English actress Clare-Hope Ashitey, who stars in the Netflix original Seven Seconds, is never afraid to deal with complex issues.
The jarring, “anthological crime drama” that is Netflix’s Seven Seconds presents a scenario then chips away at what we assume to be true. Its topic is a killing. A Jersey City officer is involved in the death of a black child. Myriad questions and assumptions pour out from every corner of the series, as the layers of this tragedy are slowly peeled back for the viewer. Ultimately, it’s a show that asks us to question how we see ourselves as well as our communities.
Clare-Hope Ashitey stars as KJ Harper, a black, female Asst. Prosecutor on the case working opposite the mother of the victim, Latrice Butler, who is played by Regina King. Ashitey’s acting chops are undeniable. She comes to this new show from the British crime drama Suspects as well as classic films like Children Of Men. Her performance is nuanced and arresting, her own character’s complexities revealing themselves in sometimes contradictory ways.
@Okayplayer sat down with Ashitey to talk Seven Seconds, what she brought to her role, how on the nose this topic hits for a lot of people, and what happens to a community when a child dies.
Okayplayer: The show speaks to a moment right now between police and people of color. What was it like playing an Asst. Prosecutor in the series?
Clare-Hope Ashitey: These things are not new and have been happening for a very long time, but this is a very interesting moment in history with [the] scrutiny that we have. And to look at these kinds of issues and play these kinds of roles at this moment — and trying to play them in a way that is honest and not exploitative — is interesting to me and is important to me and hopefully will resonate with people and will contribute to a conversation that needs to be had.
OKP: From the #BlackLivesMatter movement to the Women’s March, this is such a political moment right now in America. Do you think the show will help people widen their point of view of those involved?
CHA: That’s what we’re hoping. It’s a story that’s not being told from the point of view of the perpetrator or the victim or the prosecutor. There are so many players in any event that happens and all of them have a journey and a decision making process and [both] an ethical and political point of view. And exploring all those things or I hope exploring all those things can be something the [audience] finds interesting and a way into caring about this conversation. And I think it’s also much more interesting to look at an issue through the lenses of all of the players because only that way can you understand it.
I think it’s really easy for us, because we all occupy a certain geopolitical space and we all have our own viewpoints of some things and inhabit that little bubble, that when we process information we do so through the lense that we have developed as the person that we are.
I think that people almost preordained who the characters will be. [They] have named the heroes, and will decide how these people are going to react without looking at the facts of the case because we just occupy a certain point of view. And hopefully having a look at all of these characters and saying, ‘Look, this is the journey that this person took’ will help people break down the situation, which I think people need to do in real life. I don’t think it’s helpful to look at something and decide in advance who you think the players are and where you think they’re coming from.
OKP: As an Asst. Prosecutor, your role takes on a set of assumptions about our criminal justice system. What did you to do prepare for the role and tackle those perceptions?
CHA: We were trying to tap into her as a character. We were trying to portray real people as they might exist in the world, rather than [just saying] ‘we’re just going to write these things and have her look and say these things.’ It became about creating a person and then testing her by looking at how she would react to certain things. And, necessarily, a lot went into that.
Especially because I am foreign and there’s a lot here that’s foreign to me — the judicial system in the UK is very different to the judicial system here and the racial landscape is very different than the racial landscape here. There was a lot that I had to work on to understand who the woman was and the world that she inhabits. [Trying to figure out] what childhood would have been like for her and what work would have been like for her.
OKP: You’ve worked with a lot of hugely talented people in your career. What was it like working with Veena Sud, whose show, The Killing, rocked everyone’s world?
CHA: I think first and foremost she is incredibly passionate. It sounds basic, but I think sometimes what’s really lacking in storytelling is having someone who’s telling a story and wants to service that idea. I think often there are so many other decisions or other priorities in our industry and they can often be about making money, to be frank. So it’s nice to work on a show and be surrounded by people who thought ‘this is important’. And we felt passionate about the issues and it gives [you] an energy when you’re going in to work that you don’t have on other jobs.
OKP: The child who’s killed has a life as well that’s uncovered over the course of the series. How do you think people will react to what we learn about him as the show goes on?