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Teyana Taylor is ready to show audiences her range in ‘A Thousand and One’

The 32-year-old singer and choreographer now turns to dramatic acting. It’s the moment she’s been waiting for.

Teyana Taylor in the film “A Thousand and One” (Focus Features) (Courtesy of Aaron Ricketts/Focus Features)
6 min

What makes a mother?

Not what makes her good or bad, gentle or toxic. But what makes her? How is she built from the raw materials of her youth, her traumas, her dreams? Those questions are at the core of the drama “A Thousand and One” starring the singer and actress Teyana Taylor in her first leading role.

The film, which took home the Sundance Film Festival’s grand jury prize and hits theaters on March 31, cracks open the inner life of a woman often seen but never truly heard. Taylor plays Inez, a young Harlem fast talker who decides to jury-rig a family by any means necessary. So she literally snatches her 6-year-old out of the system and pushes him into the life she never had. Fresh out of prison, Inez spots her son, Terry, who is in foster care, on the street. As the two reconnect, she makes the decision to keep him and effectively kidnaps Terry from a hospital.

“I need to know we’re in this together,” Inez demands of her son, Terry (played by three different actors throughout the film), as the pair figure things out on the fly. Written and directed by A.V. Rockwell, “A Thousand and One” is a coming of age tale for both mother and child. But the lens is trained squarely on Inez, who never lets life — or a rapidly gentrifying 1990s Manhattan — tell her no.

Like Inez, Taylor considers herself a hustler. Taylor landed her first record deal at 15 years old. Soon after, she choreographed Beyoncé's “Ring the Alarm” music video.

Eventually small parts on the big screen came calling (“Stomp the Yard 2” and “Madea’s Big Happy Family”). And, yes, that is her putting everybody to shame in Kanye West’s “Fade” video. But after releasing three studio albums and saying goodbye to her music career with a 2022 farewell tour, Taylor is now firmly in her “acting bag.” Later this year, the 32-year-old will also appear in the remake of “White Men Can’t Jump.”

This, she said, is her “moment.”

“That’s one thing that I’ve always wanted to do — show my range,” said Taylor who’s also in the beginning stages of a bio-project with icon Dionne Warwick, in which she will portray the icon. “We just been building, you know. So when it is time to press go on everything, we getting straight to work.”

Q: The role of Inez — a no-nonsense Harlemite — in “A Thousand and One” feels like it was written with you in mind. What was your first reaction when you saw her on the page?

A: I knew I had to do it. And I didn’t even have the script. I only had the synopsis and the audition scene. I told my videographer, “Pull up the camera. We doing this.” I immediately put myself on tape. I thought it was absolutely amazing and knew I wanted to be a part of it on top of the fact that Inez was a Harlem girl. So I’m like, “Who else better? Let me go in and knock this out the park.”

Q: What was it about the character that you instantly recognized and knew you could pull off?

A: Inez is within all of us — her strength, her passion, her drive, her ambition. You know what I’m saying? Like I seen myself in her in so many different ways. This is how we talk. This is how we are. This is how passionate we are about our loved ones.

Q: But even with that real-life connection, this is a performance.

A: Honestly this is my first real serious role. I feel like this is the proper introduction of me as an actress for real for real. I’ve done movies in my life but this is the one after a thousand and one tries at a lot of other things in my life.

Q: Recently you posted on Instagram that doors were “opening in abundance” for you now. How are things shifting in your career?

A: I used to always say it just takes that one thing, that one person, that one opportunity to really show the world what you got. Timing is everything. That’s why I say the wait wasn’t punishment, it was preparation. Because honestly, if I didn’t go through all those downs in my life, in my career, I probably wouldn’t have even gave as much as I gave to Inez.

Q: The film is offering up a distinct take on motherhood and mother love. Describe how Inez fits into that canon.

A: She’s definitely not perfect. But baby girl is trying. She’s a fighter. She is a warrior. One thing I can respect the most is Inez don’t fold. A lot of the hits and jabs that she was eating up? Everybody not built like that. And her being able to still find a smile on her face and just be happy and content with all that she has done? That’s a person that is on a true faith walk.

Q: Life can be a fight and there are some truly emotional battles in the film between Inez and her son, Terry, and her and her husband, Lucky. Was there a day of filming that was particularly tough?

A: There wasn’t a day that wasn’t rough for me. In the midst of filming, I was six months postpartum and dealing with my postpartum depression. I was also dealing with a lot of loss. It was a few different lunch breaks that I had to attend funerals for loved ones. The harsh beauty of all of it was being able to put it all in front of that lens and leave it there. Then go home, flip the switch and be supermom. Every single day was hard. Life whupped Inez’s ass, and Inez whupped my ass.

Q: Behind the camera, you started a creative company called the Aunties Production with your friend Courtney Gilbert. There are a few famous folk who have bristled at the term. What’s an “auntie” to you?

A: I personally embrace it, because I come from a business where it’s really hard for us to be protected as women. We call ourselves the Aunties because we’re a safe environment. We’re so nurturing. We’re like the cool aunts. We’re big on helping people. I take it as a compliment. I love being auntie.

Q: What excites you for the future?

A: My amazing and growing relationship with God. We already got a dope bond but to continue to surrender and knowing my power in prayer. The Inez in me, I’m such a hustler, you know. I’m just waiting for everything that’s coming to me. What’s for me is already written in the palm of his hands. So I’m just excited to see what else He’s willing to check off his checklist. I’m excited to just keep doing my job. Whatever that journey is I know I’m doing the Lord’s work.