As production began on her first feature film, Jayme Lawson had a question. “I was like, ‘So is there going to be food on set? Do I need to pack mine?’ Lawson reminisces with laughter from his Brooklyn apartment about his on-screen debut in 2020. Goodbye Love. Lawson was already a seasoned artist at the time: She spent her summers at drama camp, attended the DC-based Duke Ellington School for the Performing Arts, and then attended Juilliard, graduating in 2019. But her question showed a touching naivety about the entertainment industry. . “I just remembered [director Ekwa Msangi] looking at me like, ‘Yeah, baby, there will be. We will feed you. ”
In the nearly three years since then, the actress has become well acquainted with craft services, as her career has taken her from Gotham City (the batman) to the White House on Showtime’s The First Lady, premiere on April 17.
Lawson, who grew up in Maryland as the youngest of six children, claims to have had little to do with her seemingly charmed rise. “Honestly, I don’t give myself much credit for how things have developed,” explains the 24-year-old. He says that she has not followed any kind of master plan, but has relied on her intuition to make important career decisions for her.
She was faced with such a decision shortly after graduation, when she was offered a role in the 2019 revival of Ntozake Shange. For Black Girls Who Have Considered Suicide / When the Rainbow is Enough at The Public in New York, staged for the first time since its 1976 premiere at that theater. Days later, she received offers for two major studio movies. “We’re talking about money that she’s never seen before,” she says. “[For] someone who just graduated from college, we’re talking about money that I’ve never seen before.” But the movies would be shot during the performance of the stage show, forcing her to choose. In the end, she left with for colored girls, which she considered the most artistically rewarding role. “I don’t know the next time I’ll have the opportunity to be on stage with six other women of color,” she reasoned. Lawson optimistically imagined that at some point another great tent would spring up.
His instinct turned out to be correct, and it didn’t take long.
Later For Girls of Color open, Lawson got a part in batman, a supporting but integral role as the elected mayor of crime-ridden Gotham. Other big film projects followed: Chinonye Chukwu’s Until (opening October 7), the story of Emmett Till’s mother, in which Lawson plays journalist and activist Myrlie Evers, wife of Medgar Evers; and the epic era of Sony the king woman (September 16) in front of her First woman co-star Viola Davis.
The First Lady director Susanne Bier offered Lawson the role of a young Michelle Obama, without an audition. On the call with Bier, Lawson had a question: “I said, ‘Are you sure? Isn’t there like a process that I should be doing?’ She says, ‘Well, I’m the director, so of course I’m sure.’ Lawson immersed himself in Obama memoirs, becoming, and available journal entries from the time the former first lady met Barack Obama. She also spoke with Davis, who produces and plays White House-era Michelle, about a harrowing Zoom before the summer session: “She spoke to me like a peer, which shook me. She wasn’t ready for that.”
The actress says she is “blessed” to be making her entrance into entertainment at this time: “This is a new era that we’re entering, where young women of color are starting to have agency over their own stories in Hollywood.”
This story first appeared in the April 13 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here for subscribe.