Mamoudou athie is unabashed about her tenderness, humanity, humility, and doing what is right.
In other words, he’s what you might call a romantic, and so are a lot of the characters he falls in love with these days.
“But it doesn’t have to be romantic in the traditional sense,” Athie said. “That heart-forward kind of energy, I’m a sucker for it. It just really gets me every time.”
And his latest role, as the tortured videotape restorer Dan Turner in the supernatural Netflix hit “Archive 81,” definitely got him. Critics have also been swooning.
“He lost his family tragically at a very young age and he’s chosen this profession that gives back people a little bit of their lost past,” he said. “I was like, ‘What a heart this guy has.’”
Athie — Mauritania-born, Maryland-raised and a 2014 graduate from the Yale School of Drama — has played a deceased husband in “Sorry for Your Loss,” a punk rocker in “Patti Cake$” and a hardware-store employee in “Unicorn Store.” For the role of Grandmaster Flash in “The Get Down,” he was taught how to D.J. Legend himself.
“I’m not sure fear exists for me in the same way anymore,” he laughed.
Athie talked to Los Angeles’s cultural forces in a phone call.
“I could probably start crying when I think about it, but I’ve been fortunate,” he said. “When I’ve been working with like-minded people that feel the same way I feel about them, it’s like, ‘OK, I’m on the right path here.’”
These are excerpts of the conversation.
1. Jenny Holzer’s “It Is in Your Self-Interest to Find a Way to Be Very Tender” Installation The head of my program at Yale, Ron Van Lieu — this guy is amazing — he was directing Stephen Adly Guirgis’s play “In Arabia We’d All Be Kings,” and it was on the program. I was unaware of Jenny Holzer’s identity, but it really struck a chord with me. And honestly, it’s how I approach every project. For me, it’s so important to have that kind of openness and to try to affect another person in that way. It’s something that feels like it’s at the core of a lot of the characters that I’ve been drawn to lately.
2. Anime Shinichiro Watanabe, Makoto Shinkai, Hideaki Anno —they’re really interested in the human condition, whether there’s supernatural elements or just truly simple stories about people relating to one another in the face of great adversity. Shinichiro Watanabe is probably best known for “Cowboy Bebop,” which is my favorite show. Period. Makoto Shinkai’s “Your Name” was a big reason I was drawn to “Archive 81,” actually, because it’s kind of a love story separated by space and time. I don’t use this word lightly: I do think they’re geniuses.
3. Victor Hugo’s “Les Misérables” In high school I was always walking past that book, but I was like, “Man, that’s a tome. I don’t want to commit.” Then a teacher put some adaptation with Liam Neeson on, and I was like, “I’ve got to stop watching this right now and just read this book.” Jean Valjean, I mean, who doesn’t love that guy? He’s a true definition of a hero. And Victor Hugo — the thing that struck me about that book was that he would describe the prison walls for 20 pages. I’ve really grown to appreciate that level of detail and painstaking dedication to painting a crystal-clear picture of what you want to share.
4. David Bowie I remember reading something. [at “David Bowie is,” the 2018 Brooklyn Museum exhibition]He said that he was involved in every aspect of what was happening onstage, from the clothes being worn down to the curtains. It reminded me, “There are ways to cut corners, and it’s never worth it. You have the time. If you have anything left to give, you should really just give it all.”
5. His Bikes I used to ride my sister’s bike when I was a kid, because that was the one bike that we had. I didn’t get another bike until this summer. I was working out alongside this trainer and was always impressed by his selection of bikes. He gave me a secondhand bike. And I was like, “Mamoudou, what the [expletive]What is the matter? You can afford a bicycle now. Buy a bike.” I now have this specialized Aethos that I’m obsessed with. I also bought a Crux and an All-City Cosmic Stallion because of the name. It happens to be a great bike, but I would be lying to you if I didn’t tell you that.
Five Movies to See This Winter
1. “The Power of the Dog”: Benedict Cumberbatch is earning high praise for his performance in Jane Campion’s new psychodrama. Here’s what it took for the actor to become a seething alpha-male cowboy.
2. “Don’t Look Up” : Meryl Streep plays a self-centered scoundrel in Adam McKay’s apocalyptic satire. She turned to the “Real Housewives” franchise for inspiration.
3. “King Richard”: Aunjanue Ellis, who plays Venus and Serena Williams’s mother in the biopic, shares how she turned the supporting role into a talker.
4. “Tick, Tick … Boom!”: Lin-Manuel Miranda’s directorial debut is an adaptation of a show by Jonathan Larson, creator of “Rent.” This guide can help you unpack its many layers.
5. “The Tragedy of Macbeth”: Several upcoming movies are in black and white, including Joel Coen’s new spin on Shakespeare’s “Macbeth.”
6. TV on the RadioI find it disinteresting that many of the pop examples for what cool is seem bored. But TV on the Radio, there’s a real passion. They are a staple of every character playlist I’ve ever created, really. It is the effort that people put into a project that impresses me the most. I almost don’t care about the end result.
7. Friedrich Durrenmatt’s “The Visit” It was my third year at Yale. And this is going to sound weird, but it’s the moment I realized why I want to be an actor. It was great, but there were some projects that I was terrible at. I was definitely going through some growing pains, so it wasn’t ever like, “Oh my God, did you see Mamoudou?” It just wasn’t happening. But in “The Visit,” I played the school master, and he’s a philosopher and he gets drunk one day and he goes over to the home [of the man next in line to be mayor] and he says, “They’re going to kill you, and I’m going to join them.” And he tells him why. It’s so heartbreaking to see somebody go against — oh, man, sorry, it’s getting me now — go against all of their ideals because they’re just so desperate and want money. And the conversations I’d have on the street about this play — people were talking to me in a way that I’d never experienced before.
8. The New York Public Library Theater on Film and Tape ArchiveLincoln Center Suzanne Esper [one of Athie’s acting teachers] would always talk about particular performances that have long since passed, like John Malkovich in “Burn This.” I remember her describing the way he was just so fully realized as a character. He comes in like a bat outta hell. I was like, “I wish I could have seen that.” I feel like it was Suzanne that alerted me to the existence of this place, but I lived there. And I’ve seen so many plays, so much Shakespeare, so many things that taught me so much from watching.
9. Spike Lee’s “Do the Right Thing”It was when I was living in Flatbush’s rowhouse. I was able to rent this small room for $300 per month. You get what you pay. It was summer and my window was broken. After I moved in, they placed a black plastic cover over it and then duct taped it. Basically, I couldn’t open the window. I had a tiny fan from Kmart Union Square. It fell off my mattress and broke. I’m just sweating on this bed — just sweating. And I’m watching Spike Lee and I’m like, “I’m that guy right now. I’m that guy in Brooklyn trying to get a buck, and this just sucks.”
10. Sally Hawkins “The Shape of Water”I’d seen her in other things before, but when I watched her in that movie, I didn’t even know it was the same person. This, I believe, is a great compliment for an actor. I remember she’s on a bus and she’s kind of tracing this raindrop on the window pane, and you see somebody sharing their soul. Not to show off. No ego. This is how it comes across to me. It’s just about, “How do I share this?” As opposed to, “I’m going to do this. I’m going to look so cool and people are going to give me an Oscar.” I can’t get enough of her.