“It wasn’t on my radar at all,” proclaims Marsha Stephanie Blake about her surprise Emmy nomination for “When They See Us.” Blake could not believe the news when she found out, thinking it might have been a mistake. “I thought [show creator] Ava [Duvernay] had accidentally texted me and I was like ‘oh no she made a mistake and she’s going to realize she made a mistake and it’s going to be so mortifying’,” the actress laughs. Watch our exclusive video interview with Blake above.
“I’ve been an actor for about 20 years,” Blake says. “It’s just so nice to receive this kind of recognition; but also for the Five, and the mother that I play Linda McCray, it means everything to me that people are recognizing their story as worthy of being told, that people are giving them the kind of love that they deserve and that has eluded them all these years.”
“When They See Us” is the devastating true story of the notorious Central Park Five case, in which five teenagers (now known as the Exonerated Five) were falsely accused of raping a female jogger in 1989. The boys were interrogated by police for hours alone and were coerced into making false confessions, in what is one of the most egregious miscarriages of justice in recent US history. Eventually exonerated in 2002 after years of incarceration, they were finally awarded a $41 million payout in 2014. The series shines a light on the infamous case and how it impacted the lives of these boys, their families and their communities.
In in the series, Blake plays Linda McCray, the mother of Antron McCray (played by Caleel Harris as a boy and Jovan Adepo as an adult), one of the five wrongfully accused boys. Blake admits that playing McCray was challenging, not only because of the highly charged subject matter, but because she was so focused on playing McCray authentically. “There’s a huge burden that you carry with you knowing that you’re playing a real person that people know,” she explains.
“I was honored but I was scared. For me, the most important moment, even more important than the Emmy nomination was when Antron came up to me after he had seen it,” Blake recalls. “I saw him at an event in New York and he came up to me, and he’s not a very touchy-feely person, he’s reserved, and he came up to me and gave me a big hug and he had tears in his eyes and he kept looking at me, like pulling away from me and looking at my face and then hugging me and then pulling back and looking at me and he just said ‘my gosh, you were my mom, you played my mom so well, you look like her, you sound like her,’ and I just started crying. Of course, I’m about to start crying now. That meant so much to me.”
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