‘Queen & Slim’ star Daniel Kaluuya and author Marlon James are the legendary heroes of the new mythologies they’re creating

The Oscar Nominee and Booker Prizewinner on challenging the white gaze, resisting the need to self-justify, and ‘appreciating black art on black terms’ in conversation for Document's Fall/Winter 2019 issue.

This conversation will appear in Document’s upcoming Fall/Winter 2019 issue, available for pre-order now.

Marlon James and Daniel Kaluuya speak as though they have all the time in the world to unpack the things they want to say. Perhaps they do. Perhaps it only feels that way because of the easiness of conversation between them. They speak with the voices they’ve always spoken with. They speak, it seems, about everything: black art, whiteness, hip-hop, Jamaican folklore, Kaluuya’s breakthrough role in the horror film Get Out, his new role in this fall’s Queen & Slim, and James’s new fantasy novel, Black Leopard, Red Wolf. They don’t speak as if they’re pandering to certain rules that dictate what they should say or should sound like; instead, they speak as if the pressures of the worlds they navigate—as Booker Prize-winning novelist, as Oscar-nominated movie star—can’t encroach on the space and time they’ve carved out for themselves. Or perhaps they won’t allow them to. They speak with the easiness of two black men who do the work they want to do and say the things they want to say, and they speak virtually nonstop for over three hours. Most excitingly of all, they speak—honestly and openly—to each other.

Marlon James—My second novel was about slavery—this may be a pretty explosive way to begin the conversation—but when it came out, this white woman asked me, ‘Why did you write that book?’ And I said, ‘Well, you know, as a writer, and as someone who is conscious of my space, I think every now and then I should let you motherfuckers remember what you did to us.’ Then I said, ‘And now I’m going to get my favorite sound in the world—nervous white laughter. Don’t ask a stupid question like that again.’ It’s that ‘Why?’ question. Like, why are you asking someone why they make any form of art? They just make it. ‘Justify the existence of your art’… I’ve got something you need to justify.

Daniel Kaluuya—A lot of times, it’s because they’ve never been made to feel uncomfortable or adopt a different perspective, so the feeling jars them. It’s like a new sensation. So, they’re like, Oh shit! I had that with this play Misty, by a guy called Arinzé Kene. How it made certain middle-class liberals feel was fascinating, because you realize they had never been critiqued in the theater. He was like, ‘The people who are paying for this ticket, you’re the problem.’ And I realized, oh, you’ve felt like you’ve done your bit in a certain way and you’ve listened to a certain amount of Bashment [Jamaican dancehall music], so then you’re cool.

Marlon—Or as a kid, you watched Roots. That thing about discomfort can include everything, including Get Out. It’s Martin Luther King’s ‘Letter From Birmingham Jail,’ where you’re here for empathy and you may even be down with our struggle, but your drive to be heard, or your drive for rights, cannot encroach on my need for comfort. And that’s why when people talk about things like Black Lives Matter it’s like, Can you protest some other way? It’s sort of, I still privilege my comfort over your rights. One of the things I thought was really interesting about Get Out is how white viewers justify the girlfriend. It’s like, Oh, she must be a victim too. Oh, she’d just been brainwashed after all these years.

“How I speak is so inherently linked to who I am; I try to keep that consistent everywhere I go. Trying not to accommodate.”—Daniel Kaluuya

Daniel—And Jordan [Peele] used that. One thing that was really difficult to shoot was when he sees the pictures of her and the other black people that she’s been with. He goes downstairs, and he’s like, ‘Rose, give me the keys.’ That was all improvised. I was like, he must know who she is. She’s just revealed herself. And in every screening, when she said, ‘I’m not gonna give you the keys, baby’—[people] didn’t believe it when they saw it. So you assumed that she was the victim. So there were two realizations: the realization that confirmed the trap, but [also] an emotional confirmation.

Marlon—Your co-star was talking about it in an interview. They were like, ‘You must have been a victim in your own way.’ And she’s like, ‘No! I’m the damn villain.’

