Monday, 24 September 2012

SINGULAR SENSATION: Powerhouse thespian Nadean Rawlins blazing a trail all her own

An acting tour-de-force, a lush free spirit, and an unabashed lover of art and life, Whiplash’s Nadean Rawlins talks candidly to TALLAWAH about her newest stage role, fashion and creative influence, and the view from the top. Story and Photography by Tyrone S. Reid. 

“WE have the whole house for the day,” Nadean Rawlins announces excitedly as we exit one of the bedrooms and make our way into an uber-sophisticated drawing room that boasts such antiquated furnishings as a lovely eighteenth-century piano. The “house” in question is St. Andrew’s historic-iconic Devon House mansion, to which we have been granted full access to shoot our October cover and conduct the interview. 

On this sunny September afternoon, the actress is exuding a proprietary air that’s typical of her when she’s in her element. Curiously turned out in a whimsical ensemble – an avant-garde meets vintage meets mod look – with an aristocratic headpiece that goes perfectly with the well-appointed surroundings, Rawlins resembles a Shakespearean denizen teleported to latter-day Kingston. 

We are on location to discuss her latest stage role in the University Players’ gritty drama Whiplash, which begins previews in early October at Mona, but before we manage to get any work done, we allow ourselves to be enchanted by the quaintly charming place, as we move from exquisite room to exquisite room setting up shots and snapping away. One minute the camera is capturing Rawlins reflected in a tall looking-glass, the next she is positioned by an upstairs bedroom window checking out the panoramic view. 

For Whiplash, a seventies-set domestic saga penned by Ginger Knight, Rawlins (who appeared last season in Basil Dawkins’ Thespy-winning Where Is My Father?) is returning to familiar turf, playing a desperate, down-on-her-luck innercity mother clinging to hope as she drifts in a sea of political warfare, drugs, and violence, while raising two strong-headed boys (played by Brian Johnson and Orlando Lawrence). “I feel good about this role,” she admits, as we take a break from the shoot to freshen her makeup in one of the restrooms. “She’s a regular woman out ah road, everybody knows her. So I like that about her. She’s a very practical and strong woman.” 

Enjoying a steady rise on theatre’s A-List that has seen her working with everyone from the Pantomime Company to the University Players to Basil Dawkins, Rawlins has over the years been fortunate enough to land a dizzyingly diverse assortment of roles, several of which happen to be strong Jamaican women. Whether portraying Gloria in Trevor Rhone’s Two Can Play, Valerie in Dahlia Harris’ God’s Way or the LTM’s Annie Palmer, Rawlins is remarkably a force of nature in the tradition of Leonie Forbes. 

“Nadean is an intelligent actress with excellent natural instincts which help her to create memorable and believable characters,” concurs JADA president, Scarlett Beharie. “Watching her on stage is always a great lesson in commitment to character, talent and versatility, all of which combine to make her a fantastic actress and entertainer.” 

By Rawlins’ own admission, Whiplash’s Miss Inez already holds a special place in her heart. “Everytime I do a new play, I am always excited, but doing this one is definitely special. I really admire and respect this woman, because as a mother she is trying to survive in the innercity while keeping her sons away from the rampant drug use and violence going on around them,” explains Rawlins. Though set in the 1970s, she further notes, the play bears undeniable relevance for today’s Jamaica. “It’s a very good play, very topical. It explores several issues [migration, politics, struggle] that are current even now.” 

To say the least, 2012 has been good to Nadean Rawlins. Not only has she appeared in a handful of stage productions and a TV commercial for Miracle products, she snagged her second Actor Boy Award (for Where Is My Father?) and the Best-Actress Thespy (for Not About Eve). “Coming into [2012] it’s like I had set it in stone that this was going to be my year, and it really has been a good year for me,” she tell TALLAWAH with absolute sincerity in her voice. “There have been challenges, but I can overcome them. Once you have life, you can overcome anything and progress.” 

So how does she feel about being dubbed one of the country's most powerful stage performers at her age? “I try not to think about it. It doesn’t burden me. I do what I do because I just love it. It comes naturally for me to act and play somebody else,” says Rawlins. “Being told that you’re one of the best in the business is very humbling, but mi like hear it. When I go on stage I want to give my all. People are depending on you to shine, so that also helps me to be my best.” 

Looking ahead, Nadean sees herself working with young performers, helping them be their best. “I want to help kids because a lot of times you have this talent and you are unable to explore it. So I want to go into schools like my alma maters Merle Grove and George Headley Primary to have discussions on how I can contribute. For me, it will be about exploring natural talent through workshops,” she says. “Right now I am putting it into a proposal so I can present it to them.” 

On a long list that also includes magazines, food and God, TALLAWAH discovered that fashion ranks among the actress’ passions. As it turns out, CFW, Joan Rivers, and E!’s weekly Fashion Police are personal guilty pleasures. “Mi love fashion,” Rawlins offers. “I have my own style. I can dress it up, and I can do the professional look, so I check out new fashion as much as I can." 

As our interview draws to a close I couldn’t help but notice that Rawlins’ cover-shoot outfit boasts a style statement that’s not only steeped in retro glamour but also fierce individuality. Like her countless stage roles, she makes the look work – and entirely her own.

NEXT TIME: Rawlins dishes on Meryl Streep, favourite authors, and what she values most.

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