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Vivian Oparah talks Rye Lane

7 min read

follows two youngsters reeling from bad breakups who connect over an eventful day in South-London. Our five star review calls it “A joy of a film.”

It features a breakout, star-making performance from lead actress . FILMHOUNDS sat down with the actress at to discuss the film and the character of Yas.

What first attracted you to the project? Did you get the script? How did Raine pitch this to you? 

Well, I got the script through in my emails and my agent was like “I think you're gonna love this one”. So I read the script and I was like, this is so funny. And then I looked at the character and was like, “Who are you? And why are you?” because she is quite different from me. She was just so unapologetically messy. Confident but like clearly painfully insecure and impulsive and curious. And I was just like, she's like a lot on the page. By the time I finished it, I was so endeared towards her, and I just loved her. And then I checked out Raine's work. My favourite type of creators are worldbuilders and she is one. I can see it from her work. And I was like, “Yeah, I really want to get this job”..

So the casting process. What was that like? Was it a series of different screen tests, with different actors for Raine to find her Yas and Dom?

Yeah, I've been asking that a lot recently “Why did you choose me?” because I'm really awkward (laughs). So I did a self-tape, and then the project got put on hold because of COVID. When they restarted I got invited to go into the room. And Raine was just like, “You know when you left the room, me and Carmel (the casting director) looked at each other and were like “That's Yas.” Then she said that they were really scared because they were like, they loved David and is it going to work together? So then, I had a chemistry read. Initially, I was paired with another guy, and you know, you start to root for that person to spend more time with them. And so I was like, “Man, he's really good, he was great”. And then I got David straight after and I was like, “My nemesis.” Then we started and I was, “Oh, my God, he's so good.” The world that he created for Dom really complimented the world that I'd created for Yas. It was almost like we'd sat down and done the work together. We had to improv and I was being, honestly, outrageous, because I was like, yeah, you just never know what she's gonna do next. I'm gonna have to throw loads of that at him. But he would just bat it right back and we just had this crazy, like a tennis match. It was so fun. And afterward, we look over to Raine and I was like, yeah, maybe it's us.

You said there that you both individually worked on backstories for the characters. So that wasn't all in the script…

Yeah, you just kind of have to do that yourself to make them real…

So how much of yourself did you put into Yas? Did you draw on any real-life relationships or memorable breakup moments that made it into the film?

I definitely share her whimsicality and curiosity for the world. I think it just manifests in very, very different ways. For me, I will go away and make stuff. Like I make music. So I can go and make a song or something like that. But Yas, she learns in real-time. She is everything in real-time. She makes decisions in real-time, she has a thought, and it comes out of my mouth straight away. I'm not like that. And I think I'm quite private about my mess, and she just doesn't care. I feel like it was super cathartic to make that climb to become that person because I feel like women, especially black women, in film are usually like, very strong. We have our shit together. We're never bad. We're super redeemable, and reliable, and she's just a bit of a dip. But she's so sweet and innocent, almost childlike. We both love music, I guess, that sort of crossed over. But I wouldn't break in to get a vinyl, no way. Because I am too prideful. Yas has no shame. I would never want someone to know I cared that much because it would just make me feel sick (laughs).

Rye Lane

It is clear that Yas and Dom have this amazing chemistry. Was there much of a rehearsal period for you and David to work on that or did you build that as you went through the shoot, similar to the way they do across that day?

It was really meta because we [David and I] were becoming friends as they were becoming friends, well they were becoming more than friends. We had about a week of rehearsal, as it is such a dialogue-heavy film but nothing intense. Also, I think it was important that it still felt new. So again, there was a lot of improv and play and just understanding each other's characters and understanding our own characters. Raine gives a lot of freedom to everyone that she works for. She's so great. There's just no ego on set and no ego that she brings. So everyone can play and add as they see fit.

So when it comes to shooting on the streets of London, was it a logistical nightmare? This is very similar to Before Sunrise — Before Sun-Rye if you will, a lot of walking and talking. Was it difficult to get takes done without interruption? Or did you get a lot of goodwill from the communities in which you shot?

For Yas, it was a joy because she is such a super curious character. And so to have such an active environment, it was like endless, endless fodder for her to interact with. And I think with the film being situated on the same day for the majority of the shoot, that could have been a chance it got stale, but because the environment was constantly moving and evolving and changing and interrupting, it gave us so much. For Raine as well, she was distilling her curiosity for and how it would present itself in the film. Something would happen, like we'd see a man in the window, like smoking a huge blunt or whatever, like, and then she'd be, “I want that in the film.” Because she's just trying to honestly and truthfully depict stuff. So it was a joy more than anything, for sure.

The film certainly shows a different side, one that hasn't been represented as much as it should have on screen. How important for everyone was it to actually be in these places on location? As opposed to having that stereotypical London? A montage of famous landmarks to the sounds of London Calling by The Clash and then all shot on a soundstage somewhere.

I think that the heart of the film is South London, and Raine is writing a love letter to South London. So it would have been really disingenuous if we were like, South London's great but actually gonna shoot somewhere else. It would have been really weird. So yeah, it was super important, I mean it was tough. It was a six-week shoot but that's credit to Raine, bringing on board an incredible creative team that we're able to weather these sorts of challenges and embrace them as well.

So how was it taking this little film from South London and going to Sundance? Did you sit in and watch the film with the audience?

I felt like my head was gonna explode. Literally, because we were on the streets of Peckham and now we're in this wintry wonderland watching it with 400 Americans who might not understand it. David and I sat there, like, “This could be so awful.” But they loved it. They were so vocal. And so there with all the characters. Yeah, it was surreal. I think me and David tried to keep it cool and keep it under wraps. We'd send each other a text. Like “What the hell is going on?” Being in the room like that both of us were almost in tears because it was so overwhelming with the love and positivity. It was so crazy. And also as two cinephiles, being at Sundance was nuts. Being there with your first feature film was insane.

Like Yas you are forced to do karaoke, what is your go-to song of choice? You've said you're into music so you must have one or two up your sleeve.

If I was absolutely forced. I like producing, I like writing… not performing in front of people… which I know is weird given I'm an actress. I guess, just given that I know all the words, probably Misery Business by Paramore. Either that or my London national anthem, Talkin The Hardest by Giggs. What about you?

Also because I still know all the words, Boom Shake The Room by The Fresh Prince and DJ Jazzy Jeff…

I would literally pay 1000s of pounds to watch that. That would be so funny. That's crazy.

Rye Lane is in cinemas from March 17th.