Renée Elise Goldsberry: Why She Almost Turned Down Role in ‘Waves’

Renée Elise Goldsberry: Why She Almost Turned Down Role in ‘Waves’ December 2, 2019

The new A21 film “Waves,” written and directed by Trey Edward Shults, focuses on the journey a normal American family takes through a series of tragic circumstances that lead to tragedy, loss, and despair. It is a masterpiece in modern storytelling, anchored by stars Kelvin Harrison, Jr, Lucas Hedges, Taylor Russell, Alexa Demie, Neal Huff, Clifton Collins, Jr., with Renée Elise Goldsberry and Sterling K. Brown.

Renée Elise Goldsberry and Kelvin Harrison Jr. appear in ‘Waves.’ Image courtesy of A21.

Goldsberry, who originated the role of Angelica in Broadway’s “Hamilton” in addition to appearances on “The Good Wife” and her Emmy-Award-winning role on “One Life to Live,” recently revealed her reasons and hesitancy to join the gripping story as well as what she believes the film will offer audiences.


I saw the film a few days ago and it has lingered with me. It’s such a great movie. I think it’s probably the best I’ve seen this year.

I’m so moved to hear you say that. I think it’s really powerful. And like you said, I think it stays with you. I’ve just been listening to my friends respond to it, parents respond to it. If a piece of art can make you inspire you to do better in terms of communicating your families, we’re doing something right.


I think the previews the trailers have been just a little generic as to not give away the plot of the movie. So, I have been tried to be very careful, even in my review, and my talking with friends, just tell them, “You have to see this movie. Don’t sleep on it.”

Yeah, it’s been hard to talk about for that reason for me as well, because I’m just like, “Go see it.” I don’t want to tell them what happens because I want them to be able to have the experience of it the way that I did when I saw it for the first time. I have to tell you, I did know what was going to happen when I watched it, and it still moved me greatly. But I agree with you. I want people to just go, and it’s not about plot as much as it is about power, family and forgiveness and resilience and some other things that I think are we need to think about.


Tell me your initial thoughts as you first heard about the project.

My initial thoughts were, “Oh my God, I get to work with Sterling K. Brown!” and, “How fast can I get there?” But also, I was a little hesitant because I was concerned about putting another image on the screen of a young black man doing anything violent. I didn’t think we needed to see that. And I was I was concerned about whether or not that was responsible, and I do try to be responsible. And I just wanted to make sure that I understood what they were trying to accomplish with the film. So, I had a conversation with the director Trey Edward Shults, and there wasn’t anything that I told him that he was unaware of. He and the production company and all of the actors had spent so much time to be aware of the potential problem that casting it this way could have. But they were committed to staying the course because the right actor for the part was Calvin Harrison Jr. and I just really love the bravery in that. It was twofold. It is being determined to do something for the right reason, but also responsible enough to make you know, make decisions based upon potential pitfalls. I think they did a really good job because it’s a black family and it’s very specific to the experience of a black family, but it is 100% universal. We can all see ourselves in all of these people, which is why it’s also hard because anybody is vulnerable to making these kinds of mistakes.


In the first part of this film, it’s a little breezy, but then, it gets really heavy. Did you try to keep it light on the set?

I think I do well when I’m taking care of other people. And I felt I got to work a lot with Calvin Harrison Jr. and he had the heaviest lifting to do terms of stepping into this. He is the sweetest boy you’ve ever met in your life. And he had to step into some really painful places, and try to allow himself to go to some really dark places that I don’t think he would normally live. So, for me, as I said, I’m at my best when I’m supporting someone else. And he had all that to do. I just felt kind of grateful to be there with him and just taking cues from him in terms of what he might have needed in a particular moment to accomplish whatever he had to do that day. In general, though, it’s a really, really nice group of people who went on this journey because of the message and a love of telling really important stories and really there was no For me and Sterling, I think we were concerned with how people would receive this because it’s so it is so challenging. It has been really wonderful pleasant surprises for us. But on set, we were grateful to be there working happy to work with such a wonderful filmmaker, happy to work with really wonderful actors, happy to be in Hollywood, Florida. which fun kind of pervades in this film and, and really supportive of the big moments that we had to accomplish.


The characters in this film deal with this tragedy in different ways. Everyone has their own method of coping and healing and, with your character, her way of coping is kind of a pull away. Which characters method of coping do you identify with most personally?

Sterling K. Brown plays the father and for most of this movie, you’re kind of mad at him. He seems to be the source of the most kind of pressure on the son and easy to blame him for what happens. But he has an opportunity for redemption in the second half of the film and he seems to be strong enough to keep trying to make overtures to heal the family. He seems very humbled. And he keeps trying. He keeps trying to make overtures with a daughter to heal. He’s present. And I would like to say that that would be me in grieving, but I don’t think any of us really know. I don’t think you know what you need to grieve until you suffer a really horrible loss. And so, I think we need to be open to the fact that everyone grieves differently, and everyone should have the space to do what they need to do to keep going.


SPOILER ALERT (We discuss a moment from the end of the film)

I love the hope of the end, you know, just this subtle hope it’s not wrapped up with a bow or anything like that, but it’s just these nuances that we’re making some progress, the holding the hand and looking at him. She said previously, “I can’t even look at you now.”

We shoot so much you never know how it’s gonna’ gather and what’s going to still be in the movie in the end. And in that particular scene, I’m gonna’ admit to you, just vanity-wise, I wasn’t terribly happy with the look on my face. I thought, “Oh my god, what an unattractive look.” I needed some space from it to realize that it’s actually beautiful because it’s what you meant when you said it’s not wrapped up with a bow, but there is hope. It’s subtle. She doesn’t look at him and smile and hug and kiss and they move on and they skip down the road. They’re still there sitting in the middle of their son’s room. They’re in the middle of things that are painful for them to see. And she takes his hand and there’s still grief. They’re still pain. There’s still a road ahead of them. But she takes his hand That’s real. It’s not anything black and white. Everything is so many different shades of grey. And it’s just the overture of taking the hand is just the first step. And I think that’s what we encourage people to do take the first step.


What do you hope audiences will take away from this movie?

I hope audiences take away the power of family, not in being some beautiful aspirational thing where everybody’s kids succeed and make more money than the generation before. But families are truly powerful because they will always be there for each other. They will find a way to forgive and to show up for each other. That’s what we do as families. That’s what makes family so necessary. I hope people see this as an example of the fact that everybody is worthy of moving on and continuing to live in spite of making terrible decisions and failing. I hope people see how surprising people within a family unit can really be the heroes of the family. The young child that you kind of forgot about can be the one that teaches us about grace, about moving on, and can really be the strongest. They can be the one that can lift their hands up at the end.

“Waves” is currently playing in select cinemas and will release everywhere on Dec. 6. 

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