“I think what Alex (Rockwell) was trying to do and I think what he does really well is he has this, beautiful, open, poetic journey of childhood kind of rammed up against, a really frightening, tragic area of adulthood!. Karyn Parsons
Karyn Parsons has been busy since coming to our screens as the stylish and spoilt “Hilary Banks” in cult 90s sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. From playing a school counsellor in Damon Wayans’ Major Payne, she has numerous films and TV series credits. Her passion for writing and desire to create positive and educational stories prompted her to start the non-profit Sweet Blackberry, writing historical fiction which includes “How High the Moon” about a girl in Jim Crow-era South Carolina who attempts to rekindle the relationship with her mother and unravel secrets about her father. ( Main Image credit: Still “Sweet Thing” Parsons as EVE)
Between writing a novel she has fitted in starring in the beautifully crafted indie new film Sweet Thing, following two siblings trying to cope with their split family — an alcoholic father Adam and their absent mother Eve, Parsons’s character. Each shot looks like a B&W postcard, a poetic take on growing up and dealing with what Parsons describes her character EVE as “an incredibly damaged woman”. Sweet Thing sees her children Lana and Nico Rockwell in lead roles. ALT caught up with her to talk about the film, working on Sweet Thing with her family and how husband Alex Rockwell who wrote and directed it was adamant for her to play EVE.
ALT: When you picked up the script, why did you want to do this and what resonated most with you?
I wanted to do it because my husband would be really mad at me if I did not, my husband is the writer and director. He insisted I do it, throughout the process of him writing it, conceiving it, writing it, everything I was there with him, We discuss things all the time when both of us, either of us are working on projects, we’re always talking with each other about them. I was aware of what he was doing all along and I was reading drafts of the script. but then he insisted that I play the mother and I didn’t want to not just because she’s a beast, but because, I was not acting at the time, and I was working on a novel. And I also felt like, I’m going to be writing. I don’t want to be interrupted. You know? And he insisted, oh, it’s only going to take a couple of days of your time. I swear it only take a couple of days of your time. And he kept sticking with it. And I said, I don’t know that I’m the best person for it. I think maybe you should try to check somebody else up. No, no, I want you to do, I want you to do it. And then I kept thinking that might change and it didn’t. He became even more dug in as time went on. So eventually it was just one of those, like I have to do it regardless and I didn’t even, want to (laughs) and I wasn’t sure, okay. How am I going to do this? I just thought I’m gonna kind of fall backwards into his arms, his directing arms and let him direct me completely with this. That’s how it came to be. I just tried to give him the best, tried to give him the colour he needed for the palette, you know, to tell the story and do my best. And that was it.
ALT: Can you tell us who is Eve and how did you approach this character?
Karyn: Gosh she’s such damaged person. obviously an incredibly damaged woman. And I think she’s stunted in a lot of ways. She’s trying to find, I think there’s a lot of women like this, who they have their other, they have damage from all different sorts of things, but then we may lose themselves to a relationship or to a family or something. And then they try desperately to regain themselves or the idea of who they think they are. You know, my best years, you know, when I was young and free, and I want to have fun. And I think this is a woman who, having kids and a husband, who’s an alcoholic really wore on her. It was difficult for her. She was very immature now she’s got this new sense of freedom. She’s trying to grab a hold of a man who can make things easier for her, she thinks, and she is still a child in a lot of ways, and she just wants to hold on to all of that. It’s just, she’s approaching things incredibly selfishly, but for her it’s kind of regaining herself. This is how she’s getting back to this life I left behind, which was, you know, me being free and all this. And I think, as much as she loved her husband and having kids, everything was just a real toll on this very immature person. It was very difficult for her and it’s unfortunate for the children obviously because she’s a mess of a mother as she tries to desperately find herself in whatever’s going to be her youth and whatever she can try to get back, instead of just being where she is and being present. Does that make sense?
What’s it like working with your family and seeing your children do such an amazing job?
They were incredible. With my husband, I had worked with him many years ago before he directed me in a film called 13 Moons and it was very different. It was a new relationship, and we weren’t yet married, and we hadn’t had children. And we were very different people, probably. So, my relationship with him was very different, with him directing me then as it was, now we’re kind of collaborators in a lot of ways, because we’ve made a life together, made children together, helped each other through our projects, et cetera, and through career moves and things. So, it was very different, and it felt very collaborative. It’s very easy to kind of relax and say, well, what do you need? What do you want? So as far as him directing me just to totally surrender to that, which is a really healthy way to be. And I would like to be that way with, I’d like to approach more jobs that way, if I’m acting, because it’s great. If you take the pressure off a little bit as an actor and you just surrender to the part, I think we bring so much of our own stuff often to our jobs, to our roles and where we could just relax more and trust the collaborative process. So that being said, working with Alex was actually really good and interesting. Working with my kids, it was amazing to watch them. They are so smart and gifted. They’re really talented and natural Lana is very, very, bright. And she has really good taste in film and acting and everything, she watches lots of good films, loves really good music, food, everything she’s got really good taste all around. So, for her, she’s not going to lie. You know, she’s not going to lie on screen. And that is real, it’s really beautiful to watch, especially in person, because she’s gonna just be there and grounded in the truth. And that made it for me acting with her. I had to bring it I had to come all the way with some stuff where I had to be particularly nasty and really ugly with her. I had to really go there because otherwise I feel like I would see it in her eyes if she was going. Ha so that’s all you got Ma? I’d be able to see it in her because she knows me well. I had to really work there may have been a part of me that was trying to be careful. I trust my relationship is so strong with my children I wasn’t worried in any way about, you know, they’re not going to be scared of their mom or anything, I have to be gentle with them. I don’t have to put up anything with my kids because my kids know me, and they know how much I love them. And so, it was a big, it was high stakes make believe, and that was really fun. And that’s where Nico is amazing. He’s just, make-believe like he comes in, he knows all his lines and he know his marks. He knows his emotional arcs and things that are going on with his character and hits it. Does his cut he’s outside, running around trying to grab some foods, then jumps back on his mark, action hits it perfectly, you know, Cut turns to his dad. Okay, dad, I think I need a break soon. And I think you’re working me too hard. I’ve got to go do something, whatever, you know, then action he’s back to it, both of them are just really professional and so talented and that as a mother, obviously, makes me very proud every day.
What is the message, or takeaway from Sweet Thing?
I think what Alex was trying to do and I think what he does really well is he has this, beautiful, open, poetic journey of childhood kind of rammed up against, a really frightening, tragic area of adulthood. And you see this resilience and beauty prevail with children and with kids. And I think he wanted to show that I think he wanted to explore that, but even with a mom with all of the ugliness surrounding them, how they find exploration and they have curiosity, and they find joy. It’s a beauty a lot of us have gotten away from, you know, as adults, kids still hold on to this thing, you know, these kids that are like running around like outlaws you know, instead of just like letting themselves just sink into the darkness around them, they kind of build this sense of adventure and that’s a testament to childhood. And I think he really wanted to shine a light on that beauty, which is still, I think something we all recognize, which means it’s a part still of all of us.
DRAMA – USA – 2020 RUNNING TIME: 91 B&W IN UK CINEMAS NOW.