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In Conversation with DeWanda Wise: Insights into Her Role in ‘Imaginary’

Movie Poster by Lionsgate

What is friendship? It is something that we all know, love, and crave. Friends are what carry us through the highs and lows of life. Some, we met at the playground. Others found us later in life. But what about those who simply just found us? Those friends who were just there. Those are our wonderful and beloved imaginary friends. These companions were the best friends of our younger selves. They got us through long car rides, playing on the playground, and many other beautiful parts of our childhood. But most importantly, these relationships cultivated our creativity. 

Imagine being left behind and forgotten by your best friend for 5, 10, or 20 years. They go about life as if you never met them and changed their life. Would you be mad? Would you cry? Would you even go as far as seeking revenge? That is exactly what Chauncey the teddy bear does in the movie Imaginary

Imaginary tells the story of Jessica (DeWanda Wise), a children’s book author, as she returns to her childhood home with her new love — Max, and his family. Alice, the youngest of Max’s daughters, finds and latches onto a teddy bear that she finds in the basement of the home. She grows an unconditional love for her new beloved imaginary play friend. Little does she know Chauncey is alive and well and ready to give Alice the ultimate test of friendship and loyalty. 

I had the honor and pleasure of interviewing the amazing DeWanda Wise as we discussed the movie:

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Jatu Barker: DeWanda, you are known for your roles in movies that are more action-filled or romance-based, such as your role in Someone Great or Jurassic World. What was it like working with Jeff Wadlow and stepping into this new realm and character?

DeWanda Wise: When I learned I was working with Jeff, one of the first things I told him was, I’m tired of being the savior. I always have roles in being the black woman who saves everyone. Jeff told me I come across as ‘very capable” in my roles. And I said to him, oh no, I’m tired. This change was something I really relished and cherished. Black women need soft spots to land in…places to be taken care of, and just rest. Jeff really gave me permission to be the protagonist that the audience cares about. Jeff and I came together, and we made that happen. 

So Chauncey and many other imaginary friends are the driving factor and inspiration for the conflict of “Imaginary.” Did you have any imaginary friends that helped cultivate the character of Chauncey? 

Actually, no! Me and my brother were Irish twins. I and the cast & crew found out that a lot of people who had siblings and siblings close in age didn’t really have imaginary friends. But for me, I had a little stuffed bear that I would take with me everywhere and all the time. There’s a picture of me from kindergarten, and you can tell I was just crying and bawling. In the picture you see my stuffed bear in my hand that my teacher gave me to help me feel better. So that is something that I feel. It’s intrinsic, and it’s home. 

It’s funny because Jeff wanted to tell an imaginary friend story — the writers Gregg and Jason wanted to create a creepy teddy bear movie. So they combined the two, and that’s how we got Chauncey the bear but the actually imaginary friend aspect. They made him a bear that was pleasing and appealing to the child…but you still know something is just off. I think the attachment that Jessica and Alice had to Chauncey was something I heavily identified with. 

Why do you think Chauncey longed to have this friendship with Alice when Jess left him all these years? 

In my own weird and nerdy little actor mechanisms, I think Chauncey really felt Jessica’s and Alice’s grieving and used that specific kind of vulnerability as an opening for them as a narcissist does. Just kidding, just kidding!! Chauncey is a narcissist, and the strength of their imagination is something that Jessica and Alice have in common. They built these worlds, whether consciously or unconsciously. So even when you get to the Never Ever…I’m trying to do my best here because no spoilers, but you can visually see Jessica form it in her mind. You then see it manifest in Alice’s mind. So, the spirit you see from Chauncey is really driven and made stronger by the power of their imagination.

With the movie being called Imaginary, how were you able to act in those scenes where, in a way, no one was there, and you had to perform like a creepy bear was there with you? How did you incorporate imagery into making the film? 

Well, fortunately, what you see on the screen is actually there! A lot of it is very practical. For me, that’s my preference. It’s a great skill to have, to act out of nothing. The most amazing performance is from the actress who plays Alice, Pyper Braun. You play it back, and she’s just acting with a teddy bear, which was crazy. Just childless acting with a bear! There is one scene where Pyper has to go to a hard place emotionally, and I realize that you have to give actors space and time. It took a minute for me to understand what was going on, and I told myself, ‘Duh, DeWanda! Y’all just made this child act with a teddy bear with no real eyes to look into,’ and I was hitting myself because I wish we had given her something strong, but she really got into that role, and she’s amazing for it. We put crew behind those monsters who have a special skill set. Like one of our actors, Michael played two monsters, and he’s a contortionist, and he is just extraordinary. 

What was your favorite scene from the movie?

My favorite scene is the second twist, and there’s a number of twists — sorry, spoiler, but it was one of those scenes where, as an actor, you know if you can execute it, it’s going to have the impact that you want the audience to feel. There were so many beats in the moment and so many emotions in the scene, and you just want to bring all those factors into the performance. It starts off with one emotion, and by the end of the scene, something interrupts it entirely, and then it turns into something completely new. For me, that one scene really encapsulated every element of our film. There is a funny beat. There is a beat that will break your heart. There is a beat that will terrify you. And that is what our movie is comprised of. 

What do you feel like people feel and receive as they watch Imaginary

I’m never really prescriptive with my movies, and I feel like the beauty of the art of filmmaking. Something that made me laugh was a journalist came up to me and she told me that she realized that Jessica did not wash that bear and she just let her kid take that bear and play with it and have the bear with her everywhere, which just cracked me up. So everyone comes to the cinema with their own entire life. Finding characters that you align with and find home with. I was telling Taegan, who plays Taylor, that I love her character because it reminds me of mine in Jurassic World. There is always a character that is always the audience, and the audience loves to watch live and play out, and that is a role that’s always fun to play. So that’s why I do it. I do it because everyone watching is watching through the lens of their own lives and it is a gift if people walk away in general with anything. At the very least, it is always my job to entertain and make sure that I bring something of value. I always say I want to make sure that whatever I do, it’s something that you can’t wash your dishes to — that’s my benchmark. Something that you have to actually watch, or you’ll miss something. It’s my job to make sure that it’s something worth your time. You know I pop out every couple of years for a reason, so I make sure when I do, it’s worthwhile. 

Imaginary is an amazing horror film filled with many twists and turns. Our shared experiences of imaginary friends make this movie relatable and will grab the attention of everyone who sees it. Imaginary, directed by Jeff Wadlow and starring DeWanda Wise, is now in theatres!

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