Barry Jenkins’ critically acclaimed If Beale Street Could Talk premiered at Cornell Cinema on Thursday, accompanied by a question-and-answer session with current student Dominique Thorne ’19, who acted in the Oscar-nominated film.
If Beale Street Could Talk centers on the young black couple of Tish Rivers and Fonny Hunt as they navigate New York City in the early 1970s. Thorne plays Sheila Hunt, the younger sister of Fonny.
“This is the first feature film I’ve been in,” Thorne told the audience. “Before this I’ve only done off-Broadway projects and some student films.”
Her acting career began before her arrival at Cornell, where she studies human development. She was a student at New York City’s Professional Performing Arts School and was named a United States YoungArts winner in Spoken Theater in 2015.
Throne originally auditioned for the role of Tish in New York City the summer of 2017, and received a callback specifically for Sheila Hunt in September. Soon after, she received the news that she got the role.
“We started filming in October, right around fall break,” Throne said. “A week before that we had a table read with the whole cast, and that’s when I met [director] Barry Jenkins and the other actors.”
Throne recalled being nervous while filming a pivotal scene with Regina King, who won an Academy Award for her work on the film. “All these actors are icons especially in black films,” said Throne. “These are the people you grow up seeing so it was definitely intimidating.”
According to Throne, working with such distinguished actors pushed her to “bring [her] ‘A game.’” She felt more relaxed after talking to them between takes and getting to know the cast a bit more.
Throne described the experience as “educational” due to the advice she received from her fellow actors. She compared it to a typical first internship a Cornell student might have.
“For the four years that I’ve been at Cornell, I never sought out internship opportunities or research positions in that field even though I love my major because I wanted to put my focus in acting,” she said. “This was the first time I got to practice all the skills I’ve learned and a chance to see if acting was something I really want to do.”
Throne shared a specific piece of advice given by co-star Colman Domingo, who told her to advocate for herself.
“Before that I didn’t realize that I am in control of my career,” she said. “At that time I thought I work for my agents, but Colman told me that it was the other way around.”
To prepare for her character, Throne studied the James Baldwin novel that Beale Street is based on, and described feeling extremely emotional by Baldwin’s description of young love, especially as a young black woman.
“I didn’t know anyone else who can understand the fear and uncertainty that drive true love,” Throne said. “The opportunity to love for black couples isn’t as free in this time period especially.”
“I think the emotions that came out of reading the novel are what ultimately allowed me to find my reading of my character,” she finished.