It is difficult to believe that Mahershala Ali has not played the lead until now, in the upcoming Apple original film Swan Song which drops December 17th, he gets to plays two leads: Cameron, a terminally ill man who has to quickly decide whether in his death he should be replaced with a clone, Jack, who he also plays.
Ali told ALT A. “I almost had to approach them as different characters and what allowed for that was sort of examining their journeys and looking at what they both wanted I realized that they wanted different things or approached it differently then it became about the power dynamic who is in power in each scene and all those things contributed to them feeling like different characters”.
A moral and emotional dilemma backed by the strength of Academy Award-winning writing and directing by Benjamin Cleary, Cameron wants to protect his wife Poppy from more pain as she had already lost both her parents and her twin brother.
Ali continues. “What is a real testament to Ben’s script is that any time I stepped into the shoes of Cameron I clearly felt different and then Jack and vice visa and that was a big help in knowing that and I just began that way”.
Cleary’s mesmerising sci-fi tear-jerker starts with Cameron and Poppy (Naomie Harris) meeting on a train, their on screen chemistry is seamless, dreamy.
Cleary states. “It is set in the near future but at the heart of it is a love story, a human story. I really wanted to make sure that the world we created and all of our aesthetic choices painted a world that felt quite grounded and quite close to today. The technology that we created did not feel to far into the future to lose that anchor to todays world as it is about exploring the human side of it”.
In Swan Song we recognise the setting but somehow that sits in the background as the characters steal the screen. Ali two’s characters tug eachother in different directions; they both want the same thing but can he give up his life, his son and wife Poppy to his clone Jack. By the time he has been told of his illness Cameron and Poppy are married and have a son Cory and another on the way. The film jumps back and forwards in time weaving the story of their lives.
Harris tells ALT. “I think the power of the story is of reminding us of what is truly important and it is our love and it is our connections. And I think it is even more important to be reminded of that more than ever. We have just been through a pandemic and are feeling that lose of connection and want be connected and be appreciative of each other”.
Of her character Harris continues. “I had a bit of trouble with Poppy in the beginning I have to say. I kind of judged her as being weak as I always play these strong strident characters. I was raised by a very strong mother and I felt like I was surrounded by these very strong women. I did not see that represented on the screen. That’s why I started out on my career saying I wanted to play strong women. and I did not put Poppy in that category initially and I thought she is so vulnerable because she is so heart centred and so giving and loves her husband, she is a little bit weak. and it is so beautiful going on this journey to find her. I discovered that she is the strongest of all the characters that I have played because when you live from your heart it is actually the strongest place to live from. Poppy educated me about a better place to live from”.
The “opportunity” to be cloned is presented to Cameron by a facility run by Dr. Jo Scott (Glenn Close) whose motives might be questioned or questionable.
The promise that Cameron might have the chance to leave this world without breaking Poppy’s heart offers profound comfort, at least in theory. Yet the reality of keeping his wife in the dark about the most important decision of their lives is his biggest test—propelling Cameron into the mysteries of where loves comes from, what makes us human and what is worth sacrificing for others. Watching his physical twin slide into the beautiful life he once took for granted becomes his most revealing experience, as Cameron comes, moment-by-moment, to fall in love with Poppy all over again, and to believe their bonds can transcend fate.
A movie that transcends time like every great love story. The believability of the awarding winning cast nudges the audience to ask questions, such as whether “unethical” cloning is worth sparing your loved ones of pain and loss, especially an untimely death. Swan Song leaves a song inside your head yet it is not a song that you can quite remember the words, it is just a feeling that you have experienced something great… and if you could play it again you would…
Stars: Mahershala Ali, Naomie Harris with Glenn Close, Awkwafina, Adam Beach, Dax Rey, Nyasha Hatendi.
Premiering December 17, 2021 on Apple TV