Jayme Lawson isn’t a household name quite yet, but she’s on her way. At just age 24, the Juilliard graduate has nabbed some plum roles. Fresh out of school, she landed a starring role as a young girl from an African country adjusting to life in the United States and expressing herself through dance in the 2020 indie film Farewell Amor. Her biggest splash, however, has come this year with notable roles in the global blockbuster The Batman where Zoë Kravitz stars as Catwoman and the Showtime series The First Lady showcasing the talents of heavyweights Viola Davis and Michelle Pfeiffer.
But she’s not done. Later this year, she plays Myrlie Evers-Williams in the long-awaited film Till about the 14-year-old Emmett Till whose horrific lynching energized the Civil Rights Movement. And, she'll captivate audiences as a strong female figure in Viola Davis' and director Gina Prince-Bythewood’s highly-anticipated epic The Woman King. So, clearly, she’s got next.
What Lawson brings to her roles is not only refreshing but also ripe for the times. The Batman director Matt Reeves, she tells EBONY, specifically cast her as mayoral candidate Bella Reál, who offers the citizens of Gotham hope, because he “was inspired by AOC and Stacey Abrams and that whole group of women, women of color, that really came in and took up space in our elected offices. He felt like that wave was too powerful to ignore and that really needed to be brought into this version of Gotham." As a result, Lawson explains that Bella is “a breath of fresh air and is somebody who’s not seeking any gain. She really feels like she has something to say and that she does represent the people of the city to really affect some change.”
Because of how Lawson feels about the Michelle Obama, playing her was a lot more daunting. “When I found out I was playing the younger Michelle Obama, I got super nervous,” she admits. “Because she's such an iconic and beloved hero of mine, it was like Viola [who plays older Michelle Obama] says, ‘I can’t mess this up’ and I didn’t want to mess that up.”
Doing her due diligence, Lawson shares that she “just dug deep, reading her book Becoming and watching the documentary [of the same name] and all her interviews.” Ultimately, she says her performance came down to “believing what she said about her experience.”
To really capture the younger version of Michelle Obama, Lawson leaned into her own age. “I bring a youthful energy,” she notes. “So taking in all she represents now and filtering that down to ‘okay, what was she like before she became that kind of self-possessed and poised woman that we know her to be and what insecurities [did] she [have] growing up.’ And I just adjusted the version that we know of her now.”
For Myrlie Evers-Williams, Lawson says she did “the same kind of research to really honor this hero” but focused in on the “younger Myrlie before she decided really to engage in activism, the young Myrlie who was just newly married who had just became a mom and was just trying to figure out ‘where do I fit in in all of this?’”
As for The Woman King, she just shares that she plays “the favorite wife of the king so a lot of my scenes are opposite John Boyega and he's a fantastic actor and person to be on set with.”
The D.C. native, who credits participating in Trayvon Martin protests as a high school freshman for infusing her work with “actual responsibility,” knows that she is blessed to be a young, Black actress working in this time. “What's happening now, where young women, particularly young women of color, are having agency over their own lives in these narratives, is fairly new,” she says. “And I feel so blessed to be able to enter the industry during this time because you're seeing that wave happen all over and it's important and it's not to be ignored; it’s not to be denied. So there’s only more and more to come for everybody that's really trying to get in and make a difference.”