If you think you’ve seen Dominique Fishback before, that’s because you probably have. Since 2014, Fishback has stolen scenes in films like “The Hate U Give” and starred for two seasons as Darlene on HBO’s “The Deuce,” in addition to appearances on “Blue Bloods,” “The Affair,” “Royal Pains” and “The Americans.”
But with Netflix’s “Project Power,” the young performer is fully embracing her own superpower – in the form of her megawatt smile and her even bigger talent. Fishback stars as Robin opposite Jamie Foxx and Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the summer action film, which imagines a world in which a pill gives the user super powers for five minutes at a time.
“She’s everything I could’ve dreamed of and I feel like she’s a manifestation of my 15-year-old self, who started writing spoken-word poetry and found her way into theater,” Fishback tells Variety, in an interview conducted before the film’s release.
And there is much for the 29-year-old star to celebrate. Since launched on Aug. 14, the sci-fi action film has become the most-watched movie on Netflix in the U.S. and the star posted on Instagram that she’s heard the flick is the most-viewed in 90 countries.
“It’s kind of hard to bask in something because you don’t want it to seem like you’re conceited or full of yourself,” Fishback says of how she’s processing the big moment. “But people don’t know all the trials and tribulations and everything you had to go through to get where you are, and you have to celebrate yourself as if nobody’s watching.”
The actor’s performance has earned positive marks from critics, like Variety’s own Owen Gleiberman, who writes in his review of the film, “Dominique Fishback, so superb in ‘The Hate U Give,’ proves again that she has the right stuff. Her Robin presents an authentic weave of trauma and attitude, and she’s a free-style rapper — which Fishback nails, delivering her rhymes (which were written by Chika) with a do-or-die smolder.”
And though early descriptions of the character, referred to Robin as a “teenage dealer,” Fishback insists the character is much more complex, describing this as a “once-in-a-lifetime” type role.
“I was so thankful to Mattson Tomlin [“Project Power’s” screenwriter] because she was really on the page already — we knew what she cared about, we knew who she loved, we knew her passions, we knew her fears,” Fishback says. “We really got a chance to see her heart on the paper so that just made it even more exciting for me to do that character work where she is grounded in reality and we are focused on her the character.
Fishback also emphasizes how the character is a departure from what audiences often see from a young Black woman onscreen.
“What came to mind was ‘Man on Fire’ with Denzel Washington and Dakota Fanning and Natalie Portman in ‘The Professional,” Fishback says. “I remember watching [those] movies constantly as a kid and being like ‘I want to do a role like that. [But] we don’t really get to see young Black girls take up space in that way.”
“We haven’t really gotten to see it where this guy is a powerful fighter who will do anything to get this girl back and make sure that she gets a chance to live, even if he doesn’t. We don’t get to see that love for Black girls in film, especially in sci-fi,” she continued. “So, to not only get that that opportunity to live out that childhood dream, but then to do it with Jamie and Joseph, and the fact that [spoiler alert] Robin does get to save them as well — she’s so smart, so witty and she uses her intelligence and her brain to save them to save them as a group — I’m so thankful.”
Fishback is also thankful for the mentorship she’s received from Foxx and Gordon-Levitt, but admits she’s had to get used to the veteran actors praising her in interviews, describing those instances as the biggest “pinch me moment” of this whole process.
“I don’t think I really had time yet to register the magnitude of having all these people that I admire know my name now or know my work,” Fishback admits.
“To have somebody who has won an Academy Award speak so highly about you, I don’t know there’s no words to describe it, especially when it’s a sci-fi action movie where people aren’t really talking about the grounding of the actor,” she continues. “Jamie and Joseph always make sure to say that even though it’s a sci-fi action movie, [that I] came with the authenticity and the truth of the character, so it means a lot that they see me and they saw me then and they see me now and they wanted to be with me to celebrate.”
The veteran actors also taught Fishback a thing or two on set, helping her learn to better trust her instincts as an performer.
“When we were on set shooting ‘Project Power,’ everything was happening so fast. So, I didn’t really get a chance to like write out my character’s thoughts and put thought into every scene like I normally did for Darlene or other roles,” she recalls, explaining that she worried she was “coasting” through her preparation for the role. “[So, I asked Joe], ‘How do you know if you’re coasting?’ And he was like, “If you’re asking that question, I don’t think you can be. Because if you were coasting, you wouldn’t even ask that kind of question.”
Foxx gave the young star similar advice.
“I asked Jamie, ‘Is [acting] always challenging or have you been doing it so long that it’s just easy?’” she adds. “And he said ‘Do you watch basketball? When Steph Curry’s running down the court and he shoots the three, he’s not questioning himself about why went in, because he’s been doing it for so long. He’s been practicing. It’s muscle memory inside him and you’ve been doing it for so long too and it’s inside you too.’ That kind of relieved me.”
Next up for Fishback is “Judas and the Black Messiah,” in which she stars opposite Daniel Kaluuya and Lakeith Stanfield. Kaluuya embodies the late Black Panther Party leader Fred Hampton, while Fishback plays Hampton’s fiancée Deborah Johnson (now known as Akua Njeri). Fishback filmed the two projects back to back, saying the experience of making them “really changed my life.”
After the “Judas and the Black Messiah” trailer debuted on Aug. 7, Fishback wass inundated with texts, calls and shoutouts on social media, and though she certainly won’t forget the moment, she didn’t get as emotional as she’d expected.
“I made a joke with Shaka King [the film’s director] that I think I might have cried all my tears while we’re filming it. It was such a beautiful and a heavy experience,” Fishback says. “I was totally shocked that both trailers were out at the same time, and that people could see the versatility that I want to bring that I try to bring to the work that I’m doing.”
Aside from all of the praise coming filmmakers, film fans and critics, Fishback says that most important reactions came from those in her hometown.
“[When the trailer came out] I happened to be in East Brooklyn, where I’m from, and I actually drove through my old block,” she says. “I got out of the car and these young guys that I knew growing up, playing basketball with them and everything, were just like, ‘Dom, that’s what’s up, it’s so inspiring.’”
She continues: “I’m really inspired to know that you could come from a place like East New York and really have dreams that were so far from you come true. It really felt good to just be on the ground to be in Brooklyn, be with the people, my people. It really showed what we actually do this for.”