How Therapy Got Deborah Ayorinde Through Them's Most Heartbreaking Scene
It didn't take much for Deborah Ayorinde to be drawn to Little Marvin's Them: Covenant. In fact, she considers the first episode "one of the most beautiful, most heartbreaking pieces of writing" she'd ever read. "I immediately felt so protective over the story and the character," Ayorinde told POPSUGAR of Emory family matriarch Lucky. "Little Marvin is just so wonderful at what he does. He writes like poetry and I read it as such. I felt like Lucky was written with so much care, so much intention, so much thought, and I just fell in love with the character. It just felt right."
The series, which premiered on Amazon Prime Video on April 9, follows the Emory family as they move from North Carolina to an all-white neighborhood in Los Angeles. The chemistry between Ayorinde and costars Ashley Thomas, Shahadi Wright Joseph, and Melody Hurd made it easy to believe they were truly a family. If you're wondering whether they had to work on that chemistry, Ayorinde had this to say: "From me, it came naturally." Coincidentally, she'd worked with Hurd on Kevin Hart's Fatherhood right before filming Them. With Thomas, a long lunch in Los Angeles led to them becoming very fast friends. "We talked about our lives, our dreams, how we got here, just everything. I felt like I had known him for a really long time," she added of their meeting. "And Shahadi, the minute I met her, she just lit up my world."
"I felt like we needed to lean on each other to get through this process."
Over the course of the show's 10 episodes, the Emory family is put through the wringer. Between racist slurs being thrown the family's way to blatant assassination attempts, the actors' chemistry off screen played an important part in how they dealt with the emotional labor needed to perform. "I felt like we needed to lean on each other to get through this process because we were handling very difficult subject matter," she explained. "We needed each other, so that part made it easy as well and I would get us together to go to the movies on Sunday with the girls' parents. As for Ashley and I, I'll pick him up and go to church with him just to kind of keep our unit strong, on and off screen."
Since the show's premiere, some viewers have wondered whether or not Them went too far in its portrayal of racist violence and Black trauma. One of the scenes that sparked this conversation of "what is too much" ended up being the hardest scene Ayorinde has had to film as a Black woman. "It required every single bit of me and then some," she shared. "Because I wanted to make sure that I played that scene as honestly, transparently, and as raw as possible so that anyone who's experienced anything even remotely close to what Lucky experiences in that scene will feel seen and understood."
"It required every single bit of me and then some."
"It's even hard for me to even figure out how to talk about how she's violently raped and her child is murdered right in front of her while she's being raped," she continued. "For me, it was hard because there's nothing that happened to the Emorys and to Lucky that I didn't understand had already happened to someone. Either in that time or now." That particular scene was used as part of her audition, so she was well aware of it prior to being chosen for the role. "From the minute I knew that I was going to play Lucky, I started preparing for that scene. As much as I prepared, I don't think anything could have fully prepared me to play that. It was just so heartbreaking."
With the addition of the supernatural aspect on Them, it's easy to try and write off some of the more horrific scenes as fiction. However, that couldn't be further from the truth. "To be honest with you, there was no part of it that I actually thought was fiction," Ayorinde divulged. Of course, she is talking about actual historical events like The Great Migration, not Miss Vera or The Black Hat Man. "I had a great understanding that prior to coming to this project, everything that happens in the world of Them either could have happened or did actually happen. I don't think that I was really surprised or shocked by any of that. It was very shocking and somewhat disturbing to go through the process of playing Lucky and experience a lot of these things in real-time."
The process of playing Lucky is something that stuck with Ayorinde for a long time. "I kept one foot in Lucky, always, until we were completely done. Then I felt free to release her," she revealed. Even when production paused due to COVID-19, she still had part of Lucky with her. "I did little things to kind of remind myself that Deborah was still in there. Therapy was also a huge thing, both while we were filming and after. I also think it was an amazing thing that they had a therapist on call for anyone, cast or crew, to call on at any time if they felt triggered by anything we were covering. I utilized her and she was amazing."
"I also think it was an amazing thing that they had a therapist on call for anyone, cast or crew, to call on at any time."
Outside of the on-call therapist, Ayorinde also got one of her own because it was important that she could heal from her experience on set. "I view it like when a person breaks a bone and has to align that bone properly, so that when it's healed, it can heal properly. I felt the same thing for my spirit, for my heart, for my mind, and for my body," she revealed. "Little Marvin was a great support. My family and friends also really tried to support me, even though I isolated myself from men during this process on purpose so I could play Lucky."
Now that Them is finally out in the world, there are a few things she hopes audiences take away from it. "This subject is so timely, unfortunately, because of the otherism that is so present in today's world. I really hope that anyone who's experienced anything remotely close to what Lucky or the Emorys experience feels seen, heard, understood, and believed." She also wants Them to lead to conversations where people can reexamine what they think and believe. "I hope that everyone takes a good look inside themselves and that they explore the way that they may have treated people who were different from them. Hopefully, they can see beyond each other's differences to see the way that we are the same."