Queen & Slim is the kind of film that I really hope white people see, but it’s certainly not done for a white gaze. I have to tell you, that movie wrecked the crap out of me. I was ugly bawling. I didn’t care who was in the theater. I think in a very lazy way people are going to compare it to Thelma and Louise. I understand that comparison but it’s kind of lazy. The only movie I can think of is maybe Fruitvale Station. I don’t know if people realize just how many ordinary, normal lives are upended by police entering a situation and escalating it, bringing their racism and fears to it. When we talk about what happens in that movie, we tend to look at it too much as a cancer, and I don’t think people grasp it, particularly white people. I remember people were talking once about empathy, and I said, ‘I don’t give a shit about empathy.’ Empathy implies that you understand that regardless how famous I get, every day I walk out on the street I could get killed. What I want from people is not empathy—I don’t need you to walk in my shoes; I need you to understand me. I want sympathy, actually. The cool thing about a movie like Queen & Slim is not that it’s trying to get you to empathize because you can’t empathize. It’s trying to get you to understand, and that’s more powerful.

Daniel—That’s amazing to hear. I’m just really happy it connected to you. Someone close to me said it felt uninterrupted. So many things had to go right in terms of the history of black cinema for this film to happen in this way.

Marlon—The uninterrupted point is important—when I was watching it, I wasn’t just thinking of Thelma and Louise, I was also thinking of movies like Easy Rider, or The Passenger, where in spite of a lot going on, it’s almost as if the storyteller got out of the way—sometimes writers can get in the way of their own story. When you get to the ending you realize it couldn’t have ended any other way. I love the idea of uninterrupted—as in, just let this movie be this movie. In a lot of ways, it’s a road movie.

Daniel wears top, jacket, and necklace talent’s own

Daniel—That’s exactly what it is.

Marlon—I got the sense that every actor in this just felt, Let’s make this movie count.

Daniel—So I’ve been watching a lot of hood films recently—

Marlon—What films are you watching?

Daniel—Like Lottery Ticket, Drumline.

Marlon—You’re going black! You better make sure you also watch Booty Call.

Daniel—I’m going black, bro! Because I wanna understand myself. Spiritually, I think they made them for me. Because I was that brother: I weren’t a gangsta, but I weren’t a dick-head. I was just normal. It was just like, Oh, this is speaking to me. And I’m trying to think, Is this speaking to me because I’m starved, or is this just speaking to me?

Marlon—They invited me this year to do the J.R.R. Tolkien lecture—I might have been the first black person to do that—and one thing I mentioned to the audience, which was pretty much all white, is, ‘I don’t think you understand what it means when you take for granted seeing yourself. Or taking for granted something speaking to you.’ I was talking about mythologies. And Michael [B. Jordan] got into a lot of shit when he said, ‘We don’t have any black mythologies.’

Daniel—He got taken out of context, though, right?

“I do think there is some sort of performance of gratitude that is expected from me as a black writer.” — Marlon James

Marlon—Yeah, he was totally taken out of context. I was saying, ‘But let’s put it back in context for a little bit.’ For example, King Arthur is someone who nobody white thinks about a lot, but the whole notion that Britain was always civilized is because of King Arthur. Because honestly, they really were a bunch of fuck-anything-that-walks, can-barely-speak people. So the idea of King Arthur is crucial to the British mythology of ‘We were always civilized.’ But who thinks about it? You don’t have to think about it now because it’s already there, it’s set, and it’s in the ether. Robin Hood is crucial to think that ‘Oh, we always used to fight for what’s right.’ None of these people really existed, or maybe they did, but you can get to the point where you take your mythologies for granted. Now, somebody like me who had to go and research all that shit, it’s different because I didn’t have mythologies to take for granted. So seeing myself in something is still important, because I don’t reach a point where I can take it for granted that this is a black movie.

Daniel—Where do those things start from? I’m always fascinated why things resonate and why things are lost.

Marlon—I wonder if those two resonate because Britain got invaded a lot. And Britain, to an extent, got cultures imposed on them a lot. And it’s the same thing that’s fueling shit like Brexit. This idea there is this innate Britishness that was always perfect from the get-go and we need to get back to that. ‘Make Britain Great Again’ kind of shit.

Daniel—Did the Jamaican mythologies and folklore resonate with you growing up?

Marlon—No, I kind of just took them for granted. I also didn’t look at them as particularly sophisticated. You know, ‘Yes, rolling calf and blah blah blah, and duppy,’ [a Jamaican term for a malevolent spirit] but it’s not Zeus.

“The cool thing about a movie like Queen & Slim is not that it’s trying to get you to empathize…It’s trying to get you to understand, and that’s more powerful.”— Marlon James

Bridget Minamore—What about on a personal level? You’re trying to redefine mythologies… How are you defining yourself?

