A lot of this year's major movie releases have been in a state of flux due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with release strategies being shuffled around or delayed over the past six months. One of the latest films impacted by the virus is Lionsgate's Antebellum, the highly-anticipated horror movie starring Janelle Monae. After multiple release date delays, the film finally arrives on premium Video on Demand this Friday, and will also be released theatrically in select international theaters.
The film stars Monae as Veronica Henley, a successful author who finds herself trapped in a horrifying reality and must uncover the mind-bending mystery before its too late. Joining Monae in the film is an all-star ensemble cast, including Zimbabwean actor Tongayi Chirisa, who will be playing Eli Stokes.
Chirisa has been a familiar face in the film and television world for over a decade, after starring as Friday in NBC's short-lived Crusoe television series. In the years since, Chirisa has had memorable roles on The Jim Gaffigan Show, The Good Doctor, and on The CW's iZombie. Earlier this summer, Chirisa was introduced to a larger audience through his role as Jerry in Palm Springs, Hulu's critically-acclaimed and genre-bending romantic comedy.
ComicBook.com got a chance to chat with Chirisa shortly after the release of Palm Springs, where we dove into everything tied to the now-beloved film. In the process, we talked about Antebellum and its significance in the current social climate, the potential of an iZombie reunion, and his love for all things sci-fi and Star Trek.
ComicBook.com: How did you get on board Palm Springs? Because it seems like such a unique movie.
Tongayi Chirisa: I read the script, and I've always been a fan of Andy [Samberg]. I've always been a fan. I feel like I went to high school with this dude, and I get his comedy. So when I found out that he was involved, I was like, 'This is my one time to actually work with him.' I get him, and I think he kind of has my brand of comedy. It was, actually, really an easy fit. So thank goodness that it did work out the way it did.
So what was it like working with Andy, considering how much of a fan you were of his?
You know, it didn't feel like work. That's the thing. The first time I met him, I felt had known him for a very long time. And it was just two guys just kicking up a storm. I think that's just a testament to his character and to how down to earth he is. He made it very easy for us to relate and to just vibe on set.prevnext
So what was your favorite thing about filming Palm Springs?
Oh gosh... Being in the pool when it was so hot, I'll tell you that! It was so cool to be in, and such a refreshing feeling.
The one thing that I really, really enjoyed was just the ability of my other co-stars, and just how they were able to just improv and run off the mill during a scene and still stay in character, but just give us something different and unique at the same time. That was pretty spectacular to watch. I'm not really the kind of person that goes off the cuff like that, but to see the wittiness that we started to feel we started to play, it was just really gratifying as an actor.prevnext
What has it been like to have Palm Springs resonate with so many people? Every time I logged onto Twitter [after its release], people are just talking about how much they love it and theorizing about certain things. I know multiple people who have watched it several times already.
So what is it like to have it resonate with so many people?
I don't know about everybody else, but for me, I feel like I'm a part of a cult classic. And I've always believed that Andy, with his work ethic and just his style, that he's definitely going to be one of the comedy greats in the genre. So for it to have people respond the way they are is just really, really great. I think was a fresh spin on an old narrative that everybody knows too well, and the fact that people are receiving it the way they are means that it's brought a new, fresh twist to it for the new generation.
So hopefully it will carry on, and it will carry forward for the next 25, 30 years as one of those films that had made everybody really famous and really successful. You know, it's like 'What were they doing before they became famous?' So hopefully Palm Springs will be one of those films. Or, it could just be people are really bored and have got nothing else to do during the quarantine season, and that's why they're watching it!
That being said, I do felt like this movie is so perfect for right now, because it feels oddly reflective of being in a relationship in quarantine and just not knowing what's happening every day.
Wow, yeah! That is so true, I didn't think of it that way.prevnext
I wanted to ask about Antebellum as well, because that movie looks really exciting. What can you tease about your role in it?
Absolutely nothing! I mean, it is so top-secret, that [my character didn't] even have a name on my nametag on IMDb. That's how tight these guys are. So I wish I could say something, but I can't on that respect.
However, I can say that working with Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz has been a dream come true for me. As an actor, and this being my first major studio picture and working with these two guys, who, this also happens to be this first like directorial debut. So it's really weird, there are many [firsts] for us. And I think the most exciting thing for me is the journey of the unknown, not only for me personally, and the director, and everybody involved, but I think, for the entire [audience] once this film comes out. To see the kind of impact it will make, and just how well-received it's going to be. So I'm very excited about this particular project.prevnext
Kind of touching on that, I feel like Antebellum is coming out when horror movies about the black experience have become more and more mainstream and more widely received. How does it feel to have the film included in that canon?
You know, there are a lot of coincidences happening. Especially with Palm Springs, the two things you said about relationships, and how people are finding themselves within this day-to-day waking up like a groundhog.
But then the same thing with Antebellum, where coincidentally, we were supposed to have a premiere in April, but it got pushed back because of the coronavirus, and this just happened, prior to the protests. This film, in and of itself, has now become something bigger than itself, because it talks directly to the grievances that people of color have been facing in the nation.
I find myself in two significant films that are speaking to the times and are speaking to the people. We're definitely ahead of the curve with the narrative in the films that have come out this year.prevnext
I also wanted to ask about Another Life, since I know you're joining the show. I'm sure you can't say much about that either, but are you excited to join that project?
Oh, absolutely! I'm a sci-fi geek. I'm a Trekkie. I love Star Trek, and I always loved the genre, because I think it's the one genre that definitely encompasses all others, from drama to comedy. And there's a world of imagination. So, I'm very, very excited to be a part of this TV show, and to work with Netflix. So hopefully it'll be one that'll be long and prosperous. [laughs]
Well, since you mentioned that you're a Trekkie, would you want to join a Star Trek adaptation or some sort of other franchise?
Oh my gosh! Don't play with me, now Jenna, don't play with me! Oh, that would be the dream. I have seen all Trekkie movies, I've seen the latest, the two [shows] that came out on CBS. In quarantine, we've watched the last three with Chris Pine in them. And I'm like, "Yeah! This is my jam!'
To be a Trekkie? Aw man. Say no more!" I would retire from acting after that. Nah, I won't, but you get the point. Oh yeah, that would be a dream.prevnext
I also wanted to ask about iZombie, because I loved that show and I loved covering it. Obviously, the show is over, but with all of the reunions and revivals and stuff that have been happening lately, would you be willing to come back together with the cast, if the opportunity came about?
Absolutely! If the cast is available, yeah!
I've always said that just being a part of this industry, as an actor, is nothing short of a blessing, especially for me. I don't know how you see it but, when you're in the business where you interact with the people to make their days better or feel good, I think it is very important to be available in some way, shape, or form. If that makes somebody a little bit happier, a little bit more inspired, just to see familiar faces, then I'm all for it. I am all for it, yeah.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.prev