Sheila Atim marveled that the highest 4 actors listed on the decision sheet throughout filming of Gina Prince-Bythewood’s scorching epic The Woman King “are all dark-skinned Black ladies.”

Counting on the fingers of 1 hand, Atim recited the names of her fellow stars: “Viola Davis, Lashana Lynch, Thuso Mbedu and me!”

Smiling, she mentioned proudly, “That’s one thing!”

Atim continued: “A film of this scale with a studio, with this sort of platform. It does additionally imply one thing very important when a giant studio takes us on. That says one thing.

“I’m so happy with everybody on this movie, I’m so proud. I used to be there with them and noticed how a lot everybody gave of themselves and the way a lot we raised one another as much as ship this.”

Sheila Atim stars in The Woman King

Sheila Atim in ‘The Woman King’

This weekend, the TriStar launch topped the U.S. field workplace charts with a projected $19 million opening.

”In the making of this movie we had been all conscious about what it means to be a closely feminine group, each in entrance and behind the digicam, and to be predominantly Black ladies, predominantly dark-skinned Black ladies as effectively, which is an added layer. And to be telling a narrative that hasn’t been informed earlier than, and on an enormous epic scale as effectively,” the London-based thespian informed Deadline throughout a lunch at The Union Club situated in Soho, in London’s West End.

“We had been all conscious about what which means and the way slim the margin for error was. And the stakes for us on a private degree.”

We met in peace, however discuss quickly turned to that of warriors and conflict.

The Woman King is about an all-woman preventing drive often known as the Agojie, who’re loyal to to the king of the west African kingdom of Dahomey. Viola Davis performs General Nanisca, the Agojie’s fictionalized chief.

Atim performs Amenza, a servant-turned-fearless fighter; she’s General Nanisca’s greatest buddy and confidant, and religious adviser to King Ghezo (John Boyega). The movie is ready towards a backdrop of a kingdom preventing to protect its lifestyle from slave merchants.

Gina Prince-Bythewood, Viola Davis, Cast And Producers Of ‘The Woman King’ Discuss The History Of The Agojie – Toronto Studio

Director Prince-Bythewood needed her solid to be preventing match earlier than the cameras rolled. For Atim, that meant six weeks of rigorous coaching earlier than touring to Cape Town, South Africa, to affix solid and crew.

The actors skilled all through the shoot as effectively. Personal coach Gabriela McLain put them via their paces. “She’s pretty and candy but additionally, we’d all conceal from her,” Atim mentioned, hooting with laughter.

”We’d be like: ‘Gabi’s making an attempt to coach individuals. Run away!’ ”

But as a lot as the ladies would conceal out from McLain “we’d search out Gabi once we knew we wanted to coach. There was a variety of weight coaching  simply to assist sculpt the physique. Gabi and Gina had been very particular about how they needed every warrior to look .What I feel is so stunning about this movie is that we’re all very completely different physique shapes…I like that it’s not a military that appears uniform in its physique sort. They needed it to look actual, they didn’t need it to be a hyper superhero model of what we’ve turn out to be used to once we see movies with motion in them.”

For Atim, as together with her fellow solid members, her character has a again story. Amenza’s is that of a lady captured from a village and made a servant to members of the military. She then befriended General Nanisca and joins the Agojie. “The story that they carry as characters permeates each facet of their lives together with after they’re on the battlefield.”


Atim was born in Uganda and at 5 months outdated moved to the UK together with her mom to Essex, a county in south-eastern England bordering Greater London. ”It was attention-grabbing rising up as me in Essex as a result of I used to be so completely different however there was type of no level in making an attempt to be anything. There weren’t that many non-white individuals in my faculty; there weren’t that many non-white in Essex. There’s extra now. But it was actually was the case that you just had been considered one of a handful. And on prime of that I used to be actually lanky, actually tall, dark-skinned and, for a time, after I obtained a bit older, I had brief hair which on the time was not a factor that Black women had been doing,” she recalled. “Black women had been like, ’We must have lengthy hair’ — I keep in mind that obsession as effectively. I used to be virtually so completely different …there are nuances inside that, there have been smaller issues I’m nonetheless unpicking now, to be trustworthy. Numerous the unpicking has in all probability occurred as an grownup as a result of that’s the purpose at which I’m in a position to self-reflect and perhaps be form to myself.”

