Edson Oda’s feature film debut Nine Days takes you into an ethereal world that will make you reconsider your views on life and its beginning.
Day in and day out, Will (Winston Duke) monotonously watches people living their lives through their p.o.v. on a set of analog television screens, from the comfort of his remote one-story home set in a desert version of limbo. Will’s world takes a turn when one of his most brilliant subjects’ screens suddenly stops transmitting, leaving a newly opened slot to be filled by a potential candidate.
First-time film director/writer Oda immerses the audience into a world in which unborn souls are given the opportunity to live, should they pass a variety of tests performed by Will and observed by his colleague Kyo (Benedict Wong) over nine days. The candidates, Emma (Zazie Beetz), Alexander (Tony Hale), Mike (David Rysdahl), Arianna Ortiz (Maria), and Bill Skarsgård (Kane) are given a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but face oblivion should they not be deemed suitable for the role as a living person.
“It was interesting because somehow the candidates represent humanity somehow”, Oda says thoughtfully. “When I was having conversations with the wonderful actors who were interested in playing the role, I was just looking for something inside them that would somehow connect to the personalities of the characters I was choosing,” Oda says.
When looking for someone to bring out the complexity of the gentle but stoic Will, Edson made an exceptional choice with Winston Duke.
“Working with Edson was just an incredible, incredible blast, even though it was his first time it didn’t always feel like his first time,” says Duke. The Black Panther actor who is quickly becoming a household name says the Oda “had such a really clear vision of the world he wanted to create, [and] a clear intention behind what the world he wanted to communicate.” “It was world-building; [Oda] really helmed the ship beautifully,” Duke says.
Alongside Duke as one of Will’s candidates and an influence to help him remember his humanity is Emma, played by Atlanta actress, Zazie Beetz. In several moving performances, Beetz recalls feeling as if she intuitively “gravitated” towards her role and that she felt “very safe” in the hands of Oda.
“Emma was teaching me something that I always try to kind of practice in terms of really accepting what’s in my present and really being with it and sitting with it and not trying to avoid things or hold onto things but to … be truthful in this moment,” Beetz says.
In discussing her character’s persona, Beetz mentions “parts of [Emma] felt true to who I think I am and what I try to embody,” stating “Emma felt very natural.”
Beetz is not the only castmate to feel a natural connection to their role, as Avengers: Infinity War actor Benedict Wong affectionately refers to his character, Kyo as “the oldest character but the biggest kid,” adding “I guess that sums me up a little bit.”
[The cast and I] all arrive at Utah, desperate to tell this story and Edson led with vigor, Wong says. A story that Benedict says is “healing an audience,” and “people are seeing it and having this self-reflective moment.”
This Is Us actress, Arianna Ortiz who plays the soul Maria recalls the filmmaking process itself as “very magical” and states that their two weeks of rehearsal allowed it to “show in the work.”
Actors and fellow souls David Rysdahl and Tony Hale also reminisced on how the additional rehearsal time allowed for a more genuine and open feel on set.
“Winston is so giving and Edson is so willing to play that we did some improvisation,” Rysdahl says with a smile. “The whole process felt very alive to me; everyone was being really present just within the filmmaking of it.”
Hale recalls the intimate rehearsals, as a “privilege” and “a real gift”. “[We Were] shooting in this house which was very simple and sort of moot, and then we were playing with these really existential high stakes, Hale says before continuing to say, “there was this really fun tension playing with it; it was really kind of what you wouldn’t expect.”
You can indulge in Sony Pictures Classics‘ newest and extraordinarily moving film, Nine Days in theaters in New York and Los Angeles on July 30th, 2021, and nationwide on August 6th!