Actress Zuri Adele, who stars in the increasingly popular Freeform show Good Trouble, feels like she’s snagged the role of a lifetime. The Bay Area native plays a Black Lives Matter activist named Malika who lives in a communal living space called The Coterie with other young, working professionals. She’s on the front lines of protesting the shooting death of an unarmed teen named Jamal Thompson, and has become close with his mother. Simultaneously, she’s gotten word that her biological mother, who abandoned her children due to addiction, has fallen in. Boundaries are tested as Malika’s character confronts racial bias not only in the world, but her dating life as well.
The show tests the waters and confronts intersectionality in every way. But who is the girl behind Malika, and how do they show up for each other? ESSENCE spoke with Zuri exclusively, and here’s what we learned.
ESSENCE: Your character Malika is a Black Lives Matter activist. How important it is for you to play a role that is so reflective of the times that we’re living in?
Zuri: It’s an incredible honor and responsibility and it feels like a divine assignment. It’s amazing to have such similar experiences and passions as my character does. It just feels like a great responsibility to be a mirror to what’s going on and also to allow more people to see themselves when they see Malika on screen.
There’s so much gravity to playing the role of an activist on the front lines of a huge police brutality case. How do you deal with the emotional toll it takes on you?
I’ve had to make self-care a greater priority than I’ve ever had to before. Luckily I had some routines in place. I was teaching yoga on the side while I was auditioning for the past couple of years. For me, physical practice is a really great way for you to move those emotions through and I mean to like be present with the emotions and also let them live through you and remember that they’re not all of me. So, a daily like physical practice, even if it’s just like child pose on the floor at 2:30 in the morning with the 5:00 AM call time. I’ve been listening to Beautiful Chorus and they have these beautiful affirmations that they sing. So I sit and meditate to them. I also a lot of water and love being in water… taking baths, trying acupuncture. I make sure to experience a lot of joy and make sure to spend quality time with friends and people I love.
I do find that after [some days], I’ll come home and feel really heavy. So, it’s about making sure that I portray that from an honest place, and that in order to do so, I have to have my cup be really full.
I also am a big fan of the bond that the Good Trouble cast has amongst each other. You guys are true friends.
It’s so awesome. Like, the other day we had this event to celebrate the launching of season two and there was a tattoo station. I got my first tattoo, and the whole cast held my hand and sang. We just had this like bonding moment and they’re going to be fun. You know, we’re around each other crying for 16 hours a day or yelling or being very intimate and sexy. We have to trust each other with our bodies and our whole beings.
Malika and Isaac (played by Sarunas Jackson) have excellent chemistry on screen and it looks like off-screen as well. What can you kind of tell me about your dynamic with Sarunas and your process for having that chemistry?
We’re such good friends and we do have such good chemistry. It’s awesome. And we didn’t have a chemistry test like when we got cast. I think that what’s really speaks to just how the showrunners knew who would work by knowing each of us. Once [Sarunas and I] knew that we were both cast, we made a point to talk and hang out.
The thing that I will find really helpful about Sarunas is that he was already doing Insecure, so he was already butt naked in his first scenes on that show and had this great chemistry with Yvonne. The fact that he had that experience made me feel really comfortable and okay with him taking the lead because I’m still getting used to all this. He did so in a really respectful way,
The fans are so into y’all!
The viewers love it, yeah. I mean we love it. We talk about it all the time and the dynamic. I mean he, Sarunas is really, really passionate about colorism specifically. So the fact that this conversation is what jump starts Malika and Isaac’s relationship is something that he was really passionate about. You know, when he auditioned he said, so, and we’ve spoken about colorism a lot. We have spoken about what it means for him to be an Afro Latino and his identity as a black man and, and what spaces he’s accepted in. I can relate to that in a way that I didn’t fully understand he was going through.
You recently did a video for Freeform about identifying as Bi+. As a black woman and a member of the LGBTQ community, can you tell me just a little bit about your journey to accept your identity and how have people around you helped you along the way?
I never had a specific coming out moment because I never really felt closeted. I just was dating guys. And then after college, I was also dating women. When I would speak to [my mom], I would come home from school and just talk about somebody I had a crush on, and she would ask, ‘are they tall or short? Blue eyes or brown? Are they a boy? Are they a girl? Do they have black hair? Blonde hair?’ And ‘boy or girl’ was just thrown in the middle. And it was never a big deal. That had a great impact on me because I didn’t necessarily feel safe to present as bisexual or identify as bisexual without the consequences of dealing with a homophobic society. I went to Spelman College in Atlanta. Just being it in the deep south after growing up in the Bay Area was its own culture shock in terms of how much more conservative that space was and how many people I met in the LGBTQ community at Spelman and Morehouse who were closeted. It showed me I grew up with a liberal mindset that I didn’t even know I was growing up around. I think that’s been the most amazing thing, and I also admired people who did have to have a coming out moment with their parents in a way that was really scary. For me, it was already scary enough to hold the woman’s hand in public at first knowing that people at the airport might be really homophobic or that we may be less safe in a certain country. But the fact that I didn’t have to do that so much with my own parents in my own home took a lot of weight off and I will always treasure cherish that.
What I hope I’m doing is I’m also allowing people to know that it’s okay to be bi, and it’s also not a phase. It’s not 50% straight, 50% gay, it’s just 100% bi. Zuri: If I date a man, I’m still in the LGBTQ fam. If I date a woman, I’m still in the LGBTQ fam. If I date a non-binary person, I’m still no LGBTQ fam. Nothing disqualifies you from your pride and I’m really glad that I’ve had that journey before facing the public eye.
That’s incredible! Another storyline of Malika’s that I’m really into is the one with her mom, whom she’s angry at for choosing addiction of her and her brother. Has that really influenced your personal take on forgiveness?
Oohh that’s good! Yes, definitely. I’m learning so much about conflict resolution. One of my favorite words is boundaries. And I’m big on setting boundaries when the energy doesn’t feel quite aligned, or knowing the doses in which I can be around a person or in a certain type of space. And I think that sometimes, I would confuse that with like a barrier. Like if there’s something I don’t like or if somebody sort of messes up, then it’s done. But what I see Malika doing is speaking up on what’s not working. She approached Isaac and said, ‘look, you swiped left on me. That’s not cool.’ She called him out and then also gave him a chance. Same thing with Malika and Dom as brother and sister. They both have felt betrayed by one another, but they’re all they’ve got in terms of blood-related family. So coming to a place of forgiveness, understanding that we’re all human, and then giving people the same grace and vice versa…that’s all showing up [for me]. Like I have a lot of moments where I’m think, ‘okay, what would Malika do right now?’