On paper, Moses Ingram doesn’t look like much of a villain. At least not the kind of villain we’re used to war of stars. Standing alongside the 6ft 6in frame of Darth Vader (as portrayed by David Prowse), Ingram – 5ft 5in tall according to IMDb – might have trouble cultivating the same menacing vibe. But you would be a fool to underestimate her.
The actress is best known to television viewers for her Emmy-nominated role in The Queen’s Gambit as Jolene, the orphaned colleague of Anya Taylor-Joy’s chess expert, a role she won right out of drama school. Her latest role has a much higher profile: alongside Ewan McGregor in Obi Wan Kenobi. In the series – the newest and most eagerly awaited of several series war of stars Disney Plus spin-off – Ingram portrays Reva, a lightsaber-wielding villain and Vader’s subordinate in pursuit of McGregor’s weather-beaten Jedi.
Speaking from a nondescript media room in Hollywood, California, Ingram is smart, calm, and confident and pragmatic in her responses. If she’s troubled by the exposure Kenobi sure will bring, it does not show. Even within the world of war of stars Fandom, when every cameo player and glimpsed alien suit can grow into a full-blown obsession, Ingram is guaranteed special prominence. A black woman, she’s taking on a prominent role in a franchise that has historically made short work of non-white actors. “obi–when will bring the greatest diversity I think we’ve ever seen in the galaxy before,” says Ingram. “It’s long overdue for me. If you have talking droids and aliens but no colored ones, it doesn’t make sense. It’s 2022, you know. So we are only at the beginning of this change. But I think starting this change is better than never having started it.”
Playing a Star Wars villain is a huge challenge for an actress so close to starting her career. One need look no further than George Lucas’ prequel trilogy to know what a toll such a role can take on a vivacious young actor when the reviews don’t go in their favor. Hayden Christensen (who will actually appear in Kenobi) saw his career take a nosedive after playing a young Anakin Skywalker. Others, like Ahmed Best and Jake Lloyd, have spoken out about the devastating toll the prequel hatred was taking on their mental health. There’s probably a reason Disney is newer war of stars Traits tend to make established stars their charismatic villains: Adam Driver; Ben Mendelsohn; Paul Bettany; Giancarlo Esposito.
But it’s not just the size of the world’s most popular sci-fi franchise that poses a problem for Ingram. Black actors have been disproportionately abused online war of stars fans; John Boyega and Kelly Marie Tran are two of the most notable stars who have spoken out about the spate of online racist abuse while starring in the franchise.
Ingram says she was warned by Lucasfilm, the Star Wars production company, to prepare for a similar reception. “It was something that Lucasfilm actually stood in front of and said, ‘This is a thing that’s unfortunately likely to happen. But we are here to help you; You can notify us when it happens.’”
The actor credits director Deborah Chow and others at Lucasfilm with putting “the right systems in place to make me feel safe at work.”
“Of course there are always herds of hate,” she adds. “But I have no problem with the lock button.”
Navigating the depressing realities of social media is just one of the sacrifices Ingram has to make for Kenobi. Before filming began, she was enrolled in four months of training—regular work at the gym five days a week plus something she calls “Jedi School” three days a week (“you fight, you run, you jump, you roll over, you’re hanging on dangling wires… it felt like one giant playtime”).
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But then there’s the other side of things – dealing with the press. As is usual with high-profile franchises, Kenobi is shrouded in impenetrable secrecy; She is forbidden to reveal many details about the series or her character. “You know, my job interview [after my casting announcement] was so bad,” she recalls. “I didn’t know what to say, so I said practically nothing. But the more you do, the easier it becomes to learn how to get around things. It will be a game You thought you got me, but you didn’t.”
If such a game was played during our interview, I certainly wasn’t the winner; Any hopes of running away with a spoiler the size of “Luke I Am Your Father” under my arm have been thoroughly (if predictably) dashed.
The conversation soon turns around The Queen’s Gambit. Last year, despite the success of her role in the Netflix series, Ingram indicated her frustration with the lack of lead roles available to black actors. “Jolene is a supporting character,” she said The Washington Post. “It’s complicated because we need more stories where people who look like me aren’t just supporting. But that wasn’t that story.”
As Ingram reflects on those comments, Ingram muses, “I think we need to open our minds to who can tell which story. We’re making progress, but bigger steps still need to be taken to allow women of color to be as limitless in our storytelling as white women are.”
She speaks warmly of working with Joel Coen during her time as Lady Macduff in The Tragedy of Macbeth (“A very gentle hand” — “It doesn’t take much for him to get what he needs; he’s already worked it all out in his head”), with particular praise for co-star Denzel Washington, whom she showered with questions for a relatively short time staying on set. “It was something I will remember forever,” she says. “I wanted to know about the different choices he made; if there were things he would have done differently. About his life and growing up and the coat he wore for so many people. He answered every question I had. Every single one. He is a person who practices what he preaches.”
Washington isn’t the only actor who has given Ingram a mission statement. She grew up in Baltimore, Maryland; After graduating from Baltimore City Community College, Ingram worked three jobs and took the 4:30 a.m. bus to New York on weekends to try to get professional advice from actors. It was on the advice of another young actor, Yale graduate Jonathan Majors – later the star of Lovecraft County – that she applied to the same college and got admission to her masters in acting program.
Nevertheless, the question of access to art remains difficult. Ingram’s rise was due to her own bravery and merit, but it’s easy to imagine a world where it never happened. “I think the arts basically belong to the people, don’t they?” she says. “You can do the arts on any scale, and they will still be the arts. But if you want to do something on a macro level, it needs support. And as a result, art has become something very elitist. There are so many people who don’t have access and I was one of those people. So your giving me money and introducing me to people who give me more money has made an extreme difference in what I’ve been able to achieve as a young artist.
“I love that Martin Luther King Jr. quote where he talks about the bootstrap mentality. Everyone says, ‘Pull yourself up by your boots.’ But you can’t say that to a man without boots.”
As our time is running out, I can’t help but wonder if Kenobi seems a bit frivolous for an actor with Ingram’s theatrical-academic background. But Ingram, as always, is judging by her reaction. “In a time when the world is hard and rough, it’s important to have escapist theatrics,” she says. “People want to feel the opposite of what we actively feel every day. I think franchises serve their purpose – just like everything else.” For millions, war of stars is a world unto itself, popcorn escapism at its most imaginative. Of course, for Ingram it’s more than that: the galaxy is hers to conquer.
Obi-Wan Kenobi launches on Disney Plus on Friday, May 27th
https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/tv/features/obi-wan-kenobi-moses-ingram-interview-b2078635.html Obi-Wan Kenobi’s Moses Ingram: “If you have talking droids and aliens but no people of color, it doesn’t make sense”