Brightening up the screen and bringing welcome depth to a role that might otherwise be overshadowed by the film’s elaborate vampire mythology, Day Shift feels like the perfect film to spotlight the consistently good work that Meagan Good has done as an actor for almost 30 years. After slowly working her way up from being an extra to playing parts both small and large in a series of seminal films about Black lives, from incisive dramas to gruesome thrillers to effervescent comedies, Good has built a journeyman’s career on a foundation of talent, hard work, and natural charisma.
To commemorate the release of Day Shift, The A.V. Club spoke to Good about her work in the new action-comedy opposite Jamie Foxx, as well as a number of the roles she’s played since she got her first big break as Girl #2 in F. Gary Gray’s comedy classic Friday. From Eve’s Bayou to the upcoming Shazam! Fury Of The Gods, she spotlights how each of these parts allowed her to develop a new skill set, test her versatility, or fulfill a particular creative or professional ambition.
The A.V. Club: Your character is very much the voice of responsibility in this wild buddy cop vampire movie. What work did you do to create a character you understood well or was interesting to explore?
Meagan Good: For me, the appeal was Joss being a mother and being a badass and showing that at any stage in your life, you can still continue to be strong, continue to be nurturing, continue to be feminine. But because I don’t have any children yet, it was really figuring out what is this relationship between the two of them and how they connect—the components of that relationship. And then also the relationship between my character and Jamie’s character; what was it exactly that went wrong? When did they fall in love? What feeling [do they have] that they still love each other now? And so it really was just about building the fullness of who Joss is and her strengths and weaknesses, her fears and all of that.
AVC: The movie has this unique, cheeky tone, but also this real intensity to it. Where do you get guidance from to navigate how seriously to take your role?
MG: A lot of it is just the script. You get a feel for what the energy and the comedy is, and what needs to be grounded. And then as you go along, you’re kind of figuring out the full tone of the movie as we play with each other. I think that we figured it out quite quickly. And a huge part of that is in part to Jamie, to J. J., and how the characters are written on the page. And then that stayed consistent in the film.
AVC: Two of the earliest film roles you had were in Friday and Eve’s Bayou—two seminal Black films in dramatically different ways. How did they set the tone for the choices you wanted to make going forward?
MG: I started young, doing Barbie and Pringles commercials and doing extra work until I had a line or two or three, or then two or three scenes. I literally just worked my way up from the bottom. With Friday, it was “let me just get a speaking role on camera.” And it was so exciting to me to be Girl #2, and I remember I actually forgot my line four times. Chris was like, “You have got to get this line!” But it was F. Gary Gray’s first film. He was 25. It was a make-or-break vehicle for him, and I was just really nervous.
I knew that I liked comedy, but I always felt more comfortable in drama. And originally with Eve’s Bayou, I did the table read when I was 10 and I played Eve, and then as they were searching for funding for the movie, a few years passed by and by the time it was up and running, I was like, “I have to be Cicely.” By then I was 14, and [I felt] I hadn’t got a chance to show what I can do as an actor. So it was an opportunity to really stake my claim and say, I’m here and I want to do great work and continue to grow. So both of those films, I can’t say that they massively impacted what kind of films I wanted to do, but as I was growing as a woman and ultimately getting to my twenties and playing a lot of the girlfriend [roles] or the love interest, one of the things that allowed me to get out of that box was that people could call back to Eve’s Bayou. It became a tool for me to say, this is my roots, and now I want to branch into something else and I’m capable of doing it.
AVC: Actresses can sometimes shoulder a bit of a thankless job to be “the love interest.” But what work do you tend to do to make those roles interesting for you?
MG: I think even with Joss, J.J. and I sat down and he was like, “I don’t want you to be the damsel in distress. I want to create the moments for her that are specific to her personality and her character and how she would handle things.” And so we created those moments. I think that because J.J. has a little girl who is training and can do all these really cool things, I think he sees her as the sky’s not even the limit, so I think he wanted to build that into Zion’s character and my character and make us tough and kind of limitless. But every time I have played the love interest or girlfriend, I find a way to make sure that this is a real, fully formed person. I try to find whatever complexity there can be—whether she’s insecure because she went through something when she was younger, or she’s afraid of love because of her experiences—to find little gems in that person’s story. Even if the movie isn’t about that, it brings a nuance to who this person is and it makes her quirky or interesting.
