Carmen Ejogo Talks 'Girlfriend Experience's' Timeless Quality and 'True Detective' Season 3 (Exclusive)
By Philiana Ng
Carmen Ejogo is having a moment.
The British actress currently stars in the second season of Steven Soderbergh's uniquely woven tale of high-end escorts on The Girlfriend Experience, where she plays Bria Jones, a woman who's given up that lucrative life to enter into witness protection, using government intel against a former client. What Bria doesn't plan for, however, is the addictive temptations of her old life finding their way back into her orbit. It's Ejogo's gripping, layered performance of a woman so complex in her internal intentions and conflicts that makes her more relatable and endearing than one would expect.
Ejogo, 44, also stars opposite Denzel Washington in Roman J. Israel, Esq. in a role completely opposite from Bria, and is gearing up for the upcoming third season of True Detective, which she'll star as the female lead opposite Mahershala Ali. Ahead of Sunday's Girlfriend Experience finale, ET jumped on the phone with Ejogo to reflect on the innovative Starz drama, what made her experience the "most satisfying" of her career and what she's looking forward to with the new installment of True Detective.
ET: What has excited you about being a part of a unique show like The Girlfriend Experience?
Carmen Ejogo: I’m excited by the fact that a lot of the audience seems to get it, what Amy and I were aiming for with this show. Bria is a really interesting woman and I don’t think I’ve seen anything quite like her onscreen before and the way that she interfaces and that she reacts and operates around the various characters. The way that we brought up issues of how much agency a person might have when it comes to their decisions they make themselves and complicity, how much they may be part of the problem at times. There are all kinds of issues that are incredibly relevant to the here and now, given that we’re in this moment of real deep and personal interrogation, and the culture and society when it comes to sex and the way men and women interact. This is a show that adds to that conversation in a way that is sophisticated and intelligent and complicated.
With the current political and cultural climate at the moment, do you feel like the show is more relevant than ever?
Unbeknownst to us when we started making the show, we were making a piece that was incredibly timely and topical. I say unbeknownst to us, but this subject matter, that’s been with us [for a long time]. If you’re a woman in the world who has her eyes open to what happens to most women every single day of the week, to some degree or another, when it comes to sexual politics and the good and the bad of it all, you’re probably going to be tapping into that territory if you’re a female director or if you’re a female actress who has interest in that area. When you’re given a show like The Girlfriend Experience, it’s an obvious platform to explore these themes. Me and Amy coming together when we did to bring this to the screen was serendipitous and a perfect alignment of attitudes and perspective. It just happened to be that the larger culture started having the same conversation in the media. This show could’ve come out at any point in time and been relevant, in my opinion it just happens to be the topic of conversation finally.
What acting muscles were you able to flex on The Girlfriend Experience that you haven’t had the opportunity in past projects?
The writing supported a woman who was going to be, at times, really dark, really light, really angry, happy, manipulative and transparent simultaneously. I know I go through all kinds of colors in any given day as a human being. You’re often expected to find an arc that is so clear and so linear that it’s hard to be as authentic about what it really looks like for a woman to really live in a moment. These were things that I tried really hard to craft for this woman [Bria], because that’s really essentially who she is more than anything. She’s somebody who is living and surviving, which means she’s always in the moment that she exits. That’s not really a space that characters are not often given: living in the moment. It sounds so obvious and it sounds like something you’d think you’d see all the time, but actually, I don’t think we do see it as much as we think we do. To be able to come to set and attempt to be a survivor and live moment to moment onscreen was part of the things that I found most satisfying.
How much time did it take for you to shed Bria’s skin?
While making the show, I was in every single scene; first up, last to go home. The intense schedule meant I didn’t have much “me” time. The day I finished filming in Albuquerque, New Mexico, I had to be in L.A. to film Roman J. Israel, Esq. withDenzel Washington to play Maya, who couldn’t be more oppositional to the character that Bria is in many ways. I had no choice but to switch the program and switch my brain into a whole other headspace in order to achieve that, which was a bit of an emotional and mental gymnastics on my part. Frankly, that’s the fun stuff. That’s the stuff when it gets challenging. What do I have to let go off that I’ve just inhabited for the last eight weeks? What do I have to not inhabit to be convincing in this completely different woman? It’s fun that both things are out at the same time. There are people who have seen both performances and I hope they see enough of a difference between Maya and Bria. (Laughs.)
Looking ahead to True Detective season three starring Oscar winner Mahershala Ali, what are you most looking forward to?
To come onto a show that came out guns blazing in the first season, where people put True Detective in their Top 5 shows of all time, and try to live up to the expectations of a fanbase that already exists is quite the challenge. But it’s an incredible creative team on this show. We’ve got, yeah, Mahershala and Jeremy Saulnier, an amazing director, on board. [Creator] Nic [Pizzolatto] is so passionate. He has no need to come back to do a third season, but he feels excited about what he’s put on the page. Everyone’s coming in with the same level of enthusiasm that I think the audience has who is already out there. I’m personally excited to explore what that world [the Ozarks] was like in the time period that we’ll be exploring. It’s always such a privilege as an actor when you get to encounter an entirely new environment, and you have to explore and research it to be able to inhabit it and to be able to convey it. That appealed to me, trying to find a way to authentically convey a moment in time that has passed all of us and probably doesn’t exist there now. It’s going to be an interesting challenge to recreate that.
The season two finale of The Girlfriend Experience airs Sunday, Dec. 24 at 9 p.m. ET/PT on Starz.