a chat about her new movie, Sweet Thing, so without further ado…
Watching Sweet Thing, for me it captures the essence of youth and the innocence of children before they move into adulthood. When I was a kid, it was like the day would go on forever.
That’s exactly it. I think that’s what Alex [Alexandre Rockwell, Sweet Thing director and Parsons’ husband] wanted to bring us back to that world; to see that world and to feel it. So I’m glad that you got that. It’s a lot like where childhood and adulthood clash, but you get to see this beauty, openness, resilience and hopefulness of childhood.
Lana and Nico, your two kids, are among the main stars in this film, too. It’s a proper family affair!
My husband had done a film called Little Feet years ago with them. I think Lana was seven, and Nico was three. And that was such a great experience! It was fun. And I remember, when they did it, it was very real and true guerrilla filmmaking – like, “oh, let’s go shoot over there”. And everybody can pick up and run and go. Everyone in the crew, and the kids, just had that energy: you didn’t have studios breathing down your neck, or financiers or anything.
So he definitely wanted to do something like that again, and they’re older. It was like another chapter, a different chapter, the story. He also wanted to tackle some things – bring in some other aspects of the story, where you had the darker stuff, and kids coming and bumping up against that, and their survival; the way they survive.
Were they selected for the roles before you, or vice versa?
Alex always had Nico and Lana in mind to play these parts. When he was writing it, you know, we talk all the time; I write as well. We show each other our work, bounce things off each other and ask questions – so I knew about this character that is the mother. I didn’t have any interest in playing her! But he really wanted me to. And he went on about it, and I think I was a little bit tipsy and said, “we’ll see”.
But Alex was insistent… and so I did it, and tried to stay really true throughout everything. He said exactly how he wanted it, and he was very pleased with what he got. It was a weird character to play, you know, interesting and kind of fun in its own way. I looked to him the entire time for guidance that it was the colour, the palette that he wanted – it is, and it’s so ugly! It’s so ghastly!
But it was kind of great to play a character like that because – I mean, I’ve played other things, but I’m still associated with The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air, something quite the opposite. My husband knows the outside of Fresh Prince, but he hasn’t ever watched a whole show. He has an idea of what Hillary is, but he doesn’t know it that well. But he likes the idea of me playing something that could not be more different. So there we have it! [Laughs]
In one of Sweet Thing’s scenes, things get pretty ugly between you and your daughter, with you using some words you’d never dare say to her in real life. That must have been hard to prep for, and for you both not to take away any strong emotions when the take was done.
It’s funny you asked that, because I remember trying to prepare for it. I had a difficult time figuring out how to do it. I ended up surrendering and asking Alex, “what do you want? I’m going to try something, and I want you to tell me.” I just really fell into him directing me, completely – and then, when I understood what he wanted, the depth of where he wanted this character to go. Then I had to really go there.
People have been saying, “was it hard acting with your daughter and being like that with her?” But Lana and I are very, very close. And I don’t doubt our relationship, and she knows I’m not that person. The odd part is that she’s such a good actress and smart person, and so tight with me, that if I played that part and didn’t go in all the way on her, she’d be looking at me like, “really, mom, is that all you’ve got!” [Laughter] Other people might not detect it, but I would see it in her eyes. So if it had been another actress, then it may not have got gone quite the same, but since it was Lana, you know, I can’t get one over on her.
Sweet Thing is out now in cinemas and on digital formats. Info: www.sweetthingmovie.net
words CARL MARSH