Dominique Fishback Said Daniel Kaluuya And The "Judas And The Black Messiah" Cast Stood Up For Her During A Bowling Alley Incident Off-Set
"There's so much that I learned that I didn't know before."
Dominique Fishback is taking Hollywood by storm one role at a time. From The Hate U Give and The Deuce to Night Comes On and Project Power, Dominique exudes so much passion and punch with every line she delivers. That presence is felt immeasurably in her latest film, Shaka King's Judas and the Black Messiah — a biopic about FBI informant William O'Neal's (LaKeith Stanfield) infiltration of the Illinois Black Panther Party, which led to the assassination of their Chairman, Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya). Despite the focus of the film, it's Dominique's exceptional portrayal of Akua Njeri (formerly known as Deborah Johnson), Fred Hampton's fiancé and the mother of his child, that really opened viewers' eyes to a softer side of Chairman Fred, one of America's most diligent revolutionaries.
To celebrate Judas and the Black Messiah, Dominique sat down with us to chat about...well, just about everything — like what went into tackling the role of Akua Njeri, bonding with Daniel and LaKeith off-set, which scene she was most proud to film, sliding into celebrities' DMs, and so much more! Here's everything we learned:
1. What was the audition process like for Judas and the Black Messiah?
Well, I didn't have to audition. That was a major plus to the whole thing — so not only would I be getting to act with Daniel and LaKeith, but I'd also get to work with Charles D. King, Ryan Coogler, and Shaka King. It was a story that I care so much about. I care about the legacy of the Black Panther Party, and to embody somebody like Mama Akua [Njeri], formerly known as Deborah Johnson, who shielded Chairman Fred's body with her own, while she was pregnant, was just an honor. And the fact that Shaka wrote the role for me was amazing!
2. What's one of your favorite behind-the-scenes moments from set?
So many! We went roller-skating, we went bowling, we went to the movies — we really spent so much time together. Charlese Antoinette Jones, the head of costume design, had a birthday party and there's videos of us swag surfing [laughs]. It was just amazing and showed all the love we had on set. But I have to say a favorite memory is actually when we went bowling — it's kind of contradictory — but when we went bowling, I was eating some french fries and this white boy, who I didn't know, said, "Can I have a fry" and then he just took a fry off my plate. Before my Brooklyn could come out and before I could speak for myself, the guys [Daniel and LaKeith] came around me and were like, "What are you doing?" The way that they stepped in and shielded me was something I hadn't experienced before. It was a bit of an out-of-body experience. I felt really safe — that I didn't have to advocate for myself, so that was one of my favorites.
3. Which scene are you most proud of?
I'm most proud of what we called "The Malcolm Scene," where they have their first kiss. One, because I'm an epic romantic — I've been waiting to play a love interest, so that scene had all the giggling and googly eyes and stuff like that. Not only does it have that aspect, but they get to share commonality over Malcolm X's speeches, which I love because I love Malcolm X. You also get to see a different side of Chairman Fred and their youthfulness...they were really just teenagers, navigating the world.
4. Was there anything that you learned about the Black Panther Party that you didn't already know?
There's so much that I learned that I didn't know before. I don't even know where to begin. I would have to just say, I remember Mama Akua talking about the discipline that the Panthers had and how they didn't speak out of turn. They believed in self-determination and that they didn't have to go through the government to award matrimony or any other thing. They believed that we reserve the right to control our own communities and our own selves.
5. Did you receive any feedback from Mama Akua about your performance or to help you get into character?
When I was finished with one of my scenes, [production] told me, "Mama Akua wants to see you." I went downstairs and she gave me a hug and said, "You did that scene! That was Deborah Johnson. You did that motherfucker!" I was so thankful. Recently, I got to do an interview with her and she said that Daniel and I's chemistry made her remember and miss that kind of love.
6. Your chemistry with Daniel was definitely undeniable! Was there anything you two did off screen to help build that connection on screen?
No, I think it was all super natural because we all knew that we were portraying a story that was bigger than all of us. It's a part of history and all of us, so we really left our spirits open. We just wanted to be a vessel. And so, when we want to be a vessel, if this person is being Chairman Fred, then how does he take up space? Oh, you have dimples like Chairman Fred? I'm journaling about it as my character. The book that she has in the movie, I drew all the pictures for, and all of the poetry about his dimples, I wrote. I really tried to build up the emotional world inside, because even though we don't get to see or hear a lot about what I wrote in the book, we know that when she looks at him, there's something behind her eyes.
I remember I was doing reshoots for Project Power, so I wasn't on the [Judas and the Black Messiah] set when they first began. So Daniel would have rehearsals with Shaka and we would talk on the phone, and then he would kind of advocate for me, and be my voice when I wasn't there. And that kind of trust. That kind of trust and faith is a beautiful thing.
7. What's one thing you learned about Daniel and LaKeith that might surprise people?
Daniel is super funny! I don't know if fans get to see that a lot. But also — I kind of say this is his superpower — he's able to see people for who they are and where they're at and meet them where they're at, which is such a huge gift. He doesn't let his ego get in the way of things, and he's receptive to everybody's feelings, which is beautiful.
LaKeith is very sweet. You know, he's very sweet. He'll let you know exactly how he feels. Like he told me, "I just think you've done a beautiful job. I'm happy that you're doing this film." Even if it's not a scene that I'm in with him, like it could be a random one, and he'd still come up to me and say, "I just had to let you know I think you're doing a great job and I'm happy that you're here." He's very sweet.
8. Were any of the lines improvised in the film?
It's something Daniel said when he gets out of jail. He sees Deborah, gives her a hug, and starts kissing me on the cheek, and then he says, "You're beautiful, you know that?" That wasn't in the script. They had the camera like right on my ear and the shot really just shows the beauty, because she's been alone for so many months. When he added that line, it really resonated with my heart.
