There’s no denying that BAFTA-nominated actress and playwright Dominque Fishback is a rising star with exceptional talent.
First garnering more mainstream attention in the 2020 Netflix film Project Power, starring opposite Oscar-winning actor Jamie Foxx, Fishback was a breath of fresh air, delivering a tangible and necessary level of authenticity to the role. That realness seemingly served as the launchpad into her next major endeavor: portraying the steadfastness and tenderness of Deborah Johnson, partner to Fred Hampton, in the 2021 Academy Award-nominated film Judas and the Black Messiah.
During the press run for that critically-acclaimed film, she got the call that she’d been personally chosen to take on a new role in the AppleTV+ series, The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey, starring opposite veteran actor Samuel L. Jackson. The drama series sees Jackson in the titular role of Grey, an ailing man with dementia, while Fishback serves as his reluctant caretaker Robyn, an orphan girl initially taken in by Grey’s niece, Niecy. When Robyn and Ptolemy learn about a treatment that could potentially restore Ptolemy’s memories, it begins a journey toward shocking truths about the past, present and future.
And perhaps it’s the juxtaposition of these two characters that perfectly speaks to the level of depth and restraint Fishback is able to bring to the role. While Grey is frail, yet determined in his mission, Robyn is headstrong and empathic—which makes for a compelling performance that ultimately serve as further proof of Fishback’s onscreen magneticism and longevity.
The Root recently got the chance to chat with Fishback over Zoom, where she discussed the new series, advocating for the character, and how divine alignment has played a major role in her career.
The Root: What was it about Robyn that made you want to bring your unique interpretation to that role?
Dominique Fishback: Just being where I’m from, I’m from the city of Brooklyn. I know a lot of times there’s this idea, a stigma around people who come from areas like mine. As an actor and getting these opportunities and platforms, I always wanna honor the authenticity of these characters and Black girls from places like this. We’re not all just one way, we have so many layers to who we are. And we have so much heart and compassion and soul. And a lotta time, yeah, we might have a hard exterior but the truth is I wanna be soft. We look for places and people that help us feel safe enough to be soft, and she gets that opportunity. So I wanted to show that rawness, that fight, that ‘don’t mess with me.’ But also the smile, the love and the compassion she has. She’s so multilayered, as are we.
TR: There’s a moment in Episode Two where Robin’s “Aunt” Niecy tells her: ‘It’s our duty to make sure our Black men don’t go crazy. Right or wrong, it’s what we gotta do.’ She says this right after she catches her son in what looks like an attempt to rape Robyn. Then in Episode Four, Ptolemy and Robyn have a conversation about women and men having options when it comes to working and the things that they’re capable of doing. Both lines of thinking are unfortunate yet unsurprising given the culture that we live in. How did it feel hearing that and how do you hope women react to Robyn’s journey throughout the series?
DF: I had a lot of resistance to that line, I didn’t understand that line. But it is a motivating factor to the character so if I don’t understand it, it’s because she doesn’t understand it either. So when she’s looking at Niecy and she’s looking in her eyes trying to see: ‘Are you serious? Is this what you’re telling me right now?’ And having to have that composure and holding her anger and her hurt in and kind of move forward. And then with the scene with Sam at the table, that was something that I kind of advocated with Walter (Mosley, writer and co-creator). I was like, ‘Let’s make sure we know what Robin cares about, make sure we know her dreams.’ Because here we are having this conversation about this guy and what he cares about but we hadn’t had that conversation about what Robin cares about!
And it’s very important to know that she has dreams and that she is aware of everything that’s going on. Yeah she taking care of Ptolemy, yeah she loves him, but she has her own life and her own dreams, and her own things going on. And I think I wanted to make sure we were able to see that, there was nothing else I’m surer that I wanna do than to advocate for her truth, for her dreams, for her life outside of him.
TR: There’s been recent discourse about the burden artists and creators may feel about doing projects that walk the fine line of realism while still maintaining those fantastical and escapist elements of creative storytelling. Has that line of thinking ever influenced the type of roles you take on?
DF: Even if I don’t realize it consciously, I know that it does because everything that I try to do, I try to do in alignment with my soul and why I want to do something or why I’m scared to do something else. Is it fear because I just don’t align with what it is or am I nervous? And nervousness is exciting. So I try to pick the roles based on my younger self, I think she’s a good compass. She only wanted to act just because she wanted to tell stories, she didn’t really think about how people would feel about her, she didn’t have a certain idea, she just wanted to have fun. So I look at a character and think like, ‘Dang, am I gonna have fun?’ If I’m gonna have fun then maybe that’s a good way to go towards the thing. Even if other people might not understand, like, ‘Why she pick that role?’ You never know, you just gotta go with your gut.
TR: You’ve worked some heavy hitters seemingly right out the gate: Jamie Foxx in Project Power, Daniel Kaluuya in Judas & Black Messiah, and now Ptolemy Grey with Samuel L Jackson. What advice have you gleaned from all these phenomenal artists and how do you hope your career evolves from here?
DF: I’m just fortunate to have them in my life still. Jamie is going to be executive producing my one-woman show and I just saw him for Daniel’s birthday so it was really nice to have that reunion and to know that you have support outside of the characters. Like, you’re hearing from people who went through things you’re going through but at the same time—you get insight, you get help to navigate the world and this industry. I think I just leave room for God because everything that I do, everything that I dreamed, he always makes it next-level. When I was young I would say, ‘Oh I wanna do movies. I wanna work with this person and that person.’ Now he’s done Jamie Foxx and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Daniel Kaluuya, Samuel L. Jackson—he keeps blowing my mind with what’s next. So I can’t even limit the idea! I just wanna say whatever’s divine, divine timing, divine projects, divine alignment.
Episode Four of The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey is available to stream now only on AppleTV+.