Zaraah Abrahams is not yet a household name in the U.S., but her role as the leading lady in director Spike Lee’s new horror/love flick Da Sweet Blood of Jesus just might change that. Abrahams plays Ganja, a beautiful, sharp-tongued woman whose hardnosed behavior belies her softer, more vulnerable attributes. The soon-to-be-married U.K. native sat down with EBONY at 40 Acres and a Mule Filmworks studio in Brooklyn to discuss her bloodthirsty role and why she almost didn’t sign on to the project.
EBONY: How did you end up becoming part of Da Sweet Blood of Jesus cast?
Zaraah Abrahams: I was in a short film called Black Girl in Paris. The filmmaker for that project was a student of Spike’s at the time in film school, and she showed him the post-production. He got my contact information from her and emailed me, but I didn’t reply.
EBONY: Why didn’t you reply?
ZA: Firstly, I wasn’t sure that it was him, and then when I put the pieces together, I was just a bit overwhelmed I think. I loved filming Black Girl in Paris and I just wasn’t sure if I was ready to film with someone like Spike. He was so certain about what he wanted. So it took me a while to come around, but I did. Eventually he phoned me and then he flew to London. We talked, I read the script, I went through casting, flew to New York for a screen test. And then months later, I was here shooting the film.
EBONY: Spike Lee has a big public persona. He’s not one to mince words. Did that factor into your hesitation to sign on to the movie?
ZA: I wasn’t intimidated by the situation at all, because I wasn’t sure that I wanted to do the project in the first place and I didn’t know what to expect. But Spike is so nurturing to me and so inspirational because his passion is contagious. Our relationship is just wonderful.
EBONY: How sweet. Do you have a favorite Spike Lee joint?
ZA: I do, and he doesn’t agree! He’s like, “That’s your favorite?” I love She’s Gotta Have It. I love being in love personally and love playing being in love. She is just so… You get to an age where you pick and choose what you need from people and that makes relationships fantastic. Jungle Fever and Inside Man are favorites too. I know Do the Right Thing is iconic, but for my personal tastes and the movies I watch over and over, it would definitely be those three.
EBONY: When he first told you about how the characters drink blood and live forever and all these things, what was your reaction?
ZA: He didn’t tell me about the movie at first. He gave me some sides and then he sent over the full script and I was like, “Oh.” But it became very apparent to me that this movie was about more than what people would initially think it is about, which is vampires. For me, it was definitely about the addiction in their relationship and addiction in general. How far will you go to satisfy the craving for what you think you need? You’ve tricked your mind into wanting something that’s not good for you.
EBONY: Da Sweet Blood of Jesus is a remake of the 1973 film Ganja and Hess. Did you watch the original before you took on this role?
ZA: No. Spike asked me not to watch it. I didn’t watch the whole thing, but I did watch clips of it because I really wanted to capture the style. This is a modern film, but I really wanted to bring that classic feel to Ganja. How she moves. She makes environments her own. In old movies, that is so classic. The cigarette is molded to the hand and the handbags are part of their arms. I wanted to give that classic flow to her.
EBONY: What was the most challenging part of filming this movie?
ZA: The most challenging part was drinking the blood. I didn’t enjoy that. It was like a syrup, and the texture was so blood-like and so was the smell. We did shoot a lot of scenes in chronological order. So after the murder scene and drinking the blood from her arm, that was so vulgar to me. Then there was the ripping of the steak. That was real meat and real blood.
EBONY: Sounds rather intense. How did you untangle yourself from that character or just unwind in general?
ZA: Wine. Ha! That and the fact that Spike was really good about creating a good atmosphere with the cast and crew. If it was a hard day, we’d go out to dinner and we’d laugh and joke. It was also nice to be on Martha’s Vineyard. Unless we were doing night shoots, we wrapped at sunset, so every night we got to take in this beautiful sunset.
EBONY: I couldn’t help but notice that beautiful ring you have there. Are you engaged?
ZA: Yes! My fiancé is back home in London. He’s on Facetime while I’m here to do publicity for this and filming The Knick for Showtime.
EBONY: Is he an actor too?
ZA: Oh, no. He’s a normal, chemically balanced human being. We got engaged right before I started filming this. So I felt free. I have a wonderful family, and now I have a wonderful husband-to-be. When you feel settled, you feel free to explore, which is exactly the state of mind I needed to be in for this movie.
Da Sweet Blood of Jesus is in theaters today and available on Vimeo right now for rental or purchase.
Demetria Irwin is a New York City-based (Detroit born) freelance writer. Follow her on Twitter at @Love_is_Dope.