Amandla Stenberg, who has played guitar and violin since childhood, is named after the 1989 Miles Davis album. So her latest role in “The Eddy,” Damien Chazelle’s grainy, Paris-based love letter to jazz centered on a nightclub owner (André Holland), might not seem like too much of a stretch. But Stenberg stepped into the role of the club owner’s daughter barely knowing a word of French and with little experience in improvisation — a key component to capturing the show’s tripping cadence, she says.
Ahead of the May 8 release of the 8-part series on Netflix, Variety caught up with Stenberg to talk about shooting in Paris, working with Chazelle and playing another precocious 16-year-old, Julie, after her role in the 2018 film “The Hate U Give.”
How are you dealing with self-isolation?
I’m coping with things fine. I’m blessed enough to be safe and not have anybody around me directly affected by the virus so far. There are aspects of just pausing life in this way that are welcome to me, although the impending doom and the sense of worrying about the structure of the world as we know it crumbling is not a super great feeling.
Your character’s life has been very troubled when we meet her. How did you approach playing someone who experienced deep trauma?
What was important to me was that she felt really young. I think she’s somebody who is in search of herself, and she’s developed certain coping mechanisms in order to hide her vulnerabilities. I wanted her to feel like a small puppy with a really big bark, someone who is maybe a lot to handle because that’s the way that she’s learned to gain attention.
With Damien Chazelle, we’ve come to expect the musical beat that underpins his work. How would you describe shooting with him in Paris?
Since the show is about jazz, the set felt kinetic, improvisational, high-energy, spontaneous and sometimes a little confusing. A lot of the dialogue is just improvised; we were allowed so much freedom to just play and try new things, which was really cool because I never had that experience with improv before.
The side of Paris we see in “The Eddy” is not the glitzy, Eiffel Tower-centric version portrayed in many other shows.
Hopefully not! That’s one of the things that Damien mentioned to me when we first talked about the project. He described it as a love letter to the real Paris, as opposed to the Western view of all-white, Caucasian Europeans smoking cigarettes and wearing black-striped shirts and stuff like that. This shows [the city] as definitely way more multicultural; a lot of the episodes are about people from North African communities. We wanted to recognize how influential North African culture is in Paris and how much it’s like a beating heart in the city.
Things you didn’t know about Amandla Stenberg
Age: 21 Birthplace: Los Angeles Favorite jazz singers: Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald Favorite Damien Chazelle movie: “Whiplash” Quarantine coping mechanism: TikTok dancing Current TV obsession: MTV’s “Catfish”