From co-creators Rafael Casal (who’s also the showrunner) and Daveed Diggs, Season 2 of the Starz series Blindspotting continues to follow Ashley (Jasmine Cephas Jones) on her journey through life while her partner of 12 years and the father of their son, Miles (Casal), is incarcerated. There is nothing easy about the toll that takes, on the individual and their loved ones, and even if you think you’re handling it, sometimes it gets overwhelming to the point of having an existential crisis, and then you need your family for support.
During this 1-on-1 interview with Collider, Cephas Jones talked about how Blindspotting is more of a piece of art than just a TV series, her longtime friendship with Diggs and Casal, pushing the boundaries of experimentation, why the verses are always challenging, always expecting the unexpected with this show, her favorite Season 2 episode, and what it’s been like for her to see her TV son, Atticus Woodward, grow up on the show.
Collider: This series is such a beautiful piece of art.
JASMINE CEPHAS JONES: Yes, it definitely feels that way for us, as well. A lot of us, and I know particularly me, Rafael [Casal] and Daveed [Diggs], have a strong background in theater. We’re all very close friends, and the way that we are, as artists, and how we look at art, I think we’re always trying to go outside the box with storytelling. That’s a huge thing that interests us, and I think you, for sure, understand that, with this show.
You met Daveed Diggs on Hamilton. What do you remember about the first time you guys met? Did you have a feeling that you would stay friends and keep collaborating and working together? Was it just one of those friendships that you had a feeling about, or are you surprised that you’re at this point together now, with this show?
CEPHAS JONES: I had no idea that Daveed would create a show that I would be the lead of. We definitely had an awesome connection. Daveed and I really connected through music. We’re both music aficionados. We’d be in the dressing room sometimes and just exchange music, and play each other B-sides of Prince albums, or Parliament Funkadelic, or some obscure dope record that we found. That’s how we connected in our friendship. And Rafael is one of Daveed’s best friends, and he was always in Daveed’s dressing room. So, I’ve known both of them for a really long time now. Our friendship has evolved so much, from backstage in the dressing room hanging until now. It truly is a dream come true. I’m just so lucky to be able to make incredible, important, funny, witty, heart-wrenching art with great people that I can call my friends.
Because this is a show that really feels unlike any other show that’s out there, what was your experience, in making the first season? How was it to find the groove and rhythms of something like this? Did that take time to figure out to? Did it become easier to build on that for a second season?
CEPHAS JONES: The second season was easier for all of us because we laid the groundwork for the story and who we are, as characters, in Season 1. We know who these people are now. It’s always easier, in the second season of a TV show, to tell the story that you wanna tell because you don’t have to explain anymore, who these people are. But in terms of the groove of this, all first season was experimenting. I’d never seen something like this on TV before. We’re doing a lot of firsts, so there were a lot of deep conversations, analyzing what these characters would do. And then, just getting into the space on the set, whether it’s with the dancers or doing the verses or some crazy comedic scene, it was always about creating a very supportive space that felt safe. If you fall flat on your face, it’s okay, you just get up again and work around that. When you have a crazy, chaotic, awesome storytelling show like this, you have to be willing to free fall. You have to be completely free, emotionally, in order to try these crazy, wacky things. That space is sacred. Whoever has the floor, has to listen, be aware, and be collaborative, and work together to try to find the best way to execute what needs to be done.
If you took all the pieces of this show apart, put them on paper, and gave them to someone as parts of the same show, they’d think you were insane. It seems like none of it should work together, and yet somehow it all does, which is what’s so beautiful about the show.
CEPHAS JONES: Some of my favorite pieces are like that. When you can push the bar and think outside of the box that’s not the norm, that’s when you can create something very, very unique and beautiful. Try to describe Hamilton to somebody that’s never seen it before and never heard about it. You watch it and you’re like, “Oh, my God, this is one of the most amazing pieces I’ve ever seen.” But you have to think like that, in order to make groundbreaking art that’s important and that’s never been done before. A lot of it, when you talk about it, it might seem crazy. But if you watch it with an audience on a big screen, you’re like, “Whoa, this is its own thing and it’s pretty beautiful.”