AVC: Max defies a lot of the typecasting that you were dealing with in other films at that time. What was director Angela Robinson like, and how much was that role a little bit of an oasis among those other roles that were maybe less diverse than you might have liked?
MG: Angela is incredible, and her vision was so specific. She knew exactly what she wanted to do, and she knew exactly who each character was, and allowed us to build upon that base. So it definitely was an oasis for me because it wasn’t about anybody having a crush or anything like that. It was about Max being a leader and protecting her squad and her really wanting to [pull off] this perfect score and be the absolute best. Of course, I built in a backstory for why that’s important to her. But it was fun to play Max and to figure out not just her singular motivation, but like the motivation behind each thing—why doesn’t she want Amy to be with Lucy Diamond? It was fun for me to do something completely outside the box, and I loved the action space. We got to fight and train and shoot guns and all that stuff, so it was a pretty cool movie experience.
AVC: Rian Johnson is such a unique creative force. Can you talk about what that experience was like playing Kara?
MG: As soon as I read the script, I was like, “What is this language? This is so cool.” Kara didn’t have a ton of scenes, but she really stuck out and she was kind of the oracle of the film in a way, who had the information—if you went to her, she would point you in the right direction. Originally when they tested the movie, they were running long, and they had taken my character out. But people really liked the character, so they put it back in. But Rian is just so smart. I think he took seven years to write that script, and he’s so specific about the world and what this language is and each of these characters, how they breathe. I had never done anything like that, but the character was special and I felt like I had to find a way to make her interesting and mysterious, for the audience to wonder, what is she on? Is she doing this on purpose? And so it was fun for me to really explore her and also just to work with Rian and Joseph [Gordon-Levitt] and Noah [Segan].
You Got Served (2004)—“Beautifull” / Roll Bounce (2005)—“Naomi Phillips” / Stomp The Yard (2007)—“April Palmer”
AVC: Stomp The Yard is a dance movie that also explores the Black academic experience. During a similar time, you were in You Got Served and in Roll Bounce. You weren’t really in the middle of the action. Was there a sense of envy that you did not get to do some of that fun choreography?
MG: I was very thankful that I didn’t have to do the choreography [Laughs]. That is not my strong suit. But I loved being a part of these movies. You Got Served, originally I was not supposed to do and I was helping to find the girl, because I was a little bit too old to play opposite Omarion. And so I’d just come off My Wife And Kids, so I suggested Jennifer [Nicole Freeman], and then they asked me to come in and play the sister. I was already shooting D.E.B.S., so I had to jump from You Got Served to D.E.B.S. every other week. But I knew from the second I saw the film, that this dancing is a whole other level. And it was the same thing with Stomp The Yard. I went back and forth on, do I want to play this character? What’s different about this? And I really spoke with Sylvain, and with Columbus [Short]. And I saw what it was going to be, like you said, exploring the academic experience, which I didn’t go to college. I was already acting so I was home-schooled and fully a Nickelodeon/Disney kid. So I was like, “I’m just going to go for it. I have a good feeling about this.”
And Roll Bounce, I love skating and I love period pieces. That was a crazy audition because I found out that they were testing on a day when I was on Melrose, hanging out with friends, and I was not prepared. I left and I lived in Santa Clarita at the time, and I was like, “I feel like I could have done better.” So I drove all the way back and asked them, can I audition again? And they said you have to wait until the end. And then I went back in and I got it.
AVC: As a “former Disney kid,” what affinity do you have for that genre, and how easy it was to make the shift to be in those kinds of movies?
