When the trailer for A Thousand and One dropped back in February, and I knew this film would be unique. Director A.V. Rockwell’s newest work of art is due to release in just a few days, and Off Colour sat down with cast members William Catlett and Josiah Cross to speak about their experiences on set, how they related to their characters, and much more.
Off Colour: A Thousand and One was a beautiful film! It was incredible. I laughed, and I cried. So, can both of you tell me a little bit about what influenced you to pursue acting, as well as how you both came into your roles in the film?
Josiah Cross: Well, again, thank you for giving us this time. But for me, I was raised in the church. And growing up, there was this natural and spiritual connection with not just words, but with intentional action, and movement, existing in the inner city of Cleveland while growing up there.
There’s a line for one of my favourite rappers named J. Cole. And he says, excuses my French, he says, “Niggas from the hood are the best actors.” I’ve always related to that so much because, in every area of my life, I was acting. I went to school in the hood, and we wanted to go to a better school. So we had to pretend we weren’t hoodlums and heathens or whatever the world was portraying us as.
I feel like there was this inherent, almost, calling to the craft of acting myself and exploring what that was. I’ve always loved movies. And then once I found myself, you know, picking career paths, I kind of, like, leaned in and lead with something that was the most natural to me. Connecting with AV (A.V. Rockwell), was one of those things where, you’re just an up-and-coming actor trying to get a job at the position I was at, at the time.
And once you get past that, you’re looking for material that speaks to you. And this material spoke to that spiritual instinct of me wanting to express and tell a story that was true and authentic. That meant something that was beyond me. So that’s kind of where I landed with it.
William Catlett: Wow. Wow, I wanted you to go first because I was really intrigued to hear your story. I don’t think we spoke about it. Wow, what a beautiful journey. For me, Portia, it was not something that I set out to do. I was trying to play basketball, that was the goal. I was trying to see if I can make it to the NBA.
But, you quickly realize that, if you ain’t jumping out the gym like Vince Carter, you ain’t shooting it like Kobe, you gotta figure out something else. 50 Cent was hot at the time, and he got these shoes called G-units and I go to the Foot Locker to get those G-units. I meet a guy that’s selling me the shoes he got the whitest teeth I’ve ever seen. I asked the brother how’d you get your teeth so white? He said “Crest White Strips.”
I said, okay, where are you from? And what do you do? He says, “I’m from Maryland.” I said okay, I’m from the DC Maryland area. He said, “I’m an actor.” I said okay, okay cool. I don’t know why I shrugged my shoulders, but he said, “Well, you should come to this acting class I go to. Matter of fact, I’ll pick you up.”
And once I went to the acting class, it was just like, This is what I’m destined to do. I told my dad, I think I want to switch from pre-med and become an actor. He said, “It doesn’t surprise me, son.” He then said, “Here’s a list of all the old actors that you must watch, Clark Gable, Edward G. Robinson.” He gave me list of all the greats.
So, that’s kind of how I found my way into acting and found my way to A Thousand and One. Just like Josiah, I had an audition, for part, had a meeting with AV (A.V. Rockwell). She liked me, I liked her vision, and I loved the script. I think it was something that I can bring my heart and soul to, and Lucky spoke to me. I think it was an opportunity for me not only to speak to the characters in the movie, but to speak to every young man and young woman who may not have a two parent household, or may not have a father and they like.
The chemistry was so amazing on screen. So can you talk a little bit about any challenges or preparation that went into those characters?
William Catlett: Well, for me, I’m with six-year-old Terry, thirteen-year-old Terry, and seventeen-year-old Terry. I’ll start with seventeen-year-old Terry. Josiah is so present when he works, and it reminds me of myself. So I don’t have to do anything. There’s nothing to do but to be working with 13-year-old Terry, he got a different vibe, you know? And so I’m like, oooooh, I can laugh a little bit more, I can do this and do that.
With six-year-old Terry, he’s just innocent and ready to get working and wants to play the game right after the scene, so, you fall into it. And with Inez (Teyana Taylor), I mean, Teyana is an artist at the heart, she’s not just a singer, she’s an artist. And you feel that with A.V. (Rockwell), she was able to pull all of our strings and put us together. It was like a spirit thing, versus it being like, Okay, we need to say like this and do it like this. A lot of times, we would just be on set, just breathe, and then call action and capture what we were doing.