Atim has a reminiscence of eager to have “lengthy blonde hair.” Waiting a beat for the assertion to sink in, she added, “I did.”

At round 10 years of age, Atim mentioned, ”I bear in mind after I was actually drawn to Esmeralda in The Hunchback of Notre Dame, partly as a result of she’s a super-cool character and in addition as a result of she’s Brown. It actually might be that easy whenever you’re younger. But I don’t assume I acknowledged it on the time of me craving illustration.”

Acting was not Atim’s first calling. She studied biomedical science at King’s College, London, and after graduating with a level she skilled at an arts centre in north London. This author noticed her early on in small roles at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre; on the Royal Shakespeare Company in a season of performs on the RSC’s Swan Theatre. But it was a featured function in Les Bancs on the National Theatre, the place she sashayed nonchalantly throughout the stage carrying a bundle on her head that garnered a variety of consideration. The sluggish stroll was achieved with such panache, such type and wit, that the viewers was immediately buzzing “Who was that?!”

Phyllida Lloyd (The Iron Lady) swooped in and solid her in her Shakespeare trilogy on the Donmar Warehouse Theatre. Later, she auditioned for playwright Conor McPherson in his play Girl from the North Country, which positioned Bob Dylan’s music right into a story set through the Great Depression. For her efficiency taking part in Marianne, the adopted daughter of Ciaran Hinds and Shirley Henderson, Atim gained the Olivier Award for supporting actress. The room went wild when she gained.

Shakespeare’s Globe signed her as much as play Emilia reverse Mark Rylance’s scheming Iago in Othello starring Andre Holland (Moonlight) within the title function. Barry Jenkins, visiting Holland, noticed Atim and her short-cropped blonde hair — “she demanded my consideration,” Jenkins was to later comment to this author — and considered her when he was casting The Underground Railroad.

Atim finds the hyperlinks to The Underground Railroad to be actually particular. She met Thuso Mbedu on that undertaking; she performs Mabel, her mum. “I feel she’s extremely proficient — the work she did on The Underground Railroad was extraordinary. She’s additionally simply actually pretty,” Atim mentioned of Mbedu, who she met up with once more within the military ranks of The Woman King.

”It simply feels such as you‘re doing one thing proper. When you get the identical individuals popping up, or mates of people that I’ve labored with earlier than popping up, it looks like there’s such a stupendous community being created and that is a part of the foundational constructing. For instance: Gina noticed me in The Underground Railroad and in addition in Bruised, which the editor of this movie [The Woman King], Terry [Teriyn A. Shropshire] additionally edited Halle Berry’s Bruised. Gina noticed Bruised at a family-and-friends screening and that’s how I ended up being within the combine for Amenza. And I really like that. I really like seeing that we, as a neighborhood, are watching one another, supporting one another, are collaborating with one another, crossing paths once more.

“It makes it really feel lots much less lonely. In my early profession, and I’m certain a number of Black actors can attest to this, I’d typically be the one one within the solid. That’s actually heartening for me to know that we’re occupying these comparable areas and that we are able to go on these journeys collectively.”

Now, actually, everybody needs to work together with her.

At a dinner for the UK launch of Paramount+ again in the summertime, David Oyelowo (Selma)was within the throes of creating a speech in response to the hosts when he noticed Atim seated on the subsequent desk. He stopped in mid-sentence to acknowledge and salute her as considered one of “our nice actresses.”

Sheila Atim The Woman King

Atim in ‘The Woman King’

DEADLINE: All this glory but ladies nonetheless must combat for his or her spot, on and off display screen.

SHEILA ATIM: There’s motion and there’s counter motion, there’s ebb and there’s circulation. I feel what I’ve began to understand in my life is that this stuff are usually multi-faceted and multi-layered, and as a way to actually create the foundations and roots for change it’s going to take  a few goes. Each time it could actually’t be the identical depth of excavation, you need to go one degree deeper after which one other degree deeper after which you need to continue to learn from earlier than, so after I take into consideration the generations earlier than me I each rejoice the advances that they made understanding that they’ve paved the best way for me, and I additionally attempt to take a look at them objectively and attempt to see how we are able to construct upon that.

DEADLINE: Who paved the best way for you?

ATIME: My mum paved the best way for me in a really literal sense …and in a figurative sense. She introduced me right here with different relations.

