The Okayplayer Interview: Sene Changes Scenes, Talks 'White Girl,' 'Luke Cage' + New Music
Brian "Sene"Marc's musical journey has spanned a handful of acclaimed releases and several takes on his moniker. From 14-year-old Ubsene to his current co-billing alongside vocalist Denitla Odigie as sene, Marc's latest chapter began with a creative trust fall that led to his feature film debut in director Elizabeth Wood's forthcoming film, White Girl, which first was screened at the Sundance Film Festival at the top of this year in January. In the project, Marc plays "Blue," a rough hewn, but kindhearted corner boy, forced by circumstances and the need to provide for an aging grandmother — played by his real life nana — into hugging the block.
There, with high hopes of escaping the burdens of street life, he seeks an uncertain fortune and certain love in a new neighbor, Leah (played by Morgan Saylor), who looks to him for a wild ride. Both get more than they could ever bargain for as White Girl takes a brutally honest look at the finer points of survival in the big city when two people from two very different sides of the tracks conspire — at least for a time — to travel through life and take a shot at success together. We were able to carve out some time with the budding thespian, Sene, to talk about his transition from the stage to the big screen, relating his real life to his character Blue's in White Girl and gab about his experiences filming Marvel's Luke Cage before the big reveal on September 30th.
Okayplayer: Discuss your transition from music to acting. How did that even come about?
Sene: I've always wanted to act to be honest. A big part of my first album, which was with Blu, was that we were working on these short films and these scripts for shorts. Unfortunately, they never came to fruition because of label support or lack thereof. Now, it is a lot easier to make something happen and film something because everybody has a camera and there are even higher quality cameras available. So, if you really want to make something happen, it is possible. It has always been in the back of my mind. It's weird. I have been talking about scrips and acting for over ten years and then, now, I'm finally doing it.
Believe it or not, it just kind of fell into my lap. Someone that knew my music at Genius had recommended that they audition me for the role of "Blue" in White Girl. They threw my name into the mix and a year later when they actually started getting down to it, the casting director emailed me asking if I'd be down to come in. Luckily, I did, because it all worked out after that. It is funny, because you have to go get the things you want, and I wanted nothing more than to start acting. Thankfully, it all kind of just fell together.
OKP: Talk to us about the experiences between being cast for White Girl versus Marvel's Luke Cage?
S: They're both kind of funny to be honest. I went through hell and back, attempting to memorize the script for White Girl and going over it repeatedly for a month or two while on tour with Denitia. Luke Cage was something I had actually said no to a couple of times. I had different representation and I passed on it a couple of times. When it came back around a third time, it might have been for a different role. My new representation suggested that I take another look at it because it was a different part. So I did. I didn't grow up reading comic books — maybe because we were broke [laughs] — so it took me a bit longer to come around to Luke Cage.
With White Girl, I was immediately excited by the script because it was something I related to a lot. I knew, even as people threw around the word "indie" and questioned whether it could get made, that it was a story that needed to be told. Everyone always wants to tell "the ghetto story" or whatever. This is a story that happens in that environment, but is told from an entirely different angle. And luckily, I was wrong about Luke Cage. It has been an exciting ride and I'm thrilled that I am a part of it. They were two different experiences. In one instance, I really related to something. The other, I wasn't so sure about initially because I had never been a part of the comic book world.
It was just a matter of challenging myself to pull off a character who was nothing like me. Luckily, it all worked out.
OKP: How did the character "Blue" impact you? Both his story, but also the weight of conveying that [was hefty].
S: I think it was a really big reminder — and I think I needed the reminder, maybe — that people will judge you at first glance. You first see "Blue" enter the screen, and as soon as he opens his mouth, you generalize him. You know what he is — you think you do, at least. As the story unfolds, you see something else. I feel like I've dealt with that my whole life. I just shaved my head again. When I'm walking to the store or sitting on the train or walking down the street behind somebody, and my hair is longer, people treat me very nicely.
When I have my head shaved, people will get out of the way so that I can walk past them or that they can look at me twice. I feel, in making White Girl, that people are wrong about "Blue". Maybe right about him in some ways, but they're wrong about him in a sense. It was a reminder to give everyone the benefit of the doubt. You see a person and you may think of them in one way, but you could be completely wrong about who they are. White Girl is a reminder to drop those expectations and not judge a book by its cover.
OKP: Do you think the decision to tackle societal expectations and preconceived notions is a timely one on the part of the filmmakers?
S: We're kind of this microwave generation, where someone will make a song in three hours and be psyched about that versus someone that takes months to complete a song. For people that are schooled in socio-political topics, the reaction to this content could be that it was always timed for a particular moment when it would resonate. But that's not true. The reality is that it took years. It really speaks to Elizabeth Wood's courage. This is a something she's been aware of for a long time. The film is loosely based on her experiences and though she absolutely could have, she didn't paint herself in the best light as a young woman. That takes courage.
