We're closing off 2021 re-sharing some of our favourite pieces of the year. In September, Lashana Lynch chatted to Time Out about starring in the latest James Bond.
Lashana Lynch spent the last night of the 2010s on her own. While the rest of London was out partying and toasting the arrival of 2020, she did something she’d never done before: stayed home, gathered some crystals around her and burned some sage (it cleanses bad vibes).
‘People were like: “You want to spend New Year alone?” But I wanted to see what was going on inside,’ she told me early last year. ‘I don’t know if I’ll get to do that again. This year is going to be hectic...’
Oh, Lashana, you had NO idea.
The eve of change
It was March 2020 when I first sat down with Lynch in a Time Out meeting room. Imagine a set-up like a micro-budget remake of ‘Charlie’s Angels’: a long boardroom table, cream leather chairs but also Magic FM creeping under the door.
I met the west Londoner to talk about what was expected to be a life-changing moment. The new James Bond movie ‘No Time to Die’, co-written by Phoebe Waller-Bridge, was set to be released in April 2020. And, after a 13-year rise through the industry in soaps, theatre shows, Shonda Rhimes’s ‘Still Star-Crossed’ and blockbuster ‘Captain Marvel’, Lynch was starring in it as secret agent Nomi, rumoured to be the new 007.
It’s the kind of role that turns someone into both a superstar and a target. (When we spoke, Lynch had already experienced backlash: ‘I couldn’t take it personally. It’s not about me. It’s about them’.) She’d kept NYE as some calm before the storm.
Of course, neither of us knew then that the biggest storm coming in 2020 was actually a global pandemic, and that she’d have plenty of alone time soon. So, instead we talked about Samuel L Jackson rolling his eyes when she said she’d thought she’d be able to cope with fame: ‘[I’ve realised] I’m not going to know what it feels like until the rewind button doesn’t work anymore.’ We talked about stunts: ‘Doing them is like playing a computer game that’s always in your favour.’ And we talked about Waller-Bridge: ‘She writes with quirky British humour.’
Then, within days of us doing the interview, all that faded into irrelevance for more than a year.
Life during lockdown
It’s 17 months since we first spoke and the 33-year-old is chatting to me over Zoom from a big green velvet sofa in her London flat. ‘She makes me feel very plush,’ the actor says of it. (She personifies things a lot. Especially her plants, and always as female. ‘For the power!’)
‘No Time to Die’ was the first film of many to get pushed back because of the pandemic. Lynch hasn’t even seen the rest of the cast since 2020. ‘Maybe they’ve got a group chat and I’m not in it,’ she says with a raspy laugh. How did it feel to have a career-defining moment put on ice?
She does a pantomime shrug.
The more we talk about lockdown, the clearer it becomes that Lynch is one of those people who has actually coped with it pretty well. ‘At first I thought: So, what do I do with my thoughts? Where do I place all of these plans that I have?’ she says. She leans back on the sofa hugging a pillow. ‘But I found “the calm” very quickly.’
She churned through all the same TV shows as the rest of us – ‘give me 24 hours and I’d have it done’ – and meditated a lot. One day she went to the park and spent a long time staring at plants. ‘I was having conversations with nature,’ she says. ‘Saying: “I was here a week ago and you were just a baby. Look at you, growing.”’ She laughs so hard that her head, neck and shoulders ripple.
The winter lockdown was harder. ‘The first half of the lockdown was culling, which was very healing for me,’ she says. ‘The second half was a realisation that I’m no longer creating. I was like: Okay, I’ve had enough.’ But she tried to accept being miserable and plough on. ‘My whole thing was to try to be present,’ she says. ‘So when the day of [the film’s] release came and went [without the movie], I was probably too busy thinking about what TV show I was going to watch to be sad. I just chilled and let everyone else do the panicking.’
No wonder Lashana Lynch’s dad calls her a hippy.
Lynch grew up in Shepherd’s Bush. She’s still not returned a book she got out from the library there in 1997 (‘It’s probably in my mum’s shed’). Her bedroom walls were covered in Spice Girls posters and her heroes were Phylicia Rashad and newscaster Moira Stewart: ‘She’s so classy. I’d look forward to the news because of her.’
She holds her head in her hands as she remembers going to the market with her dad and to a spot called Charlie’s to get her hair done: ‘Gosh, it’s weird. I find it hard to put those memories back into the current Shepherd’s Bush because those places just aren’t there anymore. As soon as Westfield came I knew it was a wrap. Even though I was one of the first people there ready to shop.’ She does that raspy laugh again.
