Faith Alabi lands a role in Luca Guadagnino’s first ever TV show for HBO & Sky alongside Kid Cudi and Chloë Sevigny.

Luca Guadagnino renowned for his 2017 Oscar award-winning film Call Me By Your Name has landed his first-ever TV series. We Are Who We Are is an eight-part coming-of-age story about two American teenagers who, along with their military and civilian families, live on an American military base in Northern Italy. The series stars rapper/actor Kid Cudi (How to Make it in America) and indie film fave Chloë Sevigny (Boys Don’t Cry).

The series is a co-production between HBO and Sky and was an official selection of the 2020 Cannes Film Festival Directors’ Fortnight. BBC has acquired the rights to air in the UK.

Faith Alabi is a graduate of Guildhall and has a number of credits on stage and screen, including the 2017 Off West End Award-Winning Play The Rolling Stone at the Orange Tree Theatre as well as a role in Michaela Coel’s critically acclaimed Channel 4 series Chewing Gum.

We spoke to Faith about her role in the series …

Please introduce yourself …

Hi, I’m Faith Alabi and I’m an actress from London.

Please share a word or sentence that best describes your life right now?

Rich and nourished.

Tell us about We Are Who We Are and your character Jenny?

We Are Who We Are focuses on two American teens, Caitlin and Fraser, who live on a U.S. military base in Italy in 2016. The series explores friendship, love, identity, family, displacement, and immerses the audience in all the messy exhilaration and anguish of being a teenager. The series highlights – through Caitlin’s and Fraser’s parents, that you continue trying to figure stuff out as an adult, not just through adolescence. I play Jenny who is Caitlin’s mum.

We Are Who We Are is a coming-of-age drama described as a timely piece, what makes it timely, and how is this shown through Jenny and her relationship with the other characters?

I think the political backdrop of the 2016 US Presidential election, particularly in the run-up with the Hilary Clinton vs Donald Trump debate in the background makes it timely with this year’s recent election drama. We’re also having more and more discussions around identity. Given the year we’ve had with the global pandemic, the series might offer you a version of a summer you didn’t get to have. Jenny roots herself in her sense of duty and fulfilling societal expectations of prescribed roles – a mother, a wife, a colleague, etc. She then forms a bond with someone who sort of helps her question all of that, and consider what her own desires are. In doing so, Jenny blows her world wide open. I feel similar shifts are happening politically, socially, and culturally right now.

How did you connect with Jenny and what parts of yourself did you engage to bring Jenny to life?

We share the same Nigerian cultural heritage, and I resonate with her immigrant experience. People who know me might argue there’s a similarity in that on the surface Jenny seems warm and sunny, which doesn’t give away her complex emotional life and background. I can relate to wanting to assimilate as a means of survival and how that affects some of Jenny’s life choices. I’ve never really struggled with knowing who I am, I don’t really care what people think of me, and I don’t allow other’s opinions to dictate my choices so I had to really engage some compassion and understanding. Jenny is conservative and although I’m not in the slightest, I made parallels with some rituals, traditions, and customs that I enjoy – they’re just not as conventional as hers.

Did you learn anything about yourself while developing your character and were there any challenges you found with bringing Jenny to life?

I learned that defining my identity through archaic labeling terms is too reductive. I choose my own terms, and question labels assigned to me constantly now. I found it challenging to justify some of the choices Jenny makes, like remaining in an unfulfilling marriage. I think Jenny comes close to truly finding herself then gets scared and chooses to place her family first, sadly.

You filmed in Italy how was that experience being on location on an army base?

Dreamy. We were all in and around a small beautiful town called Padova in Northern Italy, not too far from Venice, during the summer mostly. They built the set immaculately so everything looked and felt so real. The set designer actually made a cameo in one of the episodes. The cast and crew were international so it was this wonderful mix of cultures and new experiences. We had a lot of fun off-set too

Though We Are Who We Are is billed as a ‘coming of age‘ which usually means it’s about and for young people, can adults get something out of it too?

The themes in the series are definitely not just unique to young people.

What do you hope audiences watching We Are Who We Are take away from it?

Love.

What’s next for you?

I’ve just wrapped on a Netflix series and I’m pretty sure I’ll be assassinated if I tell you any more than that.

GETTING TO KNOW YOU

  • A book you have to have in your collection?Vertical Horizon, a photographic journey between Hong Kong’s biggest and most eyecatching buildings by French photographer Romain Jacquet Lagreze. I’ve been trying to get hold of a copy for time.
  • A song/album that defines the soundtrack of your life to date? – Nina Simone, Feeling Good.
  • A film/TV show that you have watched/can watch repeatedly? Sister Act 2
  • The first stage production you saw and what it meant to you? – I think it was The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe at the RSC. I ended up really believing in magic, and that they did some onstage.
  • What has made you sad, mad, and glad this week? – sad – acknowledging I wont be able to go to Brazil for new year’s eve as I’d hope. Mad – the treatment of the Mangrove 9 in Steve McQueen’s Small Axe series. Glad – laughter with my loved ones

We Are Who We Are is available to watch now on BBC iPlayer. Watch here.