Season four of The Crown? Sure, it's a hit. The Princess Switch: Switched Again? A solid holiday standby. But there's really only one main character on Netflix this fall, and that's chess thriller The Queen's Gambit. The series has ranked first in 63 countries, and google searches for "how to play chess" have hit a nine-year peak.
Apparently the streaming service's most successful scripted series to date, The Queen's Gambit is essentially a seven-part sports movie that swaps footballs for rooks and adds some lush period aesthetics. It also adds — alongside compelling performances by Anya Taylor-Joy and the kid from Love Actually — newcomer Moses Ingram. In her first major role out of Yale Drama School, the Baltimore native plays Jolene, who befriends Taylor-Joy's chess prodigy Beth Harmon at a sinister 1960s orphanage where children are fed daily tranquilizer pills. The show receives a huge momentum boost when Jolene returns in its final episodes and the two characters establish an adult friendship partly based on shared trauma.
Twitter is obsessed with a Jolene spinoff series, so we called up Ingram to talk about her experiences on the show and what's up next in her career.
How does it feel being on one of the biggest Netflix shows of the year?
Wild. I keep saying, I don't know what I was expecting. But this has exceeded any expectations that I had for sure. By a long shot. It's happening, but it doesn't feel like it is. Everything also still feels very much the same. But it's very cool. It's very exciting.
Why do you think the show, and Jolene in particular, has struck such a chord with audiences?
I think people recognize realness and I think Jolene just oozes real. She's a person and full of heart and life and flawed, and I think Jolene is somebody that people can see themselves in.
It helps that she's funny.
Very funny, I've been seeing memes that have taken me out.
This was one of your first big roles out of drama school. What was the audition process?
It was just an audition like everything else. I didn't have a full script, just the scene where we play squash. And just upon reading it, it just felt like the words were so real, and bold, and I just connected with it immediately. I guess I just looked at it like, "This is just another audition, in the spirit of letting it go, and if it comes back, amazing." And it came back, and I've been really blessed to have an amazing experience.
I think it's always really fun to see tight female friendships on the screen. But I do think it's deceptively hard to pull that stuff off.
I think one thing that's really cool about the show, just from the outside, is this story about a woman and all of her relationships and how they all differ and how they've all contributed to who she is and who she wants to be.
It really ties up the show when Jolene comes back to sort Beth out for the final episode. Did you have to bring a different mindset to those later episodes, where time has passed?
Yeah, it's definitely different to come back and be going from playing 14 to suddenly being grown. You're different in your body and different in what you think of yourself, who you've come to know yourself as. And I think by the time she gets back to Beth, she's learned so much more about herself. And because of that, I think she is in a better place to be a friend in new ways. I think she was a friend in the best way she knew how to be in the beginning, and now there's new ways. When you know better, you do better is what I say.
People are calling for a Jolene spinoff. There's a good setup: a young Black woman studying for the bar, in the 1960s south. Where would you hope that her life goes next?
I think she gets her money back first. She gets her money back, and she goes on to make a life for herself and figure out how to make the world better for people who look like her. Because she hasn't always gotten the shiny spoon.
Did you read the original book the series is based on?
I did read the book. In the book, the relationship between Jolene and Beth is very different in a lot of ways. And I'm actually glad that some of the things aren't included, but I enjoyed what was written in the screenplay and how Scott and Alan interpreted it and brought it to life.
So, I saw on Twitter that you went to Yale drama school with Jeremy O. Harris. He tweeted about how you performed in his play with a sprained foot. Tell me more.
Yeah, they have this thing every year – well, maybe not this year – but it's called the Carlotta Festival of New Plays where the final-year playwrights perform their thesis. And usually, third-year actors aren't in the thesis of third-year writers just because of scheduling. But Jeremy being Jeremy, making things work, was like, "Listen, if you want to be in, you can be in it." And so I was in it and I sprained my foot in early rehearsal. And I wasn't going to not do it, so they put me in a wheelchair and wheeled me out, and when I wasn't in the wheelchair, I was on crutches performing. It was a wild time. I've actually injured myself in two of the three Carlottas I've been a part of.
Well, that's the kind of commitment that Netflix casting directors look for. What a superstar Yale class?
Yeah, my whole class is amazing. And I can't wait for it to keep rolling out, who all of these people are. And Jeremy, what I really love about what Jeremy is doing is he has this lovely ability to like rock where he is and pull people into the fray, just blessing people and being truly himself. And people can get behind that and I love it and support it.
Next up, you're Lady MacDuff in Joel Cohen's Macbeth adaptation. Which feels very Yale Drama School. Are you into Shakespeare?
Yeah, we do a lot of Shakespeare in school, so it wasn't something that I felt very far away from going into it. But it definitely was an experience that I feel like I pretended it happened. And it didn't really, and I'm just telling people that it did, but it's wild that it actually did. It's just very surreal in that way and working with giants around the table. It's beautiful, I'm excited for people to see it. It's amazing, the things that happen in moviemaking. The illusion of it all is insane.
Did you get any acting tips from Frances McDormand?
I think just to watch was the biggest thing. I definitely went to set on days where I had no work to do, and just sat on the floor somewhere, just watching everyone work. It really is something to be exposed to that level of artistry. At least me, I just wanted to get everything I could from the experience. So yeah, I soaked it up.
Related | PAPER People: Jeremy O. Harris
Any other projects you've got coming up that you want to tell us about?
Not just yet, but I hope that I have a very fruitful career. More things just as exciting as these have been. So I'm excited.
Definitely. Jolene spinoff, we're putting it out there.
I don't think it's going to happen. But you know, I want people to be hopeful, so who knows.
Lastly, do you have any chess tips for us?
I guess the chess tip I have would be to watch YouTube for your chess tips. You can't go wrong with YouTube.
Stills via Netflix