BuzzFeed: Now I have to watch the movie again, because this definitely gave me a whole new perspective on the film. Okay, now we're going to switch to our fun, rapid-fire questions.
9. What's your favorite curse word?
10. What's your favorite adult beverage?
Sex on the Beach.
11. What's your go-to karaoke song?
3LW - "No More." My cousins and I would always get together and sing it, and I would always do the rap part. ... [Starts rapping a verse] ... "A yo, you promised me that Kate Spade, but that was last year, boy in the eighth grade." [Laughs] Yeah, I do that one or "Stan" by Eminem.
12. Which emoji do you use the most?
☀️ and 🤤.
13. What meal could you eat for the rest of your life?
A black bean veggie burger and fries.
14. Have you ever kept anything from the set of your past projects?
Oh yes! My character Robin from Project Power had a "Rockin Robin" nameplate that I kept. I also keep the back of chairs that have the character's name on it. Like they bedazzled my Darlene chair from The Deuce, it's really cute.
15. Who was your childhood celebrity crush?
Khleo Thomas from Holes, when he played Zero with that hair! I was looking at my old journals — I've had journals since I was like 12 years old — and I wrote, "If he knew me, I bet he'd really like me." And I liked Smokey (Chris Tucker) from Friday. I used to love him!
BuzzFeed: Listen, I wouldn't be mad at a rom-com with you and Khleo Thomas.
[Laughs] I kind of want to do one with Daniel, but we'll see.
BuzzFeed: Insert Monique's "I'd like to see it" meme! People always say they want to finally see Daniel in a happy role, and that would be perfect.
Yeah, he deserves it [giggles]!
16. Speaking of roles, what's one role fans would be surprised to hear that you auditioned for?
If Beale Street Could Talk.
17. Which TV shows are you binge-watching?
I actually haven't been binge-watching anything. I've been binge-watching my mind and meditating.
18. Have you picked up or gotten back into any hobbies during the pandemic?
Yes, playing the piano.
19. What's the last book you read?
I've been reading a lot of books. I think the last one was When Dimple Met Rishi. It's a YA book. Wait, no, the last one I read was Children of Blood and Bone.
20. Which artists are currently in heavy rotation for you?
I'm so old-fashioned. I'm listening to Lauryn Hill's Unplugged album, a lot of old-school reggae, Motown, and a lot of '90s stuff.
21. Has anyone ever left you starstruck?
Jay-Z! I played Jay-Z's mom in his "Smile" music video and I got invited to the Roc Nation Brunch in 2018. I remember sitting there with the director of "Smile" and then finally Jay-Z walks in the room, and all of the energy in the room just went towards him. I'm like, "Oh my God, it's Jay-Z!" My heart just started pounding. I walked up to him and said, "Hi, I'm..." He stopped me and said, "You're gonna introduce yourself? I know who you are. Your hair is different, but the eyes are the same. You brought me back to that time in my life, and I'm honored that you did this video." And I said, "Thank you. Thank you!" Then we took a picture and I ended up saying, "I'm from Brooklyn." I didn't know what else to say [laughs].
22. What's the last thing you googled?
Mercury in retrograde, because I'm like, "Why is the communication off? Is it me?" "Why is my phone doing this [laughs]?" So, I had to remember these are the things that Mercury in retrograde does.
23. Have you ever slid into a celebrity's DMs or vice versa?
I definitely did as a joke! I slid into someone's DMs as a joke and they wrote me back! But they weren't from this country, so, you know, the pandemic kind of shut that down.
24. Was there a TV show or movie that inspired you to become an actor?
I Love Lucy! When I was 10, I used to watch Lucy every night at 1:00 in the morning. I used to say, "I want to have a show like Lucy. I can do that."
25. Have you ever caught other people watching your projects on a plane?
No, I don't think I've ever looked over and saw somebody watching it. But one time when I was getting off the plane, this woman was like, "I just have to tell you, I love your work." And this was during the pandemic, so I had my mask on, but she was like, "It's all in the eyes."
BuzzFeed: First Jay-Z, now her? Clearly you have memorable eyes.
26. Do you ever go back and watch your own work?
Yes. I know that there are actors that don't do it, but I have to. I have to study. I mean, I even watch playback on set. I love to watch my colleagues, who I'm starring with. I actually asked Shaka, "Can I shadow you? Can I get headphones?" So when I'm on set, I'll get headphones and just watch Daniel and LaKeith and watch the raw footage of everything. So I definitely watch myself and then I ask myself, "Do I believe that?" Because then I'm able to remove myself. A lot of times, when I speak about the characters, I'll say, "Oh, yeah, she did that! She did XYZ. I didn't do that." It comes to the point where it's not even me anymore.
I can [separate myself] in hindsight, but for Judas and the Black Messiah it was hard. The night before we had to do the assassination scene, I kept having this bad feeling that something was going to happen. I couldn't even go to sleep. The next day, my stomach was in knots. I felt sick. I had to remember to tell myself, "Daniel is going to be okay, Daniel's gonna be okay." But my body couldn't differentiate what I made myself believe for the last four months.
27. Finally, what would a perfect day look like to you?
Cuddling. I'm a huge cuddler, so definitely doing that while watching some movies. I'd probably be playing piano for the person that I'm cuddling with. I'd meditate, maybe do some painting and a little bit of poetry. I love doing stuff with my family too. I'm one of 19 grandkids, so we always get together and dance to some reggae and have fun.
You can catch Dominique Fishback and the rest of the phenomenal cast in Judas and the Black Messiah, streaming on HBO Max and playing in theaters now.