Think about how many times you tell a story just to convey your version of events, but you tell it with a bias that favors you — you paint yourself as the hero. She could have said, given everything that's going on now, that this wasn't the best time to tell the story. Now, we have cameras everywhere, showing everything. You're seeing it on the news every night how people are treated because of the way they look. We have an election coming up, where I'm sure we'll see voter repression again. I think it is a very vital time in our lives. For so long, hispanics and blacks have been looked at as insignificant. And now, they're going to carry the election.
White Girl challenges perceptions in a way that forces viewers to question everything they have ever believed just to figure out who the monster really is. People are people. How they look is really insignificant as compared to what they have done, what they are doing or what their intentions are. I think, for those reasons, that the timing of this story is very important and Elizabeth has been courageous in exploring her own mistakes and her own faults by creating a really brave piece of art based upon her lived experience. Not everyone is going to get it, but we've been very lucky that most of the people that have seen it have really locked in.
OKP: Did the journey of the character ever intersect with your own lived experiences in any way?
S: Absolutely. I'm just kind of getting comfortable with discussing this, but I did sell drugs growing up. In that way Blue's story is something I definitely relate to, but I'd like to say that I'm a little smarter than the character. I knew very quickly that it wasn't going anywhere for me — that I wasn't going to pull off some miracle. I got myself caught up for much lesser stuff than Blue, too, but I still ended up in the back of a cop car. So, I was able to pull directly from that.
OKP: What impacted you most about the relationship between Leah and Blue?
S: I think it is very telling of any kind of relationship. In a relationship, two people are not always on the same page. Sometimes you get on the same page, but a lot of it is a balancing act. It is another example of a very real relationship dynamic and I think those characters did a good job of conveying that. In this case, one person is in love and sees a future, while the other is just having fun. That was a huge dynamic. Also, one character is seeing the world through different eyes than the other, which is something that was expressed really well. One is looking for adventure and thinks the other person's dangerous lifestyle is exciting. Meanwhile, the person that is actually living the dangerous life is seeking more stability and some sort of concrete chance at life. Elizabeth and the crew did a great job of getting that across cinematically.
OKP: Is there anything about White Girl that changed your approach to acting or really challenged you?
S: This is the first time in my life that I was involved in something so big, and I was just a player in it. Normally, I'm a deciding factor in all of the creative work that I do. For the first time, I found myself in a situation where I had to just give my ideas where they were welcome and then trust the process and everybody else involved. To understand and accept [that] I am just there to do my job. That was a big change for me creatively. It affected me in a tremendous way. Now, I'm not so reluctant to step back and trust others around me with piloting a project while I'm busy working to the best of my ability at one particular thing.
It forced me to realize that I don't always have to be the boss and that I am surrounded by really capable people, so the success of the project doesn't rise or fall on my back. Elizabeth Wood and all of the people at Killer Films and Supermarché have definitely earned my trust and I know, if we're working together, that they always want the best for me and from me.
OKP: What kind of reception did White Girl receive at Sundance and at other screenings since the film's debut?
S: We have heard amazing things from the people and press. I am actually taken aback by it. I've been able to let my guard down a little in response to the incredible outpouring of support. I'm extremely grateful for it. Another thing that has been really interesting is that the core group of supporters thus far have been overwhelmingly female. So many women have related to different aspects of the story because it is about a female experience. In response, they are making it a point to come out and support. The film represents a variety of experiences that a lot of women have. It explores everything from being objectified and being socialized to accept that objectification to women maturing and eventually, in some cases, using that environment as a tool to meet their own needs.
It feels like a lot of women have made the point to say that it absolutely represents things that they have been through. They have been really vocal about reiterating the importance of having their voices heard — of telling stories from their unique perspectives. I think it has been empowering and hearing people convey those things has been incredible. I'm raised by women and I'm raising two daughters. It means a lot to me that people are finding their own voices within this. To hear those kinds of messages everyday feels special.
OKP: How do you find balance with varied career interests and the work of completing projects? How do you pace yourself?
S: I'm learning it, to be quite honest. My parents worked in supermarkets, so I grew up very blue collar. Every single day when I wake up, I am very aware of how lucky I am and I'm compelled to do something productive — not only for myself but for the people I care about. I think that's how I keep myself grounded. There's not time to celebrate, really. Once you realize that, you wake up everyday ready to work. No matter what is going on when you focus in on the work those goals drown everything else out and you're able to really propel yourself and keep going forward.
OKP: Do you have any advice for aspiring multi-disciplinary artists or anyone else struggling with being focused?