Do the verses get easier to do, the more you have experience doing them? Is there muscle memory that kicks in, or is it always hard?
CEPHAS JONES: All the verses are hard. I wish I could say, “Yeah, they’re the easiest thing.” They are the hardest for me, so a lot of these verses come last minute. I really had to go into my theater bag and pull it out for the show. I think it just ups my chops. Every time, I get so much anxiety, right before we’re about to film these verses. And then, every time I finish, I feel like I’m just a stronger artist for it. I love these verses. The verses are love letters to Sean, for when he gets older. As long as I stay present, honest and open, and try to not get tongue-tied, I’ll be good.
How does it normally work? Do you have as many takes as you need to do them? Do you try to get them done in as few takes and as quickly as possible? Is there any general format for when you have to do them?
CEPHAS JONES: They tell me I have as much as I want. But in Season 1, when I trashed the hotel room, we were running out of light, so I only did two takes in each room. I was smashing everything, and then they had to put it back together again. In the second season, we were also running out of light, for my first verse in episode one. I always feel like I don’t have enough time with my verses, and I want more time. That’s always the funny joke. I’m like, “Give me more time!” I’m a perfectionist, in that way. I’m the one that’s not the rapper. Rafa, Daveed, and Benny, too, write their own. They all have a background in spoken word and they’re amazing rappers. I’m a singer, but I’m not a rapper. I’m always like, “I need to be as good as you guys,” but they’re always like, “Jasmine, you have to look at it like a Shakespeare monologue.” That’s how we’ve always looked at these heightened verses. They’re great. They’re one of my favorite things that Ashley does in the show. We love Fleabag. It’s one of our favorite shows. She breaks the fourth wall, all the time, and it’s great. If it’s pulled off correctly, it’s a great way to connect to the audience and see another side of a character getting really raw and honest and almost intimate with how they feel. With so much chaos in a show like this, when Ashley does that, you’re like, “Okay, she’s with us. There’s something happening that she needs to tell us.” If you don’t really know how she’s feeling, you know in those moments.
You pack a ton of content into a season. There’s a lot going on in Season 2, with you guys as a family, being in lock up together, the strip club, the nun outfits, doing a Western, and having a giant Henson puppet, among other things. Do you just have to expect the unexpected on a show like this? Do you have a favorite episode, from this season?
CEPHAS JONES: You always have to expect the unexpected with Blindspotting. That’s how you have to approach this show. Right from the beginning, I knew that, when it came to this show. My favorite episode was the Western. I had to learn how to ride a horse, for that episode. We go completely into the mind of Atticus [Woodward], who plays my son Sean, which mirrors the third episode with me, Miles and Sean playing together and connecting, as a family. You see what plays out in Sean’s mind, and what those games mean to him and what his parents mean to him. You’re like, “Oh, right, this isn’t a Western. We are back in jail.” It’s such a beautiful way to tell the story and emotionally connect with real people that are constantly going through this situation in this country. If you can take anything away from this show, it’s to get an understanding of what this prison system does to families. You can get some emotional awareness, if you don’t understand how this situation can affect people inside the complex, but also outside.
What’s it been like, just on a human level, to see the growth of working with someone like Atticus Woodward, over two seasons? He’s a kid, but he’s also had some pretty heavy material to do on the show?
CEPHAS JONES: Atticus killed it this season. It’s hard for child actors. They’re trying to do their best, but also they don’t understand a lot of it. Atticus is such a great kid. He was a little older, filming this season. He takes his work seriously, but he’s also still a kid. We’ll do this intense scene, and then we’ll sing and jump around and dance and play hand games. Seeing his evolution and seeing him grow up, you’re just so proud of him. I’m very proud of Atticus and the work that he’s done this season, and all the work that he’s done. Watching him grow up and do some really great work this season, I’m just really proud of him.
Blindspotting airs on Friday nights on Starz.