MG: Halloween 4 and 5 was really a huge catalyst for why I wanted to be an actress. [Danielle Harris], the little girl who played Jamie, was my age, and I fell in love with her. I want to run and scream and fall into this chute and [get] someone to stab at us and try to get out and drag myself on the floor and all of that. And a bucket list thing for me was to have a really cool death scene. And I wanted it to be by stabbing! And so when I did Venom, there was a little bit of stabbing there, but with Unborn, I ended up ultimately getting that. But in Saw V I was electrocuted! For me, I think that the most heightened feelings that we can have is love or survival. I come from a time where the only time we made fun in a horror movie was the Freddy Kruger movies. Everything else took itself a little bit seriously. And so I have a lot of respect for the genre. I love what it’s grown into. But as an actress, I’m calling on the most intense feelings you could possibly have and making you believe that I’m experiencing it. So if I’m going through the film trying to survive, what kind of survival mechanisms and thought processes happen? Initially, you might be terrified that you’re just going to die, and then by Act 3 you’re completely convinced that you’re going to survive because you’ve toughened up. I really love the challenge of something that’s very hard to convey—someone’s process as they’re in the fight of their life.
AVC: You joined the industry at a moment where there was a new renaissance of Black filmmakers telling stories about Black lives and relationships. Have any of these roles shed a light on choices that you made in your personal life?
MG: I don’t know that I based my real-life choices off any characters that I’ve experienced. But I base my characters off my real-life experience. For Mya in Think Like A Man, I could relate there because at that time I was celibate, and I was deciding not to have sex until I was married, so I understood the space that she was in. I understood the mentality of, doing the same thing is insanity, so try something completely different. But in every character, there’s a little part of yourself. Maybe the most introspective character that I’ve thought about [in regard to] my own life is probably Camille on Harlem. Especially with respect to what my last year has been, she had all these specific ideas of what her life should be and all of these specific plans. And throughout the duration of season one and now season two, she’s learning to let go of everything that she thought was supposed to be, and instead understand that it may not look like what you think it’s going to be like—and that’s actually okay.
AVC: Anchorman 2 is only 10 years old and yet we’re in a much different cultural place now than we were then. What it was like being the straight woman in the setups between Will Farrell’s character and yours?
MG: I think comedy, and I think especially with Anchorman, it has a tendency to shed light on things that we otherwise wouldn’t feel comfortable discussing. And it allows the space to kind of disarm people. That’s one of the things that I appreciate about comedy, because sometimes you can’t have those conversations without people getting extremely offended on one side or the other. I read the script and I thought it was so funny. And another friend of mine was like, “You don’t think this is offensive?” And I’m like, “No, I think we’re having a conversation that we need to have. This is complete ignorance.” Also with Anchorman, I remember they had done a mock trailer for Part 2, and I was sitting in the theater with my sister and I was like, “I wish I could be in that.” Six or seven months later, I get an audition for it. I couldn’t even believe I got a callback, but I flew to Atlanta and tested with Will. I attacked him in the audition, pulled his hair and I threw my shoes at him. And then on set, everybody was so genuine and humble and no egos and everybody just wants to see each other win and do the best that they can do. Christina Applegate pulled me to the side and she said, “It’s all you—let’s do it! Whatever you need, whatever you want, I’m here for you.” And it was a really kind experience.
AVC: When you have the opportunity to be in a fantasy movie where you have to think about a character over potentially a multi-film arc, what was that experience like and what have your expectations been as this saga story has continued?
MG: I decided when I was 34, “I want to be in a superhero movie. I want to be a superhero.” And so I actively decided to change my body and I started eating differently. I started working out four to five times a week, got a trainer and all that. And I was like, “I’ve done the work, I have the faith, and I’m going to wait for it to come.” And when I first auditioned for Shazam!, I was just going in to play a 10-year-old—I had no idea what it was I was auditioning for. A week and a half later, they called and were like, “You got the job.” And I was like, “Great! What’s the job?” And they’re like, “Shazam!” And I’m like, “The Shaquille O’Neal movie?” And they were like, “No! Not Kazaam, Shazam!” So I went and did my research and looked at comic books and all of that. But my thought in mind when I said I wanted to be a superhero, was that I was looking at the landscape and there were not any black women who were superheroes at that time. And I remember thinking, “I want every little girl to be able to see themselves and think that this is possible”—and the sky is not even the limit for me as well. And the cool thing was I went in with the mindset of wanting to show little girls themselves, and I ended up playing a 10-year-old and literally showing little girls themselves. And so the first one was an amazing experience, but the second one was even better, to just reunite with the cast and we call each other brother and sister and we are all very close. And in this one, we got new suits, and it just was a film that was really, really special to me.