Warning: Spoilers for The Weekend ahead.
There are some characters that viewers unabashedly adore for their bubbly energy and ability to bring a smile to any face with a clever word. Sasheer Zamata's Zadie is not that character. For most of comedy film The Weekend, Zadie is combative, acerbic, and selfish; as if her sole purpose is to make it 10 times harder to like her. But at the same time, her self-deprecating sense of humor, her chafing vulnerability, and painfully obvious need for love is also startlingly relatable.
As she juggles the affections of her ex-boyfriend Bradford (played by Tone Bell) and the handsome stranger staying at her mother's inn (Y'lan Noel's newly single Aubrey), her awkward stumble toward love made me realize that as much as I couldn't stand Zadie, I appreciated her. Because damn if she isn't one of the most realistic hot messes I've seen onscreen in a long time.
The film, written and directed by Stella Meghie (Everything, Everything and Insecure), chronicles Zadie's weekend getaway with Bradford and his new girlfriend, Margo (DeWanda Wise). No one sane would ever want to take a trip with their ex and his new love, but Bradford and Zadie are still close friends — inappropriately close, if we're being frank — and he wants the women in his life to get along. It all goes left when Margo teams up with Zadie's mother (played by Kym Whitley) to set the comedian up with the only other guest at the inn, Aubrey. Classic love-triangle shenanigans ensue, which is especially refreshing with the all-black cast.
"I don't think we have anything in the dialogue that describes us as black people," Zamata, a Saturday Night Live alum, noted when I pointed out the rarity of all-black casts within the rom-com genre. "We just are black, living our lives, and I think that's wonderful and beautiful, and it's fun to do that."
We spoke more about Zamata's thoughts on bringing the unapologetically flawed Zadie to life, working on her personal legacy, and revealing the best piece of advice she's been given. (Hint, it has to do with money, and it's really good.)
POPSUGAR: What made you want to be a part of this project?
Sasheer Zamata: I skyped with Stella, the director, early in the process, and she sent me the script. I had seen some her past work, Jean of the Joneses and Everything, Everything, and I just think that she's really smart, really great at telling stories, and really good at telling black character stories that are very relatable and human. I also thought the script was very funny and an interesting way to write a romantic comedy that's not stereotypical. You get to see a character that's pretty flawed, and I was excited to do that.
PS: Speaking of a pretty flawed character, Zadie is very interesting.
SZ: [Laughs] Yeah, I think so.
PS: What drew you to her character? Are there any similarities between you two?
"You just have to keep going, because if you think about all the times where you've messed up, it's not going to help you move forward.
SZ: I definitely connected with her, yeah. She tends to be pretty apathetic, sarcastic, and blunt, and I think people generally view me as very sweet. I can be that, but I also have a lot of Zadie's qualities, too. So I totally got it. I feel like in the audience, you can think, "Why would she do this? Why would she go on this weekend trip with her ex and his new girlfriend? And why is she making these breakthroughs, and why is she being so rude?" But I get it. I get that, when you're in love with someone, logic isn't always at the forefront, and your feelings can come out in weird ways. She's dealing with all her anxieties and issues in a way that some people may not, but I can see why someone would.
PS: It's funny because, as I was watching it, I was torn between thinking, "She's so terrible," while also being like, "Dang! I feel that way, I know that life."
SZ: Totally! And I hope other people think that, too, because there's no one in the world who's 100 percent bad, 100 percent good, or 100 percent wrong. There are going to be moments where Zadie looks like an assh*le and there are moments where she's really caring and you can tell that there's love there. She doesn't know how to express it all the time, and I've definitely had moments where I put my foot in my mouth because my emotions were leading the charge. You just have to keep going, because if you think about all the times where you've messed up, it's not going to help you move forward.
PS: What was really cool to see was that the film doesn't end the way people might expect. Was that ending in the script from the very beginning?
SZ: As far as I know, yeah. When I got the script it pretty much stayed that way until we shot it. We improvised a little bit, but as far as the big moments, that was all the same.
PS: I think it was actually one of my favorite parts of the film. It actually made me think of a lot of classic, black '90s films, and it's been a while since I've seen an all-black cast do something like this. Were you thinking of that when you went into the project?
SZ: I think I was just excited to work with so many wonderful, beautiful, talented black people. I love working with black people, and it just felt very comfortable. We all vibed with each other really well, and really, there's no reason why we can't have a story like this be with an all-black cast. I don't think we have anything in the dialogue that describes us as black people, we're just living our lives, and I think that's wonderful and beautiful, and it's fun to do that.
PS: Yeah, it's just a movie about black people, without it focusing on them being black.
SZ: Exactly. Yeah, we know each other, we live in the same space, but it doesn't have to feel like "this is a black person's journey through this very specific thing." No, anyone can go through this, it's just that we happen to be black and doing it this way.
PS: What was it like on set with everyone?
SZ: It was an absolute dream. I loved everyone in the cast so much. Stella is so talented and smart, and DeWanda, I mean I truly have a huge crush on her, she's so wonderful and talented. Tone is so funny. I love working with other comedians, and we knew each other from the comedy scene before, so it was nice to work in the space, and we got to improvise a lot and joke around a lot, and Y'lan is also incredibly wonderful to be around. It was fun to do the work, but it was also superfun to hang out outside of work. We would just watch each other and laugh because it felt like Summer camp, it was really an unforgettable dream.
