“Everything was gone,” she told Refinery29 over a Zoom call earlier this month. “My credit cards, my money and my ID.”
It was a rocky start to what would become a life-changing experience for the actress. Jamie Foxx and Joseph Gordon-Levitt were already attached to the project, so, wallet or not, the pressure was on. The chemistry read went off without a hitch. Fishback even spontaneously recited a spoken word poem for Foxx, who, after hearing about her mishap, took out an envelope full of cash and handed her a hundred-dollar bill. She flew back to Brooklyn from Los Angeles feeling optimistic about her chances.
She didn’t get the part.
“A whole month went by, and I just tried to let it go so hard,” she told Refinery29 over a Zoom call. “Because I thought the audition went so well!”
And then, on the exact same day she found out her character, Darlene, wasn’t returning for the third season of The Deuce, Fishback got a call from her agent. A scheduling problem had caused someone else to drop out, and she was officially cast as Robin in the Netflix summer blockbuster, set to begin shooting in three weeks.
“And then, I get an email from JetBlue saying they found my wallet,” she said. “A whole month. Full circle, completely. The stars really did align.”
Maybe it’s because she’s been studying astrology in quarantine, but Fishback’s rise to fame does seem cosmically ordained. Her one woman show, Subverted, which she wrote and stars in as 22 separate characters, has been lauded by Gloria Steinem and Michelle MacLaren. David Simon, who first cast her in HBO’s Show Me A Hero, was so blown away by her performance that he created a role specifically for her in The Deuce. Her first leading role, in Jordana Spiro’s Night Comes On, was one of the most memorable — if underseen — performances of 2018.
Foxx, in particular, has been effusive in his praise for his co-star, whom he’s compared to Regina Hall and Regina King in interviews leading up to Project Power’s August 14 release. It’s been a while since we’ve seen such a charismatic platonic pairing on-screen.
The two share an easy, quip-filled relationship on-screen as Robin challenges the hard-boiled single-minded veteran, and he doles out life advice between shoot-outs.
Directed by Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost from a script by Mattson Tomlin, Project Power centers around a pill that promises superhuman abilities for five minutes for anyone who takes it. As Robin, Fishback is an aspiring rapper who pays the bills by dealing the mysterious substance, and gets caught up in a tangled web after an encounter with a former soldier on the hunt for his daughter (Foxx) and a New Orleans cop determined to get to the source (Gordon Levitt). It’s an engaging, colorful addition to superhero lore, and Fishback more than holds her own against the big-named talents opposite her, delivering the kind of scene-stealing performance that’s become her calling card.
Refinery29: You put a little part of yourself in every character you play. What part does Robin represent?
Dominique Fishback: “Robin is a manifestation of my childhood self, the one who started with the dream. I'm a spoken word poet, so rhyme and words and rhythm and definitions have always been a part of who I am. It’s always been my superpower in a way. To see Robin on-screen, be all the things, all the range of emotions — you see her crying, you see her scared, you see her excited, you see her laughing, you see her loving, you see her being a provider and a protector, a protagonist, a heroine — I feel like I'm those things. I’ve been like that since I was younger. And to get the opportunity to do that with Jamie Foxx and Joseph Gordon-Levitt… I feel like I see me.”
“I started out doing what I normally do, writing journal entries [as my character] and putting a song to every scene. That’s what I did with Darlene. But with Robin, it was different because the script was changing so much. I was really overwhelmed that I wasn't getting a chance to be analytical with a lot of the stuff. I asked Jamie, Could it really be easy? And he said: ‘Do you watch basketball?’ Yeah. And he said, ‘When Steph Curry runs down to court and he shoots a three and it goes in, he doesn't question why it went in, because he's been doing it for so long — it's inside of him. And it's the same for you. You got this.’”
Did you guys hang out off-set?
“I had the best Halloween of my life in New Orleans! I never liked Halloween growing up. I stopped wearing costumes around 12, because I felt like something wasn't right. But New Orleans, they really celebrate it. We all dressed up — I was Dionne from Clueless — Jamie rented a bus, Joe brought his kid and we went to Boo at the Zoo. After that, we went to a haunted house, we got to shoot up zombies, we got to do a ghost tour. And then we were walking and people found out that it was Jamie Foxx, so they started following us. We heard music, and Jamie got everybody dancing.”
The last time we spoke, you had just wrapped Season 1 of The Deuce. Do you feel like this movie marks a new chapter in your career?
“Absolutely. I wrote a post on my Instagram dedicated to the ten-year-old Dom, where I acknowledged that, for a lot of people chasing their dreams is really hard. I know that for me, growing up in East New York, Brooklyn, even though it was across the bridge, like, I didn't feel like I had access to theater or acting or, or the performing arts at all. And so I just saw it on TV. I saw I Love Lucy, and was like, I need to do what she's doing. I know I can do that. At this point, right now, I feel like I was able to release myself of having to prove myself to anybody, including myself.”
Do you feel like there’s been added pressure to prove yourself as a Black woman entering the industry?
“I definitely feel that responsibility. Thankfully, I feel like I’m aligned. What I care about, and my true purpose, has to do with being Black and showing us in many different lights and facets. Because of that, I feel like whatever I do will honor that — even if I decide to do an epic romance, or a rom-com. We have so many layers to ourselves, and by tapping into who I am as a full person, and all the things that I bring with me, then hopefully I will be making my people proud, and transcending. Versatility is my main goal. I’m always carrying my Blackness with me, as a badge of honor, and also I’m an actor.”
There have been a lot of conversations in the wake of George Floyd’s murder about how cops should be portrayed on-screen. How do you think Project Power fits into that discussion?
“We shot this and at the end of 2018, so there was no way to know the extent to which we would be dealing with this right now. But I always appreciated the take because Frank was not portrayed as the good guy. In fact, I don't even know if we have a “good guy” or a “good girl” in this movie, which makes it even more humane. I remember reading a breakdown of the plot saying like, ‘Oh, it's about this soldier, this cop, and a teen dealer.’ And I was like, A teen dealer? Who is that? Robin is so much more than that. She's doing whatever she can to provide for her mom, because if she loses her mom, she has nobody. She's doing whatever she can to make sure that's not her reality. [The movie] represents so many walks of life and so many different people in that way.”
How have you been staying creative during this time?
“I've been writing a novel — I'm totally that girl — but when George Floyd was murdered, I stopped. I really lost my step a little bit. Here I am writing this romance that takes place in 1967, and I'm showing this Black love and I'm doing all these things. And then this happens and I'm just like, What is it? What is writing? But then, Daniel Kaluuya [who stars with me in Judas And The Black Messiah] actually spoke to me and reinspired me.
“Also, I'm really into this astrology thing! Looks [holds up a textbook] I'm not playing. If you know the time that you were born, you get to see where all the planets were at that exact moment. And each planet has its own characteristics, its own energies. Wherever the planets are placed, that's the energy that's coming towards that part of your life. So if you ever feel out of whack, you can look at your chart. This is the energy that I'm bringing.”
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.