Marlon—I had some very personal reasons for writing [Black Leopard, Red Wolf]. It’s cool to say that I was searching for myself, but that wasn’t quite true. There are certain things I found, like, for example, queerness. And how a lot of African peoples deal with queerness. A lot of our peoples, some of them had 14 genders. I go to readings and I’m like, ‘Kudos on your plural pronouns. Africans have been doing that for 4,000 years.’ And I was talking to a friend of mine, Lola Shoneyin, she’s a novelist, and someone asked, ‘Do you think Africa will ever get to the point where they can accept gay people and blah, blah, blah?’ And she said, ‘Africa was ballin’ already, until a bunch of TV preachers from America told them that they weren’t.’ And it’s still the same. You know what I mean? I know some Nigerians old enough that they go, ‘Yeah, everybody know the two aunts at the end of the street.’ You know? And that blew my mind. I wasn’t looking for validation, but I found it.

Bridget—Do you think there will be—or maybe there is already—a reaction to you as successful black artists?

Marlon—I don’t know if I care.

Daniel—I think to an extent, yeah. I was speaking to Ryan [Coogler] when he was talking to me about Panther, because I did A Season in the Congo, which is about Lumumba and Mobutu and all that stuff. And I was like, ‘Oh, this is Katanga! This is the inverse of Katanga!’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, because when you have stuff, you have to hide it.’ I feel like I am a target if I say what I think. I get negativity thrown my way if I just actualize myself.

Coat by Ermenegildo Zegna XXX.

Bridget—Why do you think that?

Daniel—Because I think I’m a dark-skinned bruddah that looks quite normal, that is doing something. I think they look at me and they go, ‘What’s exceptional about him?’ That’s happened since I was a kid. If ever I showed that I’m smart, there’s some teacher like, ‘Pow, pow, go to Set Two.’ I think if there’s not a reaction, you just haven’t gone for something that they value.

Marlon—I do think there is some sort of performance of gratitude that is expected from me as a black writer. Somebody said, ‘Your book is very good,’ and I was like, ‘I know.’ Why would I put out a bad book? Remember Claudia Rankine’s article on Serena Williams? And she said the problem people have with Serena is Serena is too boastful. Serena celebrates her triumphs so much and screams about her defeats too much. This kind of, Where is the quiet dignity that I am expecting you to have?

Bridget—You both have to negotiate the things that you say, right? The way that you speak?

Daniel—I’ve had to make a conscious effort. How I speak is so inherently linked to who I am; I try to keep that consistent everywhere I go. Trying not to accommodate. It took me a long time to realize that I just have a dialect. It’s not slang, it’s a dialect. This is how I speak, and I don’t wanna change that. I think it’s important for me to be in public, speaking how I speak for the kids that look like me and are from where I’m from. I think that’s all I wanted as a kid: someone who spoke how I spoke. That’s why Akala is a big deal for me, even Russell Brand to a certain extent. Because they have their accents, but it doesn’t mean they don’t use big words. You can do both. Because we’re told that how I speak means ‘dumb.’

“There was a time in my life I sabotaged a lot of auditions. My mum had to step in, and I took a year and a half out of acting, because I was like, This industry is racist.”—Daniel Kaluuya

Marlon—Yeah, it’s code-switching, which I had to stop doing too. In Jamaica, if I speak Jamaican patois, it means ‘ignorance.’ Even now, Jamaicans say to me, ‘Aren’t you an English teacher? Why you writing a novel in patois?’ Even the idea of ‘broken English’ is one of the dumbest ideas. For example, in Jamaican patois, the verbs usually stay the same. It’s not ‘he went,’ it’s ‘him did go,’ ‘him soon go.’ It’s always present tense. And everyone would think that’s really backwards English. But if you look at a language like Wolof, Wolof stays in the present tense too!

Bridget—Is that self-belief something you’ve always had?

Daniel—I probably had to build on it in terms of my family dynamic. I’m the only boy, and I’m the youngest, but then they said, ‘You provide.’ I grew up with a lot of people who didn’t have dads. So a lot of things people would find corny, like motivational speakers, we were obsessed about. My boy was like, ‘You need to keep watching it, because the world doesn’t stop telling you you’re shit. You need to keep topping that up. You need to work on that like you work on gym.’ But my key was I didn’t have any expectation. I did not know what my life would be like after 16. So I went out there open. If I had a bit more rigidity, it would have taken longer to achieve what I’ve achieved. I’m blessed because my mum, English is her third language, so she didn’t have a kind of set English lifestyle for me that she wanted me to have. She just didn’t want me to be poor. And she wanted me to drive… Did you have self-belief issues? Oh, you mention it in your appearance on Desert Island Discs. You threw your book in the bin?