PS: And what was it like working with Stella?
SZ: So wonderful! I just love people who know what they want. From the very beginning, she knew exactly what she wanted from the characters and the script. She also let us play a lot, which is my ideal work environment. I love when people trust me and are like, "Yeah, you know how to land on your feet, go ahead and try it." We stuck to the script, but we also had an opportunity to mess around with these characters, and that was really fun.
PS: Were you pulling from your own experiences with love in any way?
SZ: No, not really. Thankfully, I haven't been in any situations like this! [Laughs] I cut off exes pretty quick. I can't think of any relationships where it was full of longing and we were going back and forth. This relationship that Zadie and Bradford have gone through lasted years, and it really consumed Zadie in a way that I personally would hate. I didn't have to draw on personal experiences, but I can imagine how rough that would be.
PS: Did you have a hand in any of the jokes that Zadie told during her stand-up set?
SZ: Maybe about 50/50. Stella had already written the bones of the joke, and she would say, "Since you've done stand-up, you should probably help with this." So, I kind of fleshed it out a little bit more and tried to make them into jokes that I thought Zadie would tell. It was interesting because, it's not Sasheer doing this material. I don't know if I'd be that sad. [Laughs] But it was interesting to think of what basic version of me would do with this kind of material.
PS: Seems like you've been dipping your toes into a few different genres lately. Is there a certain type of project that you would like to do next?
SZ: Well, I recently did a thriller/horror movie. I have no idea when that's supposed to be out for the public, but that was superfun and very different for me. Generally, I'm really open! I love action stuff, I love horror stuff, I love rom-coms, and I love dramatic stuff. I just want to conquer it all.
PS: Okay, so, what do you want your legacy to be?
SZ: Oh, wow! [Laughs]
PS: I know, I got deep.
"I really want you to vibe with it and have that moment where you feel like you're seen and heard."
SZ: I really want people to look at my work and say, "She put it all out there. I know this person, I know her stories, I know her way of thinking." I want people to really have the good understanding of my sensibilities and how I view the world. I also want people to hopefully relate to it. I'm sure there are people who will watch my stuff and not get it, but if you can, I really want you to vibe with it and have that moment where you feel like you're seen and heard.
PS: Is there a role you've done where you've felt like it was the most "you"?
SZ: My stand-up feels the most like me because I'm writing it, I'm performing it, and that's unequivocally my voice. This role in The Weekend also feels very me as well and a version of me that a lot of people don't see. I can be sarcastic, I can be apathetic, and I'm excited for people to see me do that.
PS: You always seem to be working on something new and exciting, how do you find balance with everything you want to do and everything you have to do? What is your form of self-care?
SZ: Oh, I like to travel. I'm going to go to Hawaii soon with my best friend, Nicole Byer, and I'm very excited about that. But also, I really love working, and thankfully, I'm fortunate enough that I'm working in a field that I think is fun. Right now, I'm at a point where the things that I'm doing are really fun to me. I'm writing my own material, because I want to write it. I'm acting in these things because I want to be in them. I can't think of anything I'm doing where it feels like a drag, where I'm thinking, "Ugh, I have to go to work now." I'm at a point where I can be choosy, and I feel so fortunate that I am in that spot. So, I have self-care things, but there's not too much I have to do to feel good because even going to work for me feels good.
PS: Issa Rae actually said something very similar, and I have to admit, I really appreciate how people are becoming more confident admitting that their self-care is being happy doing their job. I love it, I feel the same! Now, you've worked with a lot of amazing people on various projects. Who is someone on your bucket list that you would love to work with in the future?
SZ: Oh, dang!
PS: This is the perfect time to manifest it.
SZ: I know! I mean, Oprah, of course. I don't know what we would do, but I'd speak with her. It would be nice for something to happen, even if I don't even really know what that would look like, but I'll have to try and contact her.
PS: Go big or go home, right?
SZ: Exactly! Who else? Ava DuVernay, I would love to work with her. Beyoncé. Again, I don't know what that would look like, but if she's down, I am open. Basically, all the talented black ladies.
PS: I am totally down with all that. As you mentioned, one of your favorite collaborators is Nicole, who you recently launched a podcast with. Can you tell me more about it?
SZ: Our podcast is called Best Friends — because we are best friends — and it's really loose. We kind of talk, catch up, and sometimes we interview other best friends about their friendship. I really enjoy doing it, and it's easy because it's what we would be doing anyway. If we weren't in a studio doing it, we would be on her couch or my couch, doing the exact same thing. So, it's nice that we're able to do it in a format where other people can enjoy it.
PS: Since y'all are best friends and comedians, you must exchange a ton of advice because you understand each other a lot more than someone outside your industry. What's the best piece of advice that Nicole has given you?
SZ: Ask for more money. Always ask for more money.
PS: Oh, yeah. That's pretty much life affirming right there.
The Weekend is available in theaters now.