In this witty and lighthearted horror film, peppered with West African folklore, lush lighting, explosive soundscapes, and other themes of alienation and estrangement, Diop endures the psychological trauma of a woman and mother pushed to the brink of something unrecognizable. Diop plays Aicha with sensitivity and strength, vulnerability and guard, and an unsettling brightness evident when circumstances physically push her to the ground. It’s a tangible performance — the heartbeat of Gusso’s relentless, gritty vision — that’s nothing short of a revelation.
She met Anna Diop during the Chicago International Film Festival, where she received the festival’s Rising Star award RogerEbert.com to discuss how she prepared for the role of Ayesha, finding chemistry with co-star Sinqua Walls, and filming those terrifying water scenes.
How did you relate to “Nanny”?
I was aware of Nikyatu Jusu about a year before reading the script. I was aware of her because of “Suicide by Sunlight,” an acronym she made. and i was like: Who is this director?? Because the story was original and it was gritty and it was elevated, and I was dying to find someone like that to work with. When “Nanny” was greenlit, they were looking to cast Aisha, so we finally met up via Zoom and I read the date scene with Malik. Nikiato, I played her cards too close, so she didn’t tell me she loved me. I didn’t know I got the role weeks ago. She had me do a series of chemistry readings, but still didn’t give me the turn. She finally landed the role a few weeks after that, after a Zoom meeting with her and our casting director Kim Coleman.
How many different actors have you read chemistry with?
We read with five different owners and about five or six different roses.
Maybe it’s a good sign that you’ve been in all of them! Cinqua Walls played Malik. In what ways have you built more chemistry with him?
Fortunately, Sinqua and I immediately had a lot of chemistry, even on Zoom. So it was very clear that it would be him. I was nervous to finally meet him in person. I was like: Will you still work personally? Will you still translate? Fortunately, I did. He got to New York, and I took him out to dinner so I could meet him and chat with him before we started shooting, and that was really all the time we had. After that we just went.