Sissy is a wildly entertaining and clever blend of satire and horror set in Australia. Cecilia, a wellness influencer, unexpectedly reconnects with her childhood best friend Emma (writer/director/actor Hannah Barlow) and gets invited to a bachelorette weekend that goes horribly off the rails. BGN had the opportunity to speak with Aisha Dee (The Bold Type) via Zoom on a balmy afternoon in late September.
Cecilia is an incredible role. How did you get involved in the project?
It’s a once-in-a-lifetime role for anyone, but especially as a Black woman. I feel like I’m always expected to be so virtuous and good. I think we can be whatever. We can be CEOs, and we can be murderers. We can be whatever we want.
In 2020, I was in lockdown just spending a lot of time in my apartment feeling uninspired, a bit trapped, and experiencing the world through social media in the way that everyone was. This script came and punched me right in the gut almost immediately. They originally sent me the script in the hopes that I would play Fran. I thought the script was incredible. I know this is super presumptuous, but I called my manager and told them, “I want to play Sissy. I just think that she’s awesome. And I don’t trust anyone else to play her because they’re not going to do her right and she deserves her story told.” It felt like she lived in me already. I said, “You can tell the filmmakers that I’m really interested in Sissy. I love the movie, but I don’t feel super connected to Fran and just tell them.” I was thinking they’re not gonna go for it because it’s an all-Aussie film. I don’t really know many Aussie movies with a Black woman as a lead. I just kind of threw my hands up and was like, whatever. I’ll just tell them what I really think because screw it. It was 2020. [Laughs.] And yeah, they went for it, which is just something that I will forever be grateful for. It’s honestly a project that has changed the way that I look at the world, my career, film, and what’s possible.
What was your process for playing Cecilia?
My unintentional process ended up being sitting in this exact apartment, alone all day every day in lockdown. When I went to Australia, they had this quarantine law, and I was shipped off to this very small hotel alone for two weeks. I didn’t realize how huge of an effect that would have on me, not having a single interaction with another person — except when someone would come to my door covered head to toe in like a hazmat suit to bring me food and scurry away. That isolation was followed by extreme socialization, being on a set working with hundreds of people interacting every day. I remember the first dinner I had to go to just to meet everyone. I was so overwhelmed and so overstimulated. I was going to the bathroom constantly to just breathe.
These moments were all blessings. There are moments in the film that people think are really funny that I didn’t even know were funny. I was being very honest. I genuinely, really care about Cecilia. I was coming at it from a super, earnest place. I knew how it was coming across, but I think that’s the only way to do it. I felt like I had to be on Sissy’s side to tell the story, right?
For me, the true villain in this film was Emma.
I’m so glad you said that! You know that’s what also the filmmaker Hannah who plays Emma had said from the beginning. Emma is the true villain.
Sissy is another cautionary tale for being the only Black woman in a friend group.
Yes. The isolation thing was so important. She was originally written as being pale with blonde hair. And I was like, no, I think it’s me. I was so presumptuous. I can’t believe that I had the pumped up ego to be like I think I should play this.
That role was yours and you claimed it. I’m glad you did.
Thank you. I grew up in Australia. I was the only Black girl in my entire school primary and secondary, and it was a huge school. It was to the point where I think I was probably for a lot of these kids the only Black person they’d ever interacted with. And I didn’t have my Black family around. I just had my mom, and I always felt super isolated. I felt like this kind of spectacle to people. For a while in my childhood, I just played into that. What was I gonna do? The only reference I had for Black people and my roots came from music videos and the Black comedies that were out at that time in the ’90s. Sissy hit me in a specific way just because of how I grew up. I didn’t find myself until I was a lot older, and I know that’s also true for a lot of Black and biracial people in Australia and here. It was really special to get to do a movie in Australia where there was another Black woman in the cast. It wasn’t just me experiencing what that is like when there’s two of you, and it’s still a white space. Sissy is experiencing this for the first time too. There’s so many layers.
This film was shot in 21 days during the pandemic. How did you practice self-care?
It was a very intense shooting schedule. Twenty-one days is not enough time to make this movie. I leaned on the cast a lot. They were my friends and we supported one another. I slept a lot on the weekends. I also started practicing the Wim Hof breathing method. You know the start of the movie where she does that kind of hyperventilation? The Wim Hof version is the proper scientifically proven version of that. I also did a lot of breath work. From a character perspective, I felt like the way to tell Sissy’s story was through her breath and the way that she was breathing at any moment.
What right now is bringing you the most joy?
Live music. I’ve been to so many live shows recently. For Kendrick Lamar, I was in a little box with an open bar. Then last night I saw Grace Jones at the Hollywood Bowl. I was weeping — tears streaming down my face the whole time. At one point I just looked behind me to look at the audience, and everybody was embracing each other and crying. It was absolutely incredible. Like it felt like communion. It felt like church.
Sissy premieres on AMC Networks’ Shudder September 29, 2022.
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Jeanine is a Writer, Actor, member SAG/AFTRA, AEA, Podcast host, Producer, CEO VisAbleBlackWoman Productions, Certified Health Coach and Conscious Dance facilitator. Jeanine's mission, centering Black women's stories to preserve our legacies.