Lauren London was not exactly prepared to say yes to a role in the film You People.
She was initially approached by Kenya Barris—the writer and prolific showrunner (Blackish, #BlackAF) she worked with on the BET series The Game—who would be directing the film. Barris had written the screenplay with Jonah Hill, and they had London in mind for the lead role of Amira, a costume designer from Los Angeles who falls in love with an aspiring podcaster, who just happens to be Jewish. Though both characters have deep-seeded roots in Los Angeles, they’re clearly from different worlds, and the melding of their vastly different upbringings becomes the focal point of the film, along with their familial culture clashes providing all the laughs. Like most Kenya Barris productions, You People encourages Internet discourse, which has followed the film since its initial release.
It appears that London saying yes paid off in spades: The film currently sits in the number one slot on Netflix. As for the actress personally, the project afforded her the opportunity to work—and learn—alongside comedy greats Eddie Murphy and Julia Louis-Dreyfus, to name just a few in the legendary cast. But most importantly, she was able to tap into the kind of work that fulfills her, to have hard conversations while making people laugh, and to get right back in the saddle of acting again.
Ahead, London tells BAZAAR.com about why the new comedy is the film (and social commentary) we need right now.
I’m curious to know how the project came to you. You knew Kenya Barris from your time doing The Game, but your casting really felt so personal and specific.
So Kenya definitely reached out. At first, I thought, “Hmm, I don’t know, Kenya. Is this the story I want to tell right now? I need to meditate on it.” He said “No, you have to do it. You have to do it.” He said, “Have lunch with me and Jonah and another producer, Kevin.” I was kind of apprehensive about it, only because I want to be really intentional with what I do now, at my age and in the space that I’m in. But I went to lunch with them and spoke about my concerns, and they addressed them. I went home and I told Kenya I had to meditate about it again. Ultimately I thought, “This is a really, really interesting way to bring awareness to really tough conversations.” It felt really relevant, and I thought, “You know what? I can fully give my all to this.” And I decided to do it.
Was there something that ultimately led you to believe you could do it?
It was the conversation at lunch. I thought, “Why would these two people really like each other?” We have to showcase a real connection. They’re from two totally different worlds, and if you see them, you would never think that they would meet or hang out, whatever the case is. It was a conversation on connecting with people genuinely and going for the soul connection. That what’s he told me.
Your relationship with Jonah’s character was so believable, to the point that I was curious if you guys had known each other before …
No. I think we’re just both … we actually have a lot in common, which was interesting initially.
Were you surprised by that?
Well, yeah! I’m a Black woman; he’s a white man. We actually have a lot in common in our lives—some of our experiences and some of the ways we look at life and some of the ways we’ve taken life in. And also, growing up in L.A., though we grew up in different areas. I think having Los Angeles in common, that was a part of our developing friendship too. We’re both L.A. kids from the same era.
Back to your chemistry and the banter between you and Jonah. Did you have any involvement in the creative process or input in the script? Do you feel like you put any of yourself into Amira?
For sure. I think that was also a reason why Kenya reached out to me was because he was like—I can’t put words in his mouth—but it was like, how I was going to develop Amira and how I was going to interpret her. Kenya’s very big on improv-ing and very big on you bringing yourself to a character and it being realistic. I think I work best in that way.
What interested you most about her?
She felt very strong and vulnerable at the same time. There’s a conversation that she has with Julia’s character, Ezra’s mom, at the end of the film that really sold it for me, because she stands her ground, but she’s respectful. She’s carrying herself with honor in standing up for herself, and she is checking this woman about not being appropriate. And it got to me. It’s something as a Black woman—having been in situations that are uncomfortable, having to experience—you just want to be able to convey how you feel in the most honest way with the most honor. And in a real way. I feel like that scene really did that.
