In this smart and agile horror flick, bursting with West African folklore, lush lighting, erupting soundscapes, and themes of alienation and othering, Diop shoulders the psychic shocks of a woman and mother pushed to the edge of something unrecognizable. Diop plays Aisha with sensitivity and force, vulnerability yet guardedness, and an unmistakable brightness that invites anxiety when circumstances pull her physically back down to earth. It’s a palpable performance—the heartbeat of Jusu’s bold, uncompromising vision—that is nothing short of a revelation.
During the Chicago International Film Festival, where she received the festival’s Rising Star Award, Anna Diop met with RogerEbert.com to discuss how she prepared for the role of Aisha, finding chemistry with co-star Sinqua Walls, and filming those terrifying water scenes.
How did you become attached to “Nanny”?
I was aware of Nikyatu Jusu about a year before I even read the script. I was aware of her because of “Suicide by Sunlight,” which is a short she did. And I was like: Who is this filmmaker? Because the story was original and it was bold and it was elevated, and I had been longing to find someone like that to work with. When “Nanny” was greenlit, they were looking to cast Aisha, so we finally met over Zoom and I read the date scene with Malik. Nikyatu, she plays her cards really close, so she didn’t tell me that she liked me. I didn’t know that I got the role for weeks. She had me do a series of chemistry reads, but still didn’t give me the role. I finally landed the role a few weeks after that, after that Zoom meeting with her and our casting director Kim Coleman.
How many different actors did you chemistry read with?
We read with like five different Maliks and about five or six different roses.
It was probably a good sign that you were in all of them! Malik is played by Sinqua Walls; in what ways did you build further chemistry with him?
Thankfully me and Sinqua immediately had so much chemistry, even over Zoom. So it was very obvious that it was going to be him. I was nervous to finally meet him in person. I was like: Is it gonna still work in person? Will it still translate? Thankfully, it did. He got to New York, and I took him out to dinner so I could just meet him and chat with him before we started filming, and that was really all the time we had. After that we just went into it.