Nyasha Hatendi

From the Silver Screen to TV. From Radio to Broadway. Nyasha Hatendi has acted, produced, & now he joins us for an exclusive interview to discuss his directorial debut, Moving On.

Nyasha, thank you for interviewing with us. You've had a marvellous career, both in movies and television. Can you tell us what is was that drew you towards entertainment?

Why thank you, I’ve been very fortunate to be able to make a living doing what I love and am very grateful for the opportunities that have been afforded me by other artists that I respect and admire which I guess is what drew me into entertainment. I guess I just love storytelling. Ever since I was a kid. I have always been fascinated with understanding the other’s experience and point of view, putting myself in their shoes. I also just love the experience of going to the movies, sitting in a theatre when the lights go down, feeling connected to an audience. It’s a little intoxicating to me and perhaps most of all, I love the shared catharsis. It reminds you that there is always hope that you are never alone and that has always been a source of great comfort. 

Born in Washington D.C., Raised in Zimbabwe and educated in the United Kingdom. Can you tell us a little bit about the perspective you gain from growing up in 3 different countries

Well it means I’ve always felt a little bit like an outsider in all three cultures, but I like to think that has given me an objectivity that is illuminating, a very unique perspective. It also means I’m always trying to figure out who I am, which is both a source of anxiety and motivation in one. Born and raised here in the US and raised connects me to a culture that I’ve always admired and found inspiring but also found troubling and deeply flawed. Growing up in Zimbabwe has afforded me a sense of history, identity and belonging that goes even deeper. I’m very proud to call myself a Zimbabwean but somewhat controversially am also proud to be British, where I discovered my love of acting and theatre and where I benefited from an incredible education. The problem is... when you are intimately aware of just how special each of these world’s are and are very much in love with their ideals, culture and people (for the most part at least) the more painful it is when you have to endure their increasingly, infuriating dysfunction. 

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Your newly released film, Moving On. At what point in your life did you know it was time to tell this story?

I always wanted to direct, even as I was training to be an actor, my approach has always been holistic. I’ve tried to gauge the overall message and effect of the piece and in specific my character’s on the audience. I had always wanted to take the leap but had never been brave enough. But when my father passed away, I had such a rush of so many feelings and emotions that the only way to process them was through expression. I felt like making this film was a way of connecting with him. Of making something I would always be able to look to as an indicator of just what he meant to me, the good and the bad. I felt like making a film about that moment of profound change was a way honoring him and sharing the experience because everyone is alone in death and in grief and you only lose a parent once, don’t ever take it for granted, telling the truth is never more important in those moments. It was also a statement of intent, to do start doing what I’ve always wanted to do, which is to write and direct. He was always very supportive of that idea. 

Moving On not only captures you with it's gripping cinematography, but it’s a story that will leave you craving for more. Is there any possibility that Moving On could be adapted into a feature film some day?

Jason Oldak is fantastic, he came up under the legendary John Guleserian on Casual, so we became friends over the years, we shared the same experiences and tastes when it came to this and it was such a joy and privilege getting to collaborate with him. As per the story, yes I wanted to leave it open, to leave the audience thinking about Steve, full of hope for the future. I like films that leave you wondering and wanting to know what happens next, how the protagonist is doing long after the credits. Moving On was my first film as a a writer/director so I wanted use the experience to find my voice and style. It was intended more as an exercise in discovery so was meant to be a stand alone but am sure elements of Moving On will find their way into my work going forward. I’m working on three projects at the moment all of which are very different, but I can already recognize an aesthetic and tonal connection which I am very excited to explore and develop further. 

The film has a fantastic hallucinatory effect that shows rather than tells. Was there a part of you that always knew you wanted to include these types of transitions?

Thank you. Yes I did. I am a big fan of subtext, it allows the audience to project their own feelings onto the characters and feel more involved and hopefully engaged. I actually wanted to go a lot further. I always wanted to invoke in the audience, the same emotions that the character was experiencing, visually, aurally. 

Ultimately that’s what dictated the transitions. 

In hindsight I would have done a lot of things differently but mainly I would have shot the first half with Steadicam to emphasise the contrast between the fluidity of the first half with the static formality of the second half. 

The second transition was something my fiancé suggested one night after an argument, she’s a much better writer than me...she really should have written the whole thing. Hence the transition at the end which was fun to play with and hopefully heightens the second part of the film. 

Hulu’s Casual. Can you tell some of our readers the experience you gain from working on such a highly regarded show?