Marlon—Yeah, because nobody wanted to read it, and nobody wanted to buy it. It got rejected 78 times. I started writing fiction because I wanted something that was just me, writing for the sake of expressing myself. But when I tried to get people to appreciate it, it was rejected everywhere. And yeah, I threw it away. The story goes, someone came to Jamaica on a writing camp and wanted to see it and wouldn’t leave until I found it. I had to find it on an old laptop, in an old email outbox. But my second novel was rejected too. It got published, but every other publisher turned it down. So it’s not like everything was smooth sailing after the first one.

Daniel—When it got published, the first book, did you interrogate that part of you that gave up?

Marlon—No, I didn’t interrogate it. One, you should never throw away your stuff. It don’t matter if it’s good or bad, it came from you, it is you; don’t throw it away. But it makes you think of certain questions that a lot of people don’t get to think of. Like, if 100 people say this isn’t good, can 100 people be wrong? Yeah. Turns out they can be wrong. This reminds me of this profile of me, and the [writer] said something like, ‘He’s a star who’s acting like he’s still an underdog.’ And I was like, how many black people have you interviewed? Beyoncé is an underdog. Michelle Obama is an underdog. I don’t go around expecting enemies on every corner, or you end up paranoid. But my eyes are always open, and I’m pretty astute at picking up bullshit. Honestly, there are some mistakes that Taylor Swift will get to make that Beyoncé won’t. Even Michelle Obama knows there’s some shit Barbara Bush can do that she can’t. It’s that awareness. You have to keep recognizing that this game is played by certain rules.

Daniel—There was a time in my life I sabotaged a lot of auditions. My mum had to step in, and I took a year and a half out of acting, because I was like, This industry is racist. But I was more angry at myself because I believed their brand of meritocracy. I believed that if I worked hard, ticked all the boxes, things would change. I was looking at people who worked a tenth as hard as I worked, and they were cutting through. And I was like, Yo, this is bullshit. I was really angry.

Marlon—I was angry too. I wrote this blog called ‘When you’re not white enough to write a black novel.’ One of the things I was going to do was send out the same novel and put my friend Gerard’s picture on it, and they’d talk about the feat of cultural ventriloquism: Look at this white guy talking about this black village. I almost did it; I didn’t do it.

Bridget—I feel like British people find it more abrasive— you just talking how you talk—than Americans, but maybe I’m wrong.

Daniel—It’s fascinating, my accent means different things. In England, my accent means, ‘What are you doing here? Why are you not playing the game? You’re not smart.’ They aren’t hearing what I’m saying and not seeing what I’m doing. They’re still engaged like I’m less than them. In America, I’m smart. I’m British, so there’s a certain level of… I hear things that my African-American friends don’t hear. I’m navigating an intersection of conflict, which is the diasporic conflict, but also British-American conflict, which is inherent within American culture. When people hear me here, they go, ‘He’s real, he’s seen some shit.’ When I go to America, ‘He’s privileged. Black British accent? Drama school.’ I couldn’t afford to go to drama school.

“It’s not that we’re excluding white people, it’s that they are appreciating black art on black terms.”—Marlon James

Marlon—You’re not classically trained? What the fuck?

Daniel—I’m not. Letitia Wright is not. John Boyega is not, Damson Idris is not. But because that is believed, we didn’t have to accept and navigate it. I’m very used to not being seen. The end of the day, I thrive off being low-key.

Marlon—But do you have anonymity anymore?

Daniel—It’s not about anonymity. They can’t see who I am because [of] their perceptions of what I am. I’m free, then.

Bridget—Do you feel like you’re seen, Marlon?

Marlon—Seen, but not understood. When I’m being more anonymous, like in Minnesota, I’m ‘big black man.’ Remember, where I live is where Philando Castile got shot. Where the cop murdered him. And he wasn’t that much removed from me. I said to somebody, ‘I don’t know how to be in this city.’ I don’t know if I should stand up and get shot, sit down and get shot, reach for my ID and get shot, speak in my posh accent and get shot, turn around and get shot, walk there and get shot, look at you and get shot. You know, challenge something you said and get shot, or just be over there and get shot. I can’t even freeze, because if I freeze I’ll get shot. And I mean, there are times I’d play with it. I would go, ‘Hey, white America, know that thing where y’all don’t sit near the black guy on the train? I’m good! I’m cool with that!’ I’ve found that there are times that I don’t know how to be in a space. And there are times when I fall back on shit like privilege, like artistic privilege. Like, when I show up at the front door, what I get is ‘I don’t know him, but he might be famous and I don’t want to end up on Twitter doing something racist. So I’m gonna let him in.’ My entire club years, people thought I was Wyclef.