And then actresses like Marianne Jean-Baptiste (Without a Trace and Secrets and Lies) and Martina Laird (The Donmar Warehouse’s All Female Shakespeare Trilogy), Mona Hammond (10,000 BC) … these ladies who had been occupying areas on their very own and having to actually maintain their floor. There are so many I may title. I thank them a lot for what they did however I additionally know that it’s by no means over. … And I’ve now are available in and contribute to that and attempt to deepen that one other layer so we are able to get to the purpose the place we are able to construct roots that are foundational and immovable. It’s actually powerful having to persuade people who your id issues and that it is smart on the planet and that it isn’t a kind of nebulous idea, or a money-making scheme, or an concept. It’s actual, I’m actual.

DEADLINE: You talked about dark-skinned lady earlier in our dialog. This was a really very long time in the past, however on the lady’s faculty subsequent door to my faculty I can keep in mind that a few of the women would have cleaning soap and lotions that claimed to lighten the pores and skin … do you assume that extra doorways open for Black ladies with lighter pores and skin?

ATIM: I feel traditionally that’s been the case. I feel that’s altering. This is to not pitch anybody towards anybody — I need that to be tremendous clear as a result of it’s not about it being a contest and an us-versus-them. I don’t assume that’s useful or wholesome at this stage, however the truth is something, whether or not it’s your pores and skin tone or anything that’s adjoining to a values system that prioritises whiteness goes to be celebrated — pores and skin, hair, texture, bodily options, the dialect you’ve, the best way that you just gown, the circles you progress in — all of this stuff can create these false caste methods relating to race. And then there’s class which is an added layer in all of that. That interplays with that fairly straight.


I bear in mind these soaps and people lotions and all of these merchandise that had been designed to alter you. I strive to not cross heavy judgment on that stuff, additionally our our bodies are our personal. I don’t know the precise the reason why someone’s achieved what they’ve achieved. All I do wish to encourage is individuals simply to rejoice themselves, and to seek out acceptance in themselves, and I additionally know that’s a troublesome factor to do as a result of I needed to do it as a dark-skinned Black lady rising up in Essex. I needed to discover a technique to be okay with myself, so I do know that it’s not a simple factor to do. I feel, typically when individuals speak about self-love and self-acceptance, it could actually turn out to be this sort of straightforward, flippant buzz-word, and this modern factor that we should all do — and why wouldn’t we do it? But it’s arduous, it’s arduous to dig into the depth of your personal psyche and pull out all of the methods wherein you’ll have been punishing your self for being your self. That’s not straightforward. And typically, even when you’ve pulled it out to alter, it’s not essentially straightforward to alter your habits. So it’s type of a two-pronged…

DEADLINE: All that and Essex as well.

ATIM: It was attention-grabbing rising up in Essex as me as a result of I used to be virtually so completely different however there was no level in making an attempt to be anything. There weren’t that many non-white individuals in my faculty, there weren’t that many non-white individuals in Essex. There’s extra now…

DEADLINE: But you’ve very a lot made your personal stamp…

ATIM: Me and my representatives, everyone I work with, right down to my hair and make-up group and stylists, we had been all very intentional. … I feel it began off as an accident, and after I say accident I imply it was intentional however not one thing I used to be acutely aware of. With regards to selections that we made with reference to the type of jobs that we’d gravitate in direction of … that’s one thing I actually wish to be concerned in. I simply don’t need it to be ,”Cool, let’s put on a gown.” I need the gown to be an expression of me and I need my hair to say one thing, my make-up to say one thing. I need issues to be complicated. I don’t need the simplicity that may typically be imposed upon you as a result of it makes it simpler for different individuals to digest. I need it to be dynamic to put on a gown.

Like on the Olivier Awards. I had this Prada pastel pink gown but it surely had this scarf that was a bomber jacket, after which my hair stylist minimize my hair into this cool fade … funky pink purple lipstick. I preferred simply mixing up completely different components. There’s one thing in regards to the pastel pink and the attractive class of the robe crashing up towards this scarf that does appear like a kind of bomber jackets from the ’90s that somebody’s sporting with some Nike Airmax. I like that you would be able to have a boy-ish haircut and a few diamond earrings — that type of stuff I actually take pleasure in. Even in my appearing work, even in my music I like fusion of sounds. I take pleasure in taking part in characters which can be succinct. Do they mark a mark? Are they important, do they reverberate after you’ve seen the movie? We’ve all been actually conscious that that’s one thing that has fashioned inside my profession and we simply wish to maintain pushing that.