I learnt that it is not enough to be talented, it means nothing without the respect of and for your fellow cast and crew. When it’s mutual you make good work and that has been the basis of all my professional relationships many of whom have gone on to become very dear friends who I hope to work with again, for the rest of my career. Casual was the best job I’ve done in a while and I think the greatest lesson I learnt was humility. From Jason Reitman, Zander Lehman and Helen Estabrook to Michaela Watkins, Tommy Dewey, Tara Lyn Barr and all the execs at Lionsgate and Hulu and everyone in between, they were all so humble and welcoming, you always knew you were in safe hands and it was a joy to go to work. When you’re surrounded by so many talented and accomplished people you learn to just get out the way and focus on being the best that you can be, it’s the greatest compliment you can give to the people you’re working with. It really is a team effort from top to bottom. 

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Are there any particular filmmakers or films that have inspired you throughout your career thus far?

Guiseppe Tornatore’s Cinema Paradiso has to be up there as one of my all time favorites. But on the other end of the spectrum I also “love” Gasper Noe, Enter The Void, it’s one of the most incredibly visually exciting films I’ve ever seen, it’s terrifying and beautiful in one. Jason Reitman’s Juno. John Singleton’s, Boyz in the Hood. Julie Taymor, Titus Andronicus. Lynne Ramsey, You Were Never Really Here. Orson Wells, Citizen Kane. Peter Greenaway, Nightwatching, Jane Campion, The Piano. Raul Peck’s, Sometimes in April. Werner Herzog, Rescue Dawn. Wong Kar Wai, 2046, In the Mood for Love. Alfonso Cuaron’s, Roma, Inarritu’s Amoros Perros, Pedro Almodovar, Volver. Barry Jenkins’s Moonlight. Andrew Davies, The Fugitive. Paolo Sorrentino, The Great Beauty. Peter Strickland’s, Berberian Sound Studio. Michael Winterbottom’s 24hr Party People. Andrew Nicols. Takis. Spike Jonze. Antonia Bird’s, Ravenous. Chan Took Park, Old Boy. Christopher Nolan, Memento. Anthony Minghella, Talented Mr Ripley. Steve Spielberg. Spike Lee, Do The Right Thing. Roman Polanski. Tarsem Singh, The Fall. Ryan Coogler, Black Panther. Luca Guadagnino, I Am Love. Katheryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker. Yorgos Lanthimos, Dogtooth. Paul McGuigan, Gangster No.1. Kaige Chen, Farewell my Concubine. John Woo, RedCliff. Hirokzu Koreeda, Like Father, Like Son. Michaelangelo Antonioni, L’Aventura. Bernardo Bertolucci, Robert Altman, Terence Malik and all of Jim Jarmusch. There are so many all of whom have made films or television that have made a lasting impression on me, that I’ve watched time and time again and that are now pretty much part of my DNA. The kind of films that I aspire to make, that inspired me to be in film both as an actor and now as a writer/ director 

Nyasha you've been able to see both the film and television industry. Being that you’ve seen both sides, do you prefer one over the other?

I like both because they are both very different disciplines, though shooting for TV is beginning to resemble film more and more. With TV the schedules are tighter so you have the pressure of getting what you need without sacrificing detail or integrity in a much shorter space of time. It’s very challenging in it’s own way. Working on film you often have more time and every detail is honed to create just one moment. I was working on the set of The Frontrunner on location in Savannah, Georgia last year and on the very last night, walking onto set was like walking into a dream, every detail had been so precisely calibrated. It was magical. I guess I’m a romantic in that respect, so my inclination is film but I love the challenge of television and still can’t quite believe my luck when I walk onto any set. I saw the original Ghostbusters car on display at the Sony Lot the other day and broke down in tears, my inner child couldn’t handle it! 

Some of our submitters are filmmakers and writers who have just began their journey into the industry. If you had to give a little bit of advice on the first steps, what would they be?

Well I’m also just starting out, as a writer and a director at least. So my first suggestion would be to just keep going and always seek and be grateful for the opportunity to learn. To embrace adversity as something that helps you grow. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Remember who you’re doing it for and why and make sure it aligns with your principles and then just be yourself and learn to love and respect the people who love what you do and you’ll be fine. That’s my take at least... 

Following Moving On, do you plan on writing and directing more films?

Currently I am developing three very different feature scripts and have written another short film in the hopes of persuading a very famous writer to let me adapt it into a feature. I read it when I was fifteen and it’s stuck with me ever since, it’d be a dream come true. Another is a road trip about my parents, somewhat similar to my short but on a much grander scale and the 3rd is a horror movie, which has been really fun to write. Ultimately I want to keep writing, acting and directing as much as I can. To keep learning and finding my voice as an artist. I recently shadowed a director on a show called Greenleaf for OWN and I realized just how much I loved being on set, working with actors and being around like minded creatives. It’s a very special dynamic to be a part of. When you realize you tell stories for a living, you have to pinch yourself, it’s such a good feeling. I want to continue to get better and better and eventually make films and television that in some way representative of my own experience, that connects with the millions of cultural schizoids, just like me, that must be out there. Right now I’m just grateful to be on the journey and excited for what lies ahead. 

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