The Oberlin Review

Off the Cuff: Thais Francis, Actor, Writer and Producer

Photo by Courtesy of Thais Francis

Photo by Courtesy of Thais Francis

Tyler Sloan, News Editor

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Thais Francis is an actor, dancer, singer, writer, producer and instrumentalist who recently released a short film called Late Expectations. Originally from Trinidad and Tobago, Francis grew up in suburban Maryland before graduating from the Tisch School of Arts at New York University with an acting degree. Francis has performed at the Historic Warner Theater in Washington, D.C., Radio City Music Hall and Yankee Stadium in New York City. A recipient of the NYU Nia Award for Lorraine Hansberry Arts, Performance, and Media, Francis was named as one of the 25 Top Innovators Under 25 in America by The Root magazine. The Review sat down with Francis to talk about her latest project, Late Expectations, which was screened at Wilder Hall on Tuesday night with a question and answer session after.

Where did you draw your inspiration for the film?

I drew my inspiration for the film from seeing people meet everybody else’s expectations and denying their own. I really like looking at Instagram and seeing all these perfect filters and stuff, and I was like, “Well, what’s the real story behind that?” I also wanted to show a story of queer love.

Can you talk about what it was like to star, write and produce your own short film?

I co-produced it with two other individuals that were awesome, and they made the process not as hectic as it could have been, but

to write and star in it, for me, was just the natural thing to do. I don’t know anything else, I’ve always written and starred in my own work. I’ve done other people’s work too, but this was a natural thing for me right now — to write and star in my stuff. So it’s hectic, it takes a lot of work, but it’s a gratifying feeling when it’s done.

What was the first role that you wrote for yourself ?

Well, actually, I wrote a play and I starred as [the protagonist], but I didn’t mean to star as her. I just had to tell this story and needed actors. But this is actually the first role that I have ever written with myself in mind. I was just like, “I’m going to do this.”

Did writing Late Expectations with yourself in mind for the role of India change your writing process at all?

No, no. Because it’s more about telling the story. I think maybe what can happen is like, “Make sure they get me in my good light,” or “Let me write it this way because they can hear me sing at this point.” But it’s like no, if I write a story it has to stay with the character. And I, as the person and the actor, have to believe what is being told by that person and at that time. But I’m not going to write something where she’s an opera singer and knows Shakespeare sonnets because it has to be true to something I can do because I’m starring in it.

Do you see parts of yourself reflected in your character?

Yeah, in the story she got into Brown University, which is what I wanted to do but never could do. Her boyfriend has dreadlocks, which goes along with the aesthetic of my life.

Which is your favorite out of writing, producing and acting?

I love acting. That’s what I’m here for, to be seen. But I really enjoy writing, too. But if I could choose to write or to act, I would probably act.

What was the most challenging part about making this film with a small budget?

Getting favors and getting people to do stuff for me for free — that was the biggest challenge. But what I’m discovering is when people believe in the work, they’ll do it. Because as much as we say we’re busy and we don’t work for free, we’re all human beings with time, sometimes, and we can do things. And that’s something that’s stuck with me. A lot of people came on board when they didn’t have to, and so I remember those things. We remember these things.

What’s next for you?

I have a show that’s going up next week, a play called Outcry, based off of the lives of Trayvon Martin, Emmett Till, Amadou Diallo, Sean Bell and Nicole Bell. It’s going up in St. Croix, which is where I’m currently doing an artist residency. I’m working on a feature. Hopefully next month I’ll be shooting another short that I plan to direct. And writing more films, and doing them, and being an actor, and living life and not succumbing to pressures of societal norms of routine and banality in order to create an income and conundrum for the rest of my life.

What drew you to do the residency in St. Croix?

Well, I got the artist residency, but I love St. Croix. I had never been there prior to the residency, so when I got there was when I fell in love with it. It’s an untapped place. Tourists know about it, but it’s not the most popular [island]. The beaches are beautiful, there are rain forests, really awesome people. I feel good there. I love it.

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