Home Film Eugene Ashe on Crafting the Aesthetics of ‘Sylvie’s Love’ – Exclusive Interview

Eugene Ashe on Crafting the Aesthetics of ‘Sylvie’s Love’ – Exclusive Interview

by A. Felicia Wade
Tessa Thompson in front of a black and white TV as seen in 'Sylvie's Love' directed by Eugune Ashe.

The latest Prime Video holiday release takes on Old Hollywood with a revisionist spin. Sylvie’s Love premiered earlier this year at Sundance when the state of movie theaters looked a lot different. With all that considered, this film centered on Black love and joy is just what we needed in dark times. Sylvie’s Love is a gorgeous period drama that takes place in the late 50s in Harlem. We follow Sylvie (Tessa Thompson) as she helps out her father’s record shop one summer and meets the charming saxophonist Robert (Nnamdi Asomugha). Their lives intertwine through jazz and dreams of being something more. Writer-Director Eugene Ashe was formerly a Sony Music recording artist from Harlem, New York. This is his second feature produced through his production company Seven Letter Word Films. Naturally, Ashe marries his love of music and film in Sylvie’s Love.

Thompson shines as Sylvie, fully embodying the character and time period. The chemistry between her and Asomugha mirror that of past great love epics. The captivating costumes, timeless production design, and elegant score transport you immediately. Most films set in this time period for Black characters tend to focus on the Civil Rights Movement. Instead, this filmmaker wanted to center his story around Black life in a more glamorous way. We were fortunate to talk to the Eugene Ashe about his inspirations for the film. Ashe also gave us a hint on what he’s working on next.

Tessa Thompson, Nnamdi Asomugha, Eugene Ashe, and on the set of Sylvie's Love
Tessa Thompson, Nnamdi Asomugha, Eugene Ashe, and Erica Gimpel on the set of ‘Sylvie’s Love’ courtesy of Amazon

To start off, I felt like I was watching an old Audrey Hepburn picture. What inspired you to set the film during the Golden Age of Hollywood?

EA: Well, I too am a fan of Breakfast at Tiffany’s and all of those movies, like That Touch of Mink and things like that. They’re so glamorous and I love the way that people look in those films. What always struck me, though, is that I never really saw black people in those films. Now, looking at old pictures of my family and of my mother, she looked just like that and dressed like that. And looking at the albums she used to listen to, like Nancy Wilson, who opens the movie with her song. Nancy Wilson looks like that as well on her album covers. So I knew this was telling a very different story of Black life during the 60s than what I had seen from those movies I love.

Absolutely, a love story told from this perspective is so refreshing. And I just felt like, why haven’t we had more films like this? It felt like such a long time coming. What great love stories were you influenced by?

I love The Way We Were, of course. Mahogany is another one that I love. What I was most struck by is this kind of classic chemistry between Robert Redford and Barbra Streisand or Billy Dee Williams and Diane Carroll. I wanted to really kind of recreate that. I felt like I hadn’t seen them in a while. I really like The Notebook, but it didn’t really influence my work because I was telling a different story. But at the same time, I like that classic Hollywood chemistry. Even Richard Gere and Julia Roberts had a little bit of that. However, Pretty Woman is more of a romantic comedy, but I haven’t seen a romantic drama in a very long time. So I was trying to really replicate that type of chemistry, and I think Nnamdi and Tessa did it quite well.

Nnamdi and Tessa had such great chemistry. What was it like collaborating with them and the rest of the cast?

It was fantastic, really. You know, I started with casting people who were really great at what they do, and I was able to let them just play. Of course because it’s a period piece, improvisation was more about the emotion and less about improv. They really had to stick to the words because they’re so period specific, you know? So you didn’t want to lose character by having people say things that were too modern. There wasn’t a lot of room to deviate from the language of the script. But there was a lot of room to figure out emotionally how to get there, and they all did it very well. But it’s great collaborating. Look, everybody likes to play dress up, you know? So everyone, the men and the women loved putting on those clothes, and their whole posture changed when they put them on. They started to act that way. It was really beautiful to see. Honestly, at some points when I had all the cars on the street and an entire street on lockdown and everybody had those clothes on, it just felt like I was actually in the 60s making a movie.

Tessa Thompson sitting on the sidewalk in front of an old vintage record store as seen in Sylvie's Love.
Tessa Thompson in ‘Sylvie’s Love’ courtesy of Amazon

It definitely feels like such an authentic story. The costumes were gorgeous. It felt like this movie came out in the sixties. Now you have a musical background and music is so important in the story and woven throughout. How did you go about choosing the music for this?

A lot of the songs and the songs that I grew up on, I mean that my parents were listening to when I was growing up. At that time, they weren’t songs that interested me as much as popular music because I was young. But as I got older and I inherited my parents’ record collections and started listening, I really gained an appreciation for that type of music, especially since I was a musician myself. I just found it very nostalgic and romantic. Often, when I would watch movies like a Breakfast at Tiffany’s, some of them would have the same type of music playing. I just really found the whole thing very fascinating. And how music can be this anchor for you for a time. You know, often I think back to a time in my life, and it’s always a song that was playing. Which is like how Mona is always asking Sylvie that question. What is your favorite song for this moment? Favorite song from High School? Because music does anchor our lives like that.

Lastly, do you see more period films in your future?

Actually, the next one I’m working on is also set in the past, in 1871. So I like doing period films. I like recreating worlds from the past. And I like telling stories that I think we didn’t get to tell in the past, so I’d like to kind of go back and make all the movies that never got made.

Sylvie’s Love is now available on Prime Video

Our ★★★★1/2 review of Sylvie’s Love!

Follow writer A. Felicia Wade on Twitter: @becomingfelicia

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