It’s at the rehearsal dinner where you say to Julia’s character, “I’m not a toy,” right? As a viewer, that scene stuck out to me as well, because you’re choking up watching that moment unfold. But every moment prior to that, you’re laughing. How did you guys make that dynamic work?
Life is moment by moment. And a film is scene by scene, so it’s moment by moment as well. You can have these moments where you’re laughing, and you’re uncomfortable, and you have these moments where you’re having the best time ever. And then, there’s a moment that could be right after that, where it’s like, “Wait, hold on, that doesn’t feel right to me. And I have to stand up for this. And this is actually something that’s been building up.” In life, we take everything moment by moment, and in actual shooting each scene, it’s the same. And that was a serious and important moment.
I think the brilliance of the movie is that each character is sort of ultimately willing to take a look at themselves. But the jokes and cultural references are so specific. Were there any moments where it felt like someone needed to explain one culture to the other?
I can only speak about my experience in there. The scene where I meet the parents, I had some triggering moments where I had to remind myself that we are in a scene and we are acting. But even the conversations brought up some real experiences for me. They were triggering.
I think for all of us, though, because I could see there were moments where Julia was really uncomfortable with some of her lines and she was making sure that I was okay. Just checking in. She’s so awesome. She’s a mom as well, so she would ask, “You’re okay? You good?” She would check in with me after the scenes, being an empathetic person, because the conversations are really hard, and they could bring up triggers.
This cast is full of legends: Julia, Nia, Eddie. What was that like? Any memorable moments with any one of them that particularly sticks out to you?
Watching them improv. Watching them walk on set and how professional they were. I keep saying this, but it’s so true—I was a student, and I just watched. I observed them and watched them and laughed at them and admired them and was so grateful to be able to play with them, essentially. I definitely walked away from this film with more knowledge than I walked in with. I came out better than I walked in. I remember Eddie looked at me at the end of one scene, and he was like, “You’re really good.” I was like, “Oh, shit! Thank you.”
Did you grow up watching him?
[Laughs.] Yes. What do you think? Boomerang is one of my favorite movies ever. I grew up watching Coming to America. Yes, huge. We were big Eddie Murphy fans in my household.
You mentioned earlier that you’re being intentional about the work you take on right now. What feels fulfilling to you these days?
Work-wise, or just life-wise?
Life-wise, I’m cultivating a deeper spiritual practice, and that feels really, really good. I’m just falling in love with this new version of myself, trying to learn me in this new space.
Career-wise, I think the most fulfilling thing is being of service. Anytime that this profession leads me to helping anyone in any way or inspiring in any way, or making someone laugh or making someone feel really good about their day—just a normal human interaction. When it’s genuine and it feels really good to the other person and to myself, that’s really fulfilling for me. And it doesn’t take much.
Kindness is really fulfilling for me right now, as it always has been. Being really intentional with my energy exchange and not throwing bad moods around. Those things are what fill me up right now and hopefully for the rest of my life, so that way I will be intentional. I think it’s really the simple things. I always thought it was these major things when I was younger that would make you successful and a great achiever, but it’s really not. It’s really how you communicate with others. It’s how someone else feels in your presence and acts of service.
Now that we can be out there in the world doing those things for other people, it feels like it’s never been more important. So last question. What do you hope audiences will take away from this film?
You know what? I will fully answer this for my honor, my truth, my heart. I hope people really, really laugh. I hope they feel good when they leave. And I hope that it does bring some awareness. Maybe some people can check themselves if they’ve not been appropriately handling each other, as far as our differences. But I really would like for people to laugh till their stomachs hurt, until they can’t laugh anymore. I think that comedy is medicine, and I do think that the script is smart enough to bring awareness to some really tough conversations.
You People is now streaming on Netflix.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Andrea Cuttler is the Entertainment Director of Harper’s BAZAAR , where she oversees all things film, television, and celebrity. When she’s not watching her DVD of Indian Summer for the 27th time, you can likely find her at one of the same three restaurants in the West Village.