DEADLINE: I’ve a reminiscence of you telling me that you just informed your brokers: ”Don’t put me up for the apparent roles.”

ATIM: She [my agent] would simply put you up for all of it. “Let’s see, let’s not have any limitations on the place we predict try to be.” I’ve had many instances the place I’ve been stunned in one thing, and perhaps even the groups themselves didn’t assume they had been going to solid somebody like me and I got here in and altered their minds. If you’re intentional about increasing the house wherein you assume you’ll be able to exist, different individuals will ultimately come on board.

DEADLINE: What was the primary half that you just didn’t assume you’d get?

ATIM: The Royal Shakespeare Company season at The Swan in Stratford was the primary one. And, The Girl from the North Country [which won her an Olivier Award]. The a part of Marianne [from Girl from the North Country] as a result of the character of Marianne was the daughter of the household, and it was a white household. The RSC was simply nice … we did Love’s Sacrifice, The Jew of Malta and Volpone. Oh, cool, I can do some classics! Even on display screen taking part in the Tooth Fairy in The Irregulars on Netflix. That was one I used to be stunned I obtained. Sometimes it’s the character of the character, typically it’s the type of the undertaking. I’m like: ”They need me for this!” I noticed Everything Everywhere All at Once, regardless of the headspace was that everybody was in after they created that, that’s what I aspire to, not in a literal sense. Just the expansiveness of what they imagine was potential for this undertaking after which they execute it.

Viola Davis The Woman King

Viola Davis and solid in ‘The Woman King’

DEADLINE: Tell me about working with Viola Davis?

ATIM: Viola was a giant a part of the driving drive as a result of JuVee, her manufacturing firm she runs with Julius [Tennon], was concerned. Viola is so humorous, her sense of humour. She is like the overall within the sense that she’s a terrific chief. But she’s not imposing in any respect, very a lot a group participant and he or she steps up when it’s wanted however she’s not strolling into an area demanding some other recognition different than simply being one other human being within the house. It’s such an exquisite sort of particular person to be round, not simply from an appearing perspective, as a result of clearly that’s nice, simply typically in life it’s good to be round someone like that. An enormous a part of this job and being an actor, and I feel with a number of jobs, is the individuals you get to spend your time with, and I’m so comfortable I obtained to spend my time with individuals like Viola.

DEADLINE: I like Viola’s sense of not all the time being grateful to be there … you understand what I imply?

ATIM: I feel it’s necessary to attempt to maintain a few of that while additionally balancing it towards humility and the best way wherein that will get balanced is you do your arduous work after which when the great issues that come are owed to you. You’re proper to carry that up as a result of one of many issues I actually discovered from her is to maintain on reminding myself of my value each on this trade and on this world. It might be very straightforward to neglect. She was instrumental in reminding me to not undersell myself.

DEADLINE: D phrase variety?

ATIM: That’s the large factor I typically get pissed off with relating to the range dialog. What individuals want is entry and assets after which they’ll create no matter it’s they should create to exist at a sure degree of high quality. You want to present them the entry, the assets and the belief. If it’s being approached by way of a mind-set of shoehorning then you definitely simply do everybody a disservice. I’ve each religion that we are able to obtain variety and selection, which is a phrase I type of choose, purely by focusing in fairness. Once you deal with fairness on the first base degree and also you say, “:ou have as a lot entry as that particular person.” Then the remaining will maintain itself.

But I say it like fairness is a simple factor to achieve, it’s not.

DEADLINE: Parting ideas on The Woman King?

ATIM: As a lot because the movie is epic, and the movie does transcend me, these are my very own private life experiences and I like engaged on initiatives the place I can look again, after which when the tip of my life comes I can replicate on this stuff and say: “This was actual, I skilled this, I used to be there. I had that dialog. [Laughs] I laughed with Viola on that day when she couldn’t open the door to the cage, there was a giant cage and the lock obtained caught, she’d needed to flip round and ship this actually dramatic line to me however I used to be grinning … we needed to minimize and we needed to go once more. It’s in regards to the moments in time.

Atim is represented by UTA, Middleweek Newton Talent Management, Manuka, The Artists Partnership and Tapestry.

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