Bridget—To be book famous is very different to being film famous.

Marlon—Definitely different, yes.

Coat by Ermenegildo Zegna XXX. Pins Daniel’s own.

Daniel—Yeah, my life changed, bro. I was in Atlanta when Get Out came out. I was in the blackest city in America! I remember I was at this bowling alley just chilling and being normal. I will go to any country and I will just be local. But I can’t do that anymore. I was riding around, and Lupita [Nyong’o] pulled me out of the car and she was like, ‘You don’t know that you’re famous yet. And I’m here to educate you.’ It actually got into a kind of rut, because I realized a lot of my identity was wrapped into how I live my life and that had changed. So, does that mean I have changed? Or, what am I changing into? It was very weird because I thought that New York was a place where no one cares. Then I rolled out! That film? People fucking care. And London was a different level. There is a lot projected on me in London.


Daniel—Because I represent something. I believe I represent hope, to an extent. A hopefulness. Women hug me and walk away. People come up to me crying. Not in a Michael Jackson way, but in a very intimate way. Anonymity? I’ve lost that. It’s a shame, because I loved it, but it’s just a mood kill. Because you have to be very aware of what you are getting your friends into. If I take one picture, I’m taking every picture. You’re a Pokémon. Everyone just wants to catch you. I realized I’m open for the conversation, but that is gone. I was on the train a few weeks ago, chilling, and obviously I’ve got hood paranoia anyway. So I scan the room differently. I’m on the train and I see this brother going like that [mimics taking a covert picture], and he failed. So I’m clocking, but he ain’t clocked that I clocked. He tried again, and I just went like that [holds up his middle finger]. Then I go, ‘Big man, if you want a picture, ask man.’ He goes, ‘I’m doing it for my kid,’ and I’m like, ‘Okay, ask man, if it’s for your kid.’ I have to be careful, because I’ve been raised as a very proud black man. And I’m like, ‘You’re trying to mug man.’ These interactions, it’s actually not safe.

Marlon—I think sometimes you just have to refuse it. You can see what happens when you become your projections. You become this kind of commodity, become this kind of monster. Because that’s all you are.

Bridget—How do you avoid that?

Marlon—For me, part of that is my best friends when I was 16 are some of my best friends now. And I’m almost 50. But a lot of people don’t have it, man—you have to enter this with a sense of self already.

Daniel—Boom, yeah. Something that my friend said…in our industry, the concept of office is fluid. That’s how you can lose your sense of self. He was saying he was going to places, and he was getting this treatment, that treatment. But that’s the office. You’ve got to make an active effort to do you.

“It’s not about anonymity. They can’t see who I am because [of] their perceptions of what I am. I’m free, then.”—Daniel Kaluuya

Marlon—I think because I enjoy work, I don’t think it’s work. ‘I’m in all of these countries, it’s so great, man,’ but no, that’s work.

Daniel—It’s amazing work.

Marlon—Yeah, I love writing books. It’s work. It reminds me of my third novel. The way a room would change when they realized I didn’t grow up in the ghetto, so it’s not reportage, and then they would go, ‘How did you arrive, then, at writing a story about Bob Marley growing up in the slums?’ And I go, ‘You mean talent and imagination?’ And it’s like, ‘Did you go and ask some white writer what they know about the Irish potato famine?’ It’s funny, I wrote a whole article about my issues with ‘The Blacker the Berry.’ I was saying, ‘Damn, Kendrick [Lamar], you were with me until the third verse.’ And I go into the whole history of bootstrapping, but then I go, Why do I think this is Kendrick’s opinion? Why can’t Kendrick be a poet?

Daniel—Yes, a hundred percent.

Marlon—Rapping about Gucci is part of it too. Somebody said, ‘Elegance is the ultimate black rebellion.’ ’Cause people don’t expect you to own a tux.

Bridget—Do you feel elegant?

Marlon—Who, me? Well, yeah. That Killer Mike song, ‘you’re witnessing elegance in the form of a black elephant.’