S: [I'd say] don't feel guilty about wanting to do a bunch of things. Just make sure when you want to do those things that you see them out all the way. You can't flip-flop. If you really are passionate about it, don't let anybody else around you or the voices in your head deter you from it. See it [all the way] through and then if you have to take a break from it, go ahead, but just make sure you keep going forward. Keep working on it. You never know what it'll develop into. You never know who will hop on board. That's an important thing. If you don't follow it through, you'll end up being one of those people that talk about what they want to do but never do it.
It is better that you don't talk about it—that you just do it. Then talk about it when it's done, or let people see it and hear it. Definitely don't be deterred by the fact that you have more ambition than some of the people around you. Maybe someone just wants to sing a song? Maybe you want to sing a song, write a song, make a beat and write a script. That's how it is. For a long time people looked at me like I was crazy. I think it is important to completely embrace that. It is hard in this climate, but I promise if you give it your all in one medium that something will pop and it will allow you to explore the other mediums that interest you even more. If you're doing multiple things, one of them will make itself clear. Your success in that will show you how to be successful in the others.
OKP: What kind of roles are you interested in pursuing in the months ahead?
S: To be honest, I've turned down a lot of stuff recently to avoid being typecast. I would like to play something that's really different than anything I've already done. Something really outside of my comfort zone. That's very intriguing to me. There are so many things that I am not, so getting into that would be great. I am definitely trying to expand upon what I'm able to do and take the time necessary to do that properly. I'm looking at a bunch of things. Hopefully one of them clicks with me.
I don't want to spend a day doing something that I hate. It wouldn't be fair to me or to the project — to get into something for a check that I'm not excited about. That's really unfair. So, I'm still looking, but I'm also writing my own material. I never want to wait for someone else to have the perfect thing. I'm working on a few things. One is kind of finished and I have two others. Once I feel like they are really good and I've let some people put their eyes to it, I'll move forward with those.
OKP: Have you ever scored a film? Would you consider scoring films in the immediate future?
S: I haven't scored top to bottom, but I would absolutely love to. I have four or five songs on the White Girl soundtrack. denitia and sene music is in a bunch of movies, to be honest. As far as completing a full score? I have not, but I would love to because I feel like music is very under considered as far as pairing with or helping to set a mood for a story. So, yeah, the answer is an emphatic yes.
OKP: How has Denitia responded to the film, if she has seen it? How has she responded to your acting?
S: She has been supportive the whole way. She hasn't seen the movie yet, but she will shortly. She's been great about everything. The film is not some sort of lotto ticket that guts what we're doing together and changes everything forever. And I never looked at it that way. White Girl is a big deal, and I've seen people have one thing go well for them and let everything else go, then regret having made that decision a year later. I have heard so many cautionary tales that not much has changed. If anything, our relationship has become much stronger, if that's possible. We're [actually] finishing our next album — a d&s LP called Love & Noir. We're talking about [doing] more videos. I went and did a different job, but I never treated our music as a secondary thing. So, we're both just very excited to move forward with the release of the project, do some shows and so forth. Otherwise, she's killing it... she's always killing it.
OKP: Is there anything you can talk about in regards to the upcoming d&s LP?
S: In terms of the maturation of our sound, I think it is my favorite stuff. I know a lot of people say that when they work on something new. It is definitely one of my favorite things I've ever worked on and my favorite that we've made as a group. Everything was fully made in-house as always. We do one-offs with other people, but this is something that we did all together. Nolan Thies, who mixed our first record is doing this one as well. We'll start releasing music as soon as next month, I think. Working with Denitia is one of my favorite things in the world, so I'm excited to share that music with people... especially because we get messages everyday from people looking out for it.
OKP: What else is on the horizon for you this year?
S: I'll be moving around helping with promo for the film, but at the same time there is also a lot of d&s stuff. So, it'll be a lot more acting, more acting with more projects and a lot of denitia and sene. My next year or so — if I were to paint the perfect world for myself — would be to flesh out this record to its fullest potential and work on more films that I'm in love with.
OKP: What are you most excited about ahead of the film's release in theaters?
S: Watching people's anticipation has been cool. The slow growing wave of momentum has been great. The film has taken its time to reach people and I've been enjoying the ride as far as that goes. I've been able to send it to certain friends on tour that won't be able to get to theaters to see it, which has been really awesome. They were nice enough to let me send it to Boy Sand—better known as Homeboy Sandman—who has been supportive of my projects for years, but won't be in town to see it. I'll try and push my luck and get it to some other folks as well. It is just as exciting as letting your homies listen to your new album.
Watch the White Girl trailer below. Beware, it is definitely NSFW.
Check out Sene in White Girl, which is in currently in theaters, and make sure to get your binge-watching on when he appears in Marvel's Luke Cage on September 30th.