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Emmys 2020: Samira Wiley and Uzo Aduba Still Remember Struggling

ADUBA When you stop to think about what this woman chose to do with her life — and more specifically when, because think about how powerful it is today to see Senator Harris. This woman was doing this almost 50 years ago! It just makes you understand the mettle that this woman was made of — that was so meaningful to me, and really humbling. There’s another generation of people who get to think differently about themselves.

Let me ask you: What is it like to have now been part of two culture-shaping stories?

WILEY Playing Poussey, getting to know her — I spent four years with her, and I was so in touch with the things that she taught me. She’s so loyal. Her moral center is so centered; it’s immovable. That show helped me understand the kind of person I want to be. And Moira is someone who taught me to embrace my activism; to be a champion for the L.G.B.T. community, to be a champion for the Black community and to not be afraid to speak up. It’s such a gift to be able to have lived with these women, to be able to shape who Samira is.

ADUBA Did they shape Samira? Or do you think Samira shaped them as well?

WILEY I remember being in school, trying to create a character and telling my teacher I couldn’t access something. I will never forget what my teacher said: “Well, it’s nobody up there but you.” You can’t create something up there out of nothing; it lives within you somewhere. So that’s always in my head: It has to come from me. But these people, it’s almost like therapy. Having internal conversations with Moira and Poussey has made me aware of these things that are deep inside me that I am now comfortable bringing to light.

Something you just did, which I have never done and would love to do one day — and now you’re nominated for an Emmy for it — is bringing an actual woman to life. Is it fulfilling in a different way?

ADUBA There’s space for invention still. Obviously there’s dramatic license with certain scenes, and there’s getting the exterior right — key elements of who Shirley was, in terms of having listened to her speeches. “Why?” is always the first question: Why are we doing this? Why am I doing this? Because there’s gallons of footage of Shirley Chisholm, so why do we need an actor to do it?

So I was watching this documentary called “Unbought and Unbossed,” and in the last 10 minutes there’s one scene where she’s releasing her [Electoral College] delegates. She lets them go, she’s backstage, and she just collapses into her hands and starts crying. You could feel the weight of something in her tears, and I remember thinking, “That’s the real Shirley Chisholm.” I want to tell that person’s story, when she goes home and she’s not carrying the expectations of everyone in Bed-Stuy, and all the Blacks in America and all of the women in this caucus who are excited to have a woman as president. She clearly has a different idea for who she is in the world than these limited definitions the world holds for her — I’m interested in getting to the bottom of that.

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