Taylour Paige was not familiar with A’Ziah “Zola” King when she auditioned to play her in “Zola,” the film based on King’s October 2015 viral Twitter thread, but she has since corresponded with her on social media. The thread (and film) tells the tale of a crazy weekend during which Zola, an exotic dancer, embarks on a road trip to strip in Florida with new friend Stefani (Riley Keough) and Stefani’s cohorts — a clueless boyfriend (Nicolas Braun) and a temperamental pimp (Colman Domingo). “Zola” premiered at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival, receiving rave reviews for the performances and for co-writer/director Janicza Bravo. It premieres in theaters on June 30.
Paige came to the role with plenty of dance experience: At age 12 she was touring with Debbie Allen, and she previously starred in the scripted VH1 show “Hit the Floor,” about dance cheerleaders for a fictional L.A. basketball team.
What was your initial response to the “Zola” script and her story?
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Originally I got it in 2017. And I thought it was really racist and sexist. My agent kept saying, “Just put yourself on tape.” So I put myself on tape, begrudgingly. Then it just kind of went away. Later I got an audition for “Hustlers,” and it’s about strippers and a true story, and it made me wonder about “Zola.” I found out it had a new writer and director and asked to read it. And I was like, “Oh yes, this is that collective Black voice that I know.” It was all there. So I went on tape again. And I reached out to the real Zola.
How did you get in touch with her?
On Instagram. I said, “I auditioned to play you today, and I just think you’re so badass and wonderful.” Because regardless of how people receive her story, she processed her trauma by writing about it and did it in such a way that there were distinct characters and imagery. It’s funny, but it’s also sad. Because of her experience and the mind that went with it, we have a movie. And she was so encouraging. She would say things like, “You’re so me, it hurts. I’m going to throw a fit if you don’t get it.” She even had a dream I was going to play her.
After you shot “Zola,” you shot “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” which was released first. In that, your love interests are Viola Davis and Chadwick Boseman.
I still can’t believe I got to do that. I still get really emotional talking about it. And I will say there was never a moment on that set that I didn’t feel worthy of being there. Everyone made me feel very much valued.
You worked with Colman Domingo in both “Ma Rainey” and “Zola.”
It all feels very divine because I shot “Zola” and didn’t book anything until “Ma Rainey,” almost seven months later. And I grew close to Colman during “Zola,” so it was so nice to have him in Pittsburgh. Our whole cast was wonderful. I think what you see in “Zola” is literally four people falling in love with each other. Riley is someone who I share a similar brain and heart with; I’ve never collaborated or worked with someone and felt that understood before.
How did you prepare physically for the dancing scenes?
I actually worked at Crazy Girls in Hollywood for four weeks. I got close with a couple of strippers and eventually told them what I was up to. But I kept it pretty low-key. Although a couple people would say, “Aren’t you the girl from that show [‘Hit the Floor’]?”
Things you didn’t know about Taylour Paige:
Hometown: Inglewood, Calif.
Also seen in: “White Boy Rick,” “Boogie,” VH1’s “Hit the Floor”
Dance chops: Toured with Debbie Allen at age 12
Next up: “Sharp Stick” from Lena Dunham, “Mack & Rita” with Diane Keaton