You know a young star in the making when you see one. We’ve seen many young Black actors and actresses have their breakthrough moments. You can sense their presence on television and say to yourself, “That’s the one.” Flatbush Misdemeanors star, Kristin Dodson is having her breakthrough moment. She is a born and raised Brooklyn native who cares about her craft immensely. She makes it a point to me when we’re talking that she does not want to compromise who she is for money. Every time I asked her a question regarding her accomplishments, she would talk about how grateful she is. She never takes it for granted. Whether she’s on broadway or television, she always wants to make sure that she is telling a story for us and by us. I talk to Kristin Dodson about her love for acting, her character Zayna on Flatbush Misdemeanors, gentrification, and much more.
When did your love for acting start?
My love for acting started at a young age. Before my younger sister was born, I was the only girl so I played a lot by myself. I played imaginary games, created my own stories in my head, but I was also surrounded by theatre at a young age. My mom did a lot of community theatre and she would bring me along with her. I was raised in the church, so there would be different church plays, and I would be involved in that. Finally, I come from a family of storytellers. My grandfather on my dad’s side was one of the best storytellers I’ve ever met. He can set up a story and have you just raptured. My grandma was also a storyteller on my mom’s side, but she probably had a flare for the dramatics. I was exposed to being a storyteller at a very young age.
A few years ago, you attended Oxford University for the British American Drama Academy. What was it like studying abroad over there?
It was fantastic! There’s nothing like that experience and I say that because Oxford is predominantly white and very small. However, every year for a month, it is filled with nothing but Black kids. It was quite an experience to be surrounded by people that look like you, talk like you, and come from where you come from. It was a beautiful time to be abroad and immersed in that community. However, something is amazing about Black people doing Shakespeare. We got to study the classics and were taught by the creme de la creme of the theatre world in Britain. The British training is very different from American training and I’m always blessed and thankful to have that opportunity. It was unforgettable and I’m still friends with a lot of people there.
You were also a part of the Negro Ensemble Company which led you to play Amanita in the play “Daughters of the Mock.” What did you learn from being a part of the NEC?
Well, that’s just history right there! If you are a Black actor, you should know that the Negro Ensemble Company was created for us. It was a gateway opportunity for Black actors to perform on stage. So being able to be a part of a lineage like that was amazing. I feel like I never really fully take it in until I have to talk about it. I’m walking in my forefather’s footsteps.
Being a part of that production, led to you all winning an Audience Development Committee award for Best Ensemble Performance. What was that moment like for you?
Well, I mean the play itself was just phenomenal! It was a gift to be surrounded by these other larger-than-life talents who I’ve heard, seen work before, and now I’m sharing a stage with them. I didn’t know we were going to win so it was a surreal moment for me. That was my first time winning an award for my craft. I’m very happy that happened because the Audelco awards are the Tony’s of Black theatre.
You also received your first acting role in the feature film “Roxanne Roxanne.” Tell me about the story behind that. Also, how different is it for you to play a role in a film versus playing a role in a theatre production?
I don’t want to say I stumbled into acting professionally, but I did. When something is meant for you, it is just meant for you. It doesn’t matter how you get there, but just know that you will get to where you’re supposed to be. That was my first time auditioning for a feature film and I wasn’t sure if I wanted the role to be honest. I was so green because I didn’t know what I was doing so I was just being myself. It’s crazy because the audition process was a long one and they just kept calling me back. I remember it was me and one of my good friends, Chanel, auditioning for the role of Roxanne’s best friend. We didn’t care who got the role between us because we were so happy and thankful to be in the conversation. I remember the director, Micahel, had a really hard time choosing between me and her. They ended up choosing her which I was totally fine about because I was grateful for the opportunity. However, what had happened was, I got a call from my agent a day later saying that a role was written in it for me. That’s how I got into the film. It wasn’t in the original script at all. It helped because that was my first speaking role in a feature and that’s how I was able to join SAG (Screen Actor’s Guild.)
