Actress Tashiana Washington stars in the charming, low-key Gimme the Loot as brash tomboy Sophia, one of two young graffiti writers (Ty Hickson plays the other) who spend a summer weekend scheming to tag the iconic home-run apple in New York's Citi Field. The film, which opens tomorrow, has been impressing critics like the A.V. Club's Noel Murray, who praised it for "an energy that's been missing from independent film lately." Washington, who also has a role alongside our cover girl Vanessa Hudgens in the upcoming Gimme Shelter, spoke with us from her Queens apartment about the first of her "gimme"-titled films.
Is Queens where you grew up?
Yeah, I grew up all my life here but I always spent most of my time in Manhattan. I was going on interviews and auditions from the age of four, so besides school and some dance classes, I spent a large part of my day in Manhattan, running around from the trains and stuff with my mom. I went to public school for grade school here in Queens, PS 165 and 164, but for high school I was homeschooled.
How did you audition for Gimme the Loot?
I read that Sophia was somewhat of a tomboy and a graffiti artist. My mom had this shirt made when she was pregnant with me -- it's the black Flintstones and it's her name and my father's name but spray-painted, graffiti-style. So I wore that along with some cargo shorts. My hair was down. I pretty much felt that I was tomboyish enough. So I went to the audition and all the other girls were dressed really girlish. I thought, "Oh my god, I overdid it."
So you were familiar with the culture of graffiti writing, at least a little bit. Did you have to study it as part of the preparation for the film?
Yeah, [director] Adam [Leon] had this great graffiti writer named SP-1. He came in and gave us graffiti lessons, he told us about graffiti, how it originated, how to write our characters' names, the terminology. We had a lot of help with that.
Is your writing in the film?
To be honest, I did have help, but I did the bubbles on the sides and all of the filling in of the colors, the blending, I did all that myself.
Do you think graffiti is going to make a comeback this year with Gimme the Loot and Adam Mansbach's novel Rage is Back?
I feel like graffiti never went away. People may think it somewhat went away because you don't see it all over the trains like it used to be back in the '80s, but if you pay close attention you can still see "tags." They'll write their graffiti name on a postage sticker. We use those in the film as well, they'll stick them all over the inside of the train. If you look up on the sides of buildings you still see graffiti all over in New York City. I don't think it went away, I just think it's not on trains any more.
Gimme the Loot was made with a pretty small budget. Was that hard?
No. Adam and one of the producers explained to me, "We know you've done some other films in the past and we just want you to know you're not gonna have your own trailer and some of us are gonna be carrying some of the equipment ourselves." They were so modest about it they made it seem like I was going to have to help with equipment, too. But we had an excellent-sized crew.We didn't have a trailer to change in but we always had, wherever we were shooting indoors, a bathroom to change in, so it wasn't a big deal to me.
Actually the food was much better on the set of Gimme the Loot than any others that I've been on. The set food is usually horrible but Gimme the Loot food was wonderful. Every day we ate something different. We had Thai food somedays, we had Trinidadian food. Usually sets have one company that they get to cater for the whole cast and crew but we just ate out at different restaurants every day and it was great.
How did you bond with the other people on set?
Because we had a crew smaller than most people's crew we all had a personal relationship. Me and Ty really bonded because our characters were so close, but we ended up being exactly like our characters. I think that's why it worked so well onscreen: things that we would talk about or argue about in the film, we would bicker a little bit on set and have debates about certain things. They were like, "Uh, guys, we called 'cut' like an hour ago." So I'm really really close with Ty, all the producers, all the production assistants, we're all still in contact. We just had a great time.
How do you think you're like Sophia?
To be honest I'm not like Sophia at all. There are certain things about holding certain things internally like when she was upset because she saw that Malcolm liked Jenny, how she was upset internally, I internalize my feelings like that but I'm not nearly as outspoken or as tough as she is. I think a little part of her is inside of me that I wish I could release but I'm not nearly as bold as her.
The film takes place in one weekend. What do you think happens to Sophia after the movie?
After that day I think she probably went home to wherever she was staying and reflected on the past couple days she had with Malcolm. She probably thought to herself, "Do I like him?" But I think she just was like, "Eh, whatever." I feel like even though it was a fun, crazy day, I feel like it was just another day in the life of Malcolm and Sophia. Even though it was crazy, I feel like it's not that abnormal, like they've been through similar situations before and will probably go through it again. I don't feel like they learned that maybe they should focus on school or probably give graffiti up. I just think it's two kids in the hood that had a crazy weekend and, you know, they just go back to doing what they do best. They're probably in high school, so I don't think they dropped out or anything, or they're gonna get their grades up. I feel like they're gonna go back to school when school starts again they're gonna continue to just do graffiti and have fun and just chill with each other.
What's your character like in Gimme Shelter?
Well the film is about a shelter that Vanessa Hudgens is staying at, she went through some hard times at the beginning of the film, now she's at a shelter for pregnant teens. I'm one of the pregnant teens in the shelter and I'm bipolar, so you get to see me interact with Vanessa and the other girls and hear some of our stories, a little bit of our background, what we went through and how we ended up pregnant. We bond. The film is mostly about Vanessa's situation. It kind of reminds me of Girl, Interrupted but instead of them having mental issues, we're pregnant teens.
What are you working on now?
Right now I'm just currently working on music, that's basically it, that's equal to acting for me, so I've just been recording a lot and I plan on releasing some music very soon. I plan on releasing a full album, I've worked with some really great producers. One of the producers I worked with did a lot of songs for like 50 Cent, Missy Elliott, Maino, a lot of rappers mostly. I'm working with his team. The project's been moving swifter than Taylor.