In Spring 2020, the world took on an unprecedented lockdown. Specifically in the entertainment field, multiple productions were halted, which resulted in nearly half a million employees in the industry incapable of going to work. Within the inescapable vortex of the pandemic whirlwind that forced Americans to go into quarantine, 23-year-old actress and Los Angeles native, Zolee Griggs was also on a forced work hiatus.
Waiting for the release of her latest film, Archenemy, Griggs experienced what most of Hollywood dealt with at the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak. “It’s devastating because that’s what I love to do,” Griggs tells ESSENCE. “I love to perform. There were a lot of really dope projects that I was auditioning for that were going to be in the works for this year. Now, those things are going to have to be pushed back or cancelled but that is not up to me anymore.”
Outwardly, Griggs came off a successful year in 2019 playing “Shurrie” in Hulu’s Wu-Tang: An American Saga (which has been green lit for a second season). Shortly after her role of playing RZA’s on-screen sister and Ghostface Killah’s (Siddiq Saunderson) love interest; the actress took on the role of “Indigo” in Adam Egypt Mortimer’s third comic book-inspired motion picture film, Archenemy.
Outside of the brave characters she plays, this deep-rooted nature of social goodness isn’t foreign to Zolee Griggs. Raised in Ladera Heights, the activist arranged for an alternative market. Introducing the ‘Grab & Go’ center where she consistently restocks school supplies, feminine hygiene products, canned goods, nonperishable foods, water, blankets, and other essential items. “I really took 2020, as a year, to just give back to my community as much as I could and to take what I was given in 2019, which was a lot of abundance. I know that the business will pick back up when the time is right.”
Essence caught up with Griggs to talk more about why she believes Hollywood is seeing a cultural shift, how her quarantine is going, and her daring role as “Indigo” in Archenemy.
ESSENCE: Archenemy could be considered your first Blockbuster film in many ways even though the film was independently produced, the production of the movie feels grand. What was the experience like on set and working with the cast?
Griggs: The movie was super fun to be a part of, I was excited to work with everyone. It was very cool working with Adam, the director. I was really excited to meet these new people and see how we would all mesh together, because you’ve got me and Skyland, our characters are related, but we’re so different than everybody else. The script was so vibrant and funny and Adam is very creative, he’s open minded. We were able to bring our own opinions and really make it our own.
I noticed the blue-braid switch up you had last year and thought the look was just a part of your stylish nature but it was purposeful to your role in Archenemy as “Indigo”. How was it like embodying her and the stunts that involved her character?
Griggs: When I initially heard the character’s name was “Indigo,” I mentioned to Adam that she should have blue braids since I wear braids all of the time. We chose the color specifically. He wanted an array of different types of blues. It was very collaborative, we worked with the head of wardrobe, and we decided what cool outfits really speaks to Indigo’s character. I could tell she was eclectic by reading the script and by seeing the final outfits. She wears this gold-plated name belt and that really let me know who she is, a badass. The physicality of the character helps to mold what the relationships and human connections will feel like in the film.
In a previous interview, you mentioned how a casting director nearly lost you the chance to play “Shurrie” in Hulu’s Wu-Tang: An American Saga series because you weren’t “nitty-gritty enough.” Now, you have starred in a supporting role for a majorly Action-packed film. Did you expect a role similar to the one you play in Archenemy to come onto your radar this early on in your adult career?
Griggs: I don’t ever know what to expect and that is what is so great about performing. I’m very glad to be a part of this film because for a number of reasons, I think it’s a superhero action movie and I’ve never done one of those types of films before. I didn’t realize how prominent my character would be until actually diving into her role. Casting directors and producers know what they’re doing when they cast people because it always comes out beautifully in the end. I can’t be the one to decide. I got to let go and let God.
How do you believe your role as “Indigo” showcases that Black women are capable of having more range in acting than the roles they are often cast?
Griggs: Indigo is diverse and different. She has stereotypical traits of ownership and being a strong independent Black woman who has to take on this role to help her family survive. But, I don’t think the movie revolves around that. What makes it different is Indigo having bright colors and herself thinking she’s a fairy. Her brother is super passionate about journalism and becoming a journalist in real time. These are aspiring people who you would commonly see on the streets of New York or Los Angeles. Indigo doesn’t fit in a box which is real and you can see those types of people on a daily basis.
With Hollywood being forever changed by the pandemic and the fear of the unknown for the future of entertainment, why do you believe it is more important than ever for actors to remain positive during these unsettling times?
Griggs: It’s a good time to reflect on not just yourself, but others, and I know we can’t see the bigger picture now because we’re going through it. Staying positive is necessary for going forward, everything will be even better. I know when productions open back up fully, they’re going to be booming and then opportunities are going to be opening up, left, right, and center for us. We just have to wait until that moment because so many productions have been put on pause. A flood of opportunities will be coming up when it’s time.
How have these strong and well established Black actors like Zendaya and Regina King give you hope for the future of entertainment?
Griggs: Every-time a Black woman before me wins, it just shows me that if I continue to put in the work, if I continue to focus, and continue to have these celebrations, that my turn is coming up. It is extremely inspiring. I’ve been watching Regina King since she was around my age doing acting. Of course, Zendaya I have been admiring her work since she was 15 on Disney. Being able to see these women flourish is so inspiring for my career, you can’t plan life. I’m just going to continue to focus, put in the work, and be happy for these ladies before me and know that I will also be up there when the time is right.
What goals do you hope to accomplish in 2021?
Griggs: For 2021, I want to focus on continuing to stay on the path that I’m on. I just want to maneuver with the knowledge I have learned in 2020 and continue to work hard and have an open mind. We all felt a little defeated when the pandemic really started. Now, that we’re pushing forward you can see that as a society we are continuing day by day with the pandemic looming over us. We should all be proud of this and the resilience we have as people.
Archenemy is now available for VOD and in selected theaters.