Lynch’s grandad ran a record store in the neighbourhood, so there’d always be musicians and record bosses floating around her nan’s house: ‘The kind of people who’d say, “Oh, I was in the studio with Bob Marley yesterday and he was really nice.”’ She says that she learned a lot from the sense of community there and that her mum and nan – ‘two women who never demanded attention but who’d walk into a room like they deserved to be there’ – taught her from a young age that she could ‘be a nice human but still pack a punch’. It’s something she says she’s tried to bring to her Bond character Nomi. ‘I wanted her to be authentic, unapologetic, slightly awkward and very honest.’
Was she worried about the Bond franchise’s murky history with one-note, female characters getting in the way of that? ‘I went into it thinking: If they’ve cast me, they must know that I’m going to bring a take that has nothing to do with any woman that is going to pander to anything anyone has to say.’
Protests and politics
Lynch might be a calm person but she’s certainly not a pushover. Even less so since the pandemic. ‘My “saying no” power is so strong right now,’ she says. Then she puts on a high-pitched voice: ‘“Oh my God, do you want to come and do this thing?” “Nope.” “Why?” “I don’t have to give you a reason.” ’
When, last autumn, the Bond movie was accused by cinemas of putting them at risk of closure by pushing back its release to 2021, decreasing footfall to screens, Lynch didn’t get upset. Instead she found it funny. ‘It felt like not going to a party and someone saying, “Oh, it was a really terrible party because you didn’t come.” It would have been terrible anyway!’
Did she not feel guilty at all?
‘Other franchises pushed back too,’ she says. ‘So I felt like: you just really want to talk about us, don’t you?’ She applies this same frankness to everything. Whether it’s the aftermath of Grenfell or the government’s handling of the pandemic. ‘I used to hear my nan talk about how the government dealt with things,’ she says. ‘I thought that it was that generation’s issue.’
Even before the pandemic, she was appalled by the way things were being run. ‘We’re just in a time where we, especially the working class, are feeling like our government is failing us. We feel powerless. How do you make them listen?’ she told me last March. But 2020 was so bad that she’s blocked out chunks of it. ‘I tried to think about what’s happening in front of me. My friend is having a baby: joy. My friend has got engaged: joy. Everything else has really held me by the neck: the deaths of people in the pandemic, the death of people by the police force.’
Normally, when Lynch makes a serious point she tacks a joke on at the end to lighten the mood. Not this time. This time she takes a big breath before adding that some things have made her hopeful.
‘The way the world came out to stand up for George Floyd,’ she says of the Black Lives Matter protests in 2021. ‘For the crowds to include so many people who didn’t look like me. It meant non-Black people were challenging themselves. We’ve got to make sure that continues. That people don’t do it on the streets and on social media, then go into work and continue with ignorance. But it made me feel proud to be a Londoner, proud to be a woman, proud to be Black.’
Peace at last
So, what next? Lynch says that the first things she did when we came out of lockdown were to see Lianne La Havas and watch the play ‘Constellations’ at the Vaudeville. ‘It made me so happy,’ she says. ‘Lack of theatre had got me down.’
The actor’s started filming her next role: the hugely lovely Miss Honey in the remake of ‘Matilda’. Meanwhile, having to wait so long for Bond to be released has given her more time to prepare. ‘I want to be fully immersed in the moment,’ she says. ‘ I don’t want it to just pass me by.’
Lynch spent NYE 2020 the same way she spent NYE 2019. ‘If I could have got a tree’s worth of sage I would have watched it burn for the whole first week of the year,’ she says. Something had changed, though. Whereas in 2019 she was trying to be calm for the evening, she says, this New Year’s Eve she found herself able to nestle into the feeling of tranquility and sit there, at peace. You can sense the difference now: nothing feels rushed, everything feels on her terms, she’s ready to go.
‘No Time to Die’ is out Sep 30. Celebrate its release at one of these special events. Lashana Lynch also stars in Ear for Eye, which premieres at the London Film Festival before airing on BBC Two and iPlayer.
Read our review of No Time To Die.
Photography Andy Parsons, styling Krishan Parmar via Carol Hayes, Hair Earl Simms at Caren assisted by Alan Kitrell, make up Alex Babsky. Orange jacket and white trousers by Topshop, blue jacket by Paul Smith, earrings by Sif Jakobs
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