Josiah Cross: Man, that was a beautiful way that Will explained, it because he said, that A.V. was pulling our strings. I think that’s such a great perspective to look at it. The title itself, director, what does that mean? And I feel like, what a true director does is she’s able to take these instruments and play them in tune. She’s able to play Will, the way that his talent is supposed to be used.
And then once that violin gets accompanied with that base, you start to get some rhythm going in that room. Like Will said, we were just sitting there breathing, and I feel like the chemistry came from that. We’re here to serve something that’s beyond us. So leave whoever you are outside of this at the door, once we come in here, let’s get in step, and I feel like no one had an ego. I feel like it leapt off the page. So a lot of things we didn’t have to forcefully do, the atmosphere itself just presented. Just go play, and we did.
Did you both find any differences or similarities in the characters that you played? Versus yourself?
Josiah Cross: It’s kind of scary. I feel like people, for the most part, have a positive connotation to the word, cathartic, but for me. This experience was almost too cathartic. There was something in those moments, where I was, anxious and scared, then I’m like, wait a minute, this story is almost identical to my life story. I was raised by a mother by herself, homeless, sleeping at a friend’s house, and sleeping at a friend’s mother’s house.
So, there were times where I would ask myself, I’m like, yo, am I really acting? Or am I just letting these people see me? And as an actor, you kind get to that gate of like, Hey, you want to be vulnerable? But how vulnerable do you want to be? It was a real challenge for me, and the conclusion that I always came to is, I’m serving something that’s beyond me.
There’s a Black boy somewhere in this country, the UK, in Honduras, somewhere that’s gonna see it and see himself, and I feel like, as an artist, that’s what you do it for. You have a responsibility to do that, but definitely, I saw more similarities in my character than differences, for sure.
William Catlett: Yeah, I would just say likewise. I knew I had an obligation to be able to speak to people. There are certain roles in life that only certain people can play. I’m a firm believer in that, no matter how many people would have auditioned, no one was going to be able to play Inez but Teyana, no one was gonna be able to play Terry, but Josiah, no one was gonna be able to play Lucky but Will. I think this story came to us for whatever reason, that it chose us, we didn’t choose it. Our life experiences are able to send A Thousand and One on this journey, and I’m just grateful to be a part of it.
I’m gonna ask one more question. Are there any particular roles or projects that you both would love to pursue in the future?
William Catlett: Woooo! Whoa, that’s good! Imma go first, and what I’m gonna say, I’m also saying it to you, because I see myself in you. I’m a movie star, you know? So, I want to do the biggest projects that I can do. But I want to do projects, that mean something that has some type of weight. To me, these are images that will live forever. And when you see me, I want you to have an experience. Not just on a screen, but this cool and spiritual encounter when I work.
So, I look for projects that have that. I say no to a lot of projects, because they may not have that, and so if they don’t have those certain elements, then it’s not something for me to do. So I’m excited for what the future may hold and excited to blow up as Josiah is blowing up, as all are blowing up. And the bigger our stars shine, the more it gives liberty and license for others to shine.
You’re gonna make me cry a little bit, that was very emotional.
William Catlett: Well, Amen.
Josiah Cross: The first time I met Will, he gave me so much encouragement. Speaking with intention, and speaking with purpose, I love that he continues to give me that guidance and tutelage as a mentor in my life. There’s a lot of things that, in quiet, I keep to myself, but, one of the things he just said, in physical example, I’m a movie star. Saying it out loud, that’s important. I feel like, our greatest movie stars, in the bandwidth of cinema. Will, Denzel, these giants, they didn’t become movie stars, because they played comic book characters, and some cartoons turned into a movie. They play real people, you know what I mean?
And I feel like Will is speaking into something that’s so important with this type of profession. You’ve got to speak to people’s spirits, you know what I’m saying? You’ve got to have these physical, emotional encounters with people they live with for the rest of their lives. I’m one of them. I took that scene when Denzel was looking at his son in John Q, and that’s how navigated through my life, for my son, I’d die for you. I take those things very seriously. So when I’m working, I try to be as specific and as truthful as possible, because somebody somewhere is gonna take it for real, and their whole life is gonna change because of it.
So, for the future, I just hope I’m fortunate enough to have opportunities to sink my teeth in and walk in the shoes of those types of roles.
Want to read more from Portia? Check out this review on Swarm: A Brilliant Psychological Thriller on Stan Culture.
Portia is a Philly-based writer who shares her honest thoughts on the latest movies, shows, and video games. When Portia isn't busy writing, you can find her painting, reading outside, procrastinating to finish her book, or playing video games.