Let’s Tell a Different Story: Nicole Beharie on Miss Juneteenth

I loved the way the physicality of your character changed. She was more casual when she was working or talking to her daughter, but when she was around the pageant people she snapped back into that beauty queen posture.

Initially when I wanted to do the role, I thought I was going to be a glamorous former beauty queen, that whole thing. But we decided, with our director Channing’s guidance, to make her someone who knows that is such a distant part of her life. Now she’s working at a bar and she’s doing blue collar work, and she’s surrounded by a different environment of people, so she moved away from that as much as she could. 

Then in the pageant world, yeah, she is trying to hold on, trying to fit back in, trying to assimilate. That definitely was a choice. Also, I sprained my ankle, like on day three of the shoot, which I actually haven’t mentioned to anyone yet in these interviews. So that actually affected my pace, and I have a little extra sway, but it’s actually just because I had a boot on as I was walking, so you may have been seeing that, to be completely honest. You think, “Oh, she’s really holding herself up well.” It’s like, no, she’s just trying to move so she doesn’t hurt her ankle.

Let's Tell a Different Story: Nicole Beharie on Miss Juneteenth 1

Tell me how you and Channing first talked about the role.

Channing would say, “This story is my baby.” We can all feel the intimacy and the love of this movie, that it’s like a slice of life from her hometown in Texas. It’s about the people. It’s about this woman, it’s about this small family trying to survive and figure out what direction to move in, but it’s also about the community and how it all is interwoven. 

We talked about dialect. She definitely made it clear to me that I was going to be working with locals, and most of the cast is local other than Kendrick Sampson and Alexis Chikaeze. But they are actually from Texas, so they’re familiar with the area and the dialect, and I was just like, “Okay, I’m ready for the challenge.” I think I went there two weeks in advance, and just spent time with the dialect and working at the bar, to make it as real as possible. Because it’s not necessarily an environment that I knew, and I also didn’t want to take for granted doing a general Southern accent. The character deserves that respect. So that was something that we talked a great deal about. 

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