The Knockturnal was on the red carpet at Cipriani 42nd Street on Monday night for the NYU Tisch School of the Arts 2017 gala titled Aspire and Inspire.
Aspire and Inspire honored notable alumni The Walking Dead actress, award-winning playwright and Tony-nominee Danai Gurira (’04) and The Knick and Moonlight actor André Holland (’06). Gurira and Holland are close friends and graduates of the NYU Tisch Graduate Acting Program. Pascale Armand, Tisch alumna, Tony Award-nominated actress and star of Gurira’s Eclipsed and The Convert, presented her with the Big Apple Award for Artistic Achievement, listing her many accomplishments as an artist and activist whose mission is to “tell African stories about African women on American soil” and congratulating Gurira on “her achievements in front of the lens and beyond it.”
Gurira flew in from Atlanta to accept the award. She is currently shooting Black Panther and was given a rare night off in what we are sure is a hectic filming schedule.
Danai Gurira: NYU did a lot for me, far more than just as an actor. It was as an actor, it was a writer, and it was as a human being. I really did gain a lot of of course craft that I will never lose. I gained an understanding of knowing where to go when you feel like you’re losing it, which is one of the key things. And I gained a real grasp of my voice, and a confidence in the fact that my uniqueness was important and needed to be expressed. And there was no need to conform. And I think that is the actual true DNA of an artist … Sometimes you’re getting told that that’s not what you’re supposed to do or who you’re supposed to be. So what I loved about Tisch is that it guided me towards truly embracing my originality, and that’s a lesson I’ll never unlearn.
Absolutely, and you have two very exciting projects in the works: Black Panther and All Eyez on Me. Can you share what you’re most excited about for each project?
Danai Gurira: Black Panther, I think, is gonna be something quite groundbreaking. I really do think that. We’re still shooting it, but there’s something so magnificent about seeing this type of story told with this sort of magnitude. And I think that the stunning-ness of so much that’s happening that we’re getting in the can. I think it’s just really thrilling to me … the world seeing that. To me, telling an African story from that type of perspective is what I dream of, what I went to grad school to try to become part of and create myself. So to be a part of it on this scale … It’s just really, really something I couldn’t have dreamt of. So I think it’s gonna blow people’s minds, not only in the story it’s gonna tell, and how relevant I feel it’s gonna be to the times we’re in. But also, to the aesthetic of it. The really unusually, magnificent aesthetic of it. So I’m really thrilled that I get to be a part of that.
All Eyez on Me is definitely a story that … tells a story of a revolutionary. And it’s also a cautionary tale. And I think that that is the power and the pain of Tupac Shakur. And I think that we definitely strove to find that spirit in what was put on the screen. And so I hope people receive it that way.
And lastly, two dynamic directors, Benny Boom and Ryan Coogler. Can you share what you admire about each?
Danai Gurira: Benny is very much a collaborator, and really a wonderful human being, a kind, good, ego-less man. And really the same thing as Ryan, a deep collaborator, very kind, very, very humble, and has a really intrinsic artistic mind. And really feels deeply for the characters, and for the world he’s trying to portray. And for the very important stories that he’s trying to make sure are ramified into the audience. So, they’re both just amazing to work with.
Photo Credit: Nate “Igor” Smith