Daniel—I do feel elegant, because NSG has a song called ‘OT Bop.’ And there is a line that goes, ‘tracksuit drop with the elegant kicks.’ Ayyyy! When he said that, I’m like, I don’t know what elegant kicks are, what is he saying? What’s elegant kicks, cuz? Bro, that spoke to my fucking soul. I was like, that’s rebellion, bro.

Bridget—You both used musical references to reply to me; that’s interesting.

Marlon—I still want to be a musician, I just have no talent.

Daniel—It’s funny, people put this pressure on black musicians, like your art is always supposed to make people think. I’m like, yo, there’s some people—Migos. Migos make songs, and you move. You don’t even know, you’re just moving. That’s talent. To make somebody move because of an ad-lib? You’re doing something. We’re allowed to have fun, bro.

Bridget—When I knew I was going to chat with you two, the thing that surprised me is it made sense. On paper you’re doing very different things, you’re in very different worlds. It can’t be as simple as you’re both just black artists…but maybe it can? I’m wondering if there is a sense of kinship?

Daniel—Yeah, because I saw you at the Being a Man Festival at Southbank, talking about hip-hop. I was like, Oh, Jamaican bruddah won a Man Booker, yeah? Oh, it must have been one of them uppity mans. I sent to the Whatsapp group, and then I see you and I was like, Rah, he’s a normal brother.

Marlon—It’s a special time. I think there are two things happening. There are a lot of black artists asking similar questions. Whether it’s Queen & Slim or it’s Get Out or it’s my book or Colson Whitehead’s book…this sort of instability, this sort of shifting off, this Boris-and-Trump-are-fucking-with-us kind of thing. I also think it’s been a while that black artists can get to a certain point and still be black. For example, Lemonade would not have fucking happened in 1996. It sure as hell wouldn’t have happened in 1986, not even from a female rapper. It certainly wouldn’t happen in 1976. An R&B record by the world’s biggest pop star that said, I’m not going for the white gaze? And I think it’s not that we’re excluding white people, it’s that they are appreciating Black art on black terms. This is one of the things I’ve always loved about hip-hop. It’s black art that got all the way to the top staying black, and I don’t think people understand that. Because when rock-n-roll got to the top, people saw Elvis. And I’m not knocking, I actually quite like Elvis. And I think a lot of people are making art and being successful where the only gaze they’re concerned about is whatever is looking at them in the mirror.

Daniel— What do you think that shift was?

Marlon—God, I’m still trying to figure that out. I think one is that we are still on our own. I think one is also a sense of sustainability. People knock Tyler Perry, and I got a day’s worth of issues with him, but the idea that his market can sustain him, I still think is radical. People are like, ‘Oh, it’s Blaxploitation.’ No, it’s not like that. It’s not necessarily pandering either. It’s realizing that when you make things for the white gaze, you are at the mercy of falling down completely when they stop gazing. Because you can’t turn around and go, I’ll just go back to my peoples. Ask Bill Cosby how that worked out. It’s not locking out white people; lots of white people love Get Out. But it’s also not pandering to it, and I think there’s a difference.

“The idea of King Arthur is crucial to the British mythology… I didn’t have mythologies to take for granted.” —Marlon James

Daniel—It’s not sustainable. I mean, I wrestle with that. I started acting when I was 13, like, I don’t know if I can do this until I’m old. But I think that’s something a lot of artists think, Can I keep up? I can’t keep up pandering.

Bridget—You’re saying you don’t pander, but do you do what you want?

Marlon—Yeah, but I’m almost 50, so it took a while to get to that point. I mean, I certainly don’t do what I don’t want. ’Cause I already did that, I already did the compromised life and the compromised career. And it didn’t get me anywhere, other than accumulate shit. I mean, I write the books I want to write. I remember I was telling my agent, ‘I’m thinking black fantasy…there are no white people in it.’ And they were like, ‘Okaaaay.’ But I also don’t think it’s an end point. I actually think doing nothing is an art too.

Daniel—The only thing that helps me think about that is if it’s not ‘fuck yeah,’ it’s a ‘no.’ That’s the only shit that keeps me going, ’cause I feel like every fucking decision is like, Who am I?

Bridget—So this conversation was a fuck yeah?

Daniel—Yeah, it was a fuck yeah. You just say no more, ’cause if I said yes to some other thing, I wouldn’t be free. Do you know what I’m saying? And this enriches me.

Marlon—Everybody say fuck yeah.

Groomer Joanna Williams. Photo Assistant Matthew Healy. On-set dresser: Flora Huddart. Special thanks to Corinthia Hotel, London.