‘The First Time’ With Tessa Thompson and Nnamdi Asomugha
In the latest episode of Rolling Stone’s The First Time, Tessa Thompson and Nnamdi Asomugha from the movie Sylvie’s Love kick things off by discussing their initial reading of the script and what drew them to the film.
“I just remember listening to all the songs in the script, so it felt like a musical experience,” Thompson recalls. “I would pause it, play the song, and then continue reading with the song. So I remember it musically actually, which makes sense because I feel like the film is partially a love letter to music and the way it brings us together — quite literally sometimes.”
Directed by Eugene Ashe, Sylvie’s Love is a romantic drama based in Harlem in the late Fifties and early Sixties. It tells the story of Sylvie (Thompson), a young woman with dreams of working in the television industry, who ends up falling in love with Robert (Asomugha), a talented jazz saxophonist. The pair meet one summer while Sylvie is working in her father’s record store, where they end up bonding over their mutual love for music. What starts off as a friendship quickly blossoms into a summer romance as Sylvie awaits her fiance’s return from the war.
A musician herself, the Westworld actress touches on her prior musical work on the Creed films — the third of which was announced earlier this year, while Asomugha recalls first reading the script on a flight to New York. “I get all my work done on airplanes so it’s the best time for something to come in,” says the former NFL star. “I got it, read it, and I think by the next morning I was on the phone with the writer and director Eugene [Ashe] telling him how much I loved it and how much I wanted to be a part of it.”
Asomugha — who, like Thompson, also has a musical background — learned the saxophone specifically for the role of Robert. He shares the powerful story of how he first began learning to play.“ I had an acting coach [who] helped me out on this film that I did called Crown Heights. I mean, it was just an amazing experience working with her,” Asomugha recalls. “She ended up getting cancer and passed away right before we premiered the film, so she never got to see Crown Heights, which breaks my heart.”
Asomugha remembers there being a saxophonist at her funeral who performed Ella Fitzgerald’s “Someone to Watch Over Me”: “I was like, ‘that was great.’ [Then I] left it alone. I [eventually] get this script and I see that Robert plays the saxophone, and somehow… [in] that moment, that [memory] came to mind,” he says. “I reached out to [the coach’s] family, got [the saxophonist’s] information, sent him the script, and he said, ‘I will teach you how to play the saxophone. You have to perfect this for the film.’ That was the moment where I really went full force into the saxophone.”
Later in the interview, Thompson and Asomugha recall their first time seeing themselves on screen, deciding to pursue acting, getting involved in activism, and more. The pair are also executive producers on the film, which is now streaming on Amazon Prime.