The biggest difference in playing a role in a film is that you’re going to do that same thing over and over. You get an opportunity to redo a terrible take. Theatre is live so there is no do-over. If you fuck it up, you fuck it up. However, I love both mediums. Film is more about the visual medium and people catching up on those smaller intricate moments that you have. Theatre is about the word, how the word affects you and makes you feel. Those are the biggest differences between the two worlds.
You’re getting your Master’s at Columbia University. How has the theatre program helped you hone your craft as an actress?
In the theatre program, I learned quickly what type of artist and storyteller I wanted to be. It also taught me how I should move and what gets my system going as an artist. I learned that I am a physical actor, so for me to play them, I need to know how do they move physically. It was a unique and interesting thing to learn while in school. You read so many plays in school and I’ve learned that the ones that stir my system are the ones that are about my people. That’s what I feel most connected to and those are the stories that I want to tell.
You’re currently on the show Flatbush Misdemeanors as Zayna and the first season just ended a while ago. What has the experience been like for you and how helpful have the creators of the show, Kevin Iso and Dan Perlman, been to you?
This experience has been surreal. I’m beyond thankful for the opportunity. Kevin and Dan are so amazing and nurturing. I feel privileged that I get the opportunity to sit and talk with them, pick their brains, and understand the story that they’re trying to tell. It’s a beautiful thing and they’re constantly championing me. There’s a lot of improv on the show, so they encourage it when I’m saying certain things, especially since I’m from Brooklyn. Kevin will always come up and ask me, “Hey, how does this sound?” “Do you feel like she would say that?” “How would she say this?” It’s a lot more collaborative.
What is your favorite scene or episode from “Flatbush Misdemeanors?”
My favorite episode is episode eight because we learn more about Zayna’s cultural background. It has such a special place in my heart. As an actress, I’ve always been grateful to have the opportunity to showcase all of me. For the longest time, I’ve always felt like my Caribbean side had to be shut down and never showcased. The show displays a lot of the Caribbean and African culture, so having the chance to do episode eight where it focuses solely on that was beautiful.
The show shows you how gentrification has taken over Brooklyn. You being born and raised there, what is that feeling like seeing your city change into something you hardly recognize anymore?
It’s bittersweet. There’s the good side of it where I don’t have to go to Manhatten because Brooklyn got the same shit. However, the downside is that a lot of mom-and-pop shops that are the soul of Brooklyn are slowly fading away. Also, people who you’ve grown up with or seen forever are fading away as well. You have people who venture into the community and try to strip the heart and soul away. People are making complaints about the ice cream man who has been around since I was a kid because he’s making too much noise. It’s summertime in the hood, kids are outside, and we’re going to go run to the ice cream truck. This is literally what happens, it sucks, and there’s not much that can be done. Furthermore, these landlords want to raise the rent so they can kick out rent-stabilized elderly people who’ve had these apartments since the ’80s. Then, once they kick them out, they’ll be able to renovate and sell them. Also, they’ll chop up the apartment so that way they can put two people in a room that was meant for one for double the price. It’s just a messed-up situation all around.
What is your advice for Black women who want to become an actress?
Do not compromise who you are. What I love about the character, Zayna, is that she has not been seen on television ever before. She’s someone from the hood who talks and acts a certain way, but she was still allowed to be vulnerable, human, and not a caricature. This industry will often make you compromise who you are because you’ll have the wrong people in charge telling you this is who you should be. You don’t need to listen to them. If something doesn’t feel right in your spirit, then you don’t have to do it. There will always be another job or opportunity. As actors, we get caught up trying to find the next gig or getting that bread and that’s real. However, I’m in this for the long haul so I think about longevity. I want to be able to look back at my body of work and feel like I made the right choices. I didn’t compromise who I was as an artist for pay. It’s about being an artist for me at the end of the day. There’s a story for you and if there’s not, get out there and create it.