Note: The following contains spoilers for “From Scratch.”
The new Netflix series “From Scratch” tells a fictionalized account of author Tembi Locke’s real life story — one of love, loss, family, food and fighting for all of those things across multiple cultures, races and geographical locations like Los Angeles, California and Sicily, Italy.
Locke’s memoir, published in April of 2019 and selected as that month’s Reese Witherspoon’s Book Club pick, recounts her reality as it unfolded in what her sister and executive producer on the series adaptation Attica Locke describes as “a three act play of healing.” Locke’s late husband Saro, short for Rosario, died of cancer after their fated meeting in Italy when Tembi studied abroad there. In between the news of Saro’s first diagnosis, the recurrent terminal illness and his death, he and Tembi embarked on what the show depicts as “a love story for the ages,” working hard to make their life in Los Angeles, pursuing their dream careers and even adopting a baby girl.
Zoe Saldaña stars as Amy, short for Amahle, Wheeler, who is based on Tembi.
“Zoe is such a gift to our series. Her performance is absolutely incredible,” Tembi told TheWrap of seeing the “Guardians of the Galaxy” actress act out real events from her life. “I feel very grateful for her beautiful work in the series. I think she handled it with such great care, and she’s funny. She was able to make Amy her own and she didn’t have to play Tembi at all, so I think she borrowed things maybe from me that she wanted to. She checked in with me when she wanted to, but her Amy is a beautiful homage to our life and I’m very grateful for it.”
Saldaña’s connection to the role of Amy, based on Tembi, can be felt in three ways, and Tembi recognized these links before Saldañ was officially cast in the role. She brought all of the necessary ingredients to reflect Tembi in her onscreen avatar Amy.
“Three things that were really synergistic is the fact that one, she’s married to an Italian, who also is an artist. Two, she produces with her sisters, so I knew she had a close sibling and sister relationship, which clearly we have. And then the third thing is she has a childhood background of an experience of loss,” Tembi said. “And so that part of the story was also very important to her, and she speaks Italian. So I was like ‘There’s no one else, like if I look at the book of potential people, it’s always gonna fall on Zoe Saldaña every time right? And then she gives this gorgeous, beautiful performance.”
Just as Tembi had the support of her sister Attica Locke , who serves as co-creator and showrunner of the series adaptation, Amy has her onscreen sister Zora (played by Danielle Deadwyler). Attica has credits as a writer on “Empire,” “When They See Us” and “Little Fires Everywhere.”
“Danielle, what can I say? I mean, Danielle Deadwyler. When I saw her tape, it was me, Tembi and Nzingha [Stewart], our producing director, we all called and I think we were all nervous to say ‘That’s Zora!’ after just seeing like three tapes,” Attica told TheWrap. “And we all called each other like ‘It’s her right? It’s her right?’ We were like ‘Yes, it’s gotta be her.’ She’s incredible.”
Attica relates to Zora in some ways, like the sisterly dynamic between Zora and Amy, but not in others, especially when it comes to their age difference.
“I don’t think of Zora as — I don’t think she’s like me. I mean, I guess I have some zingers and I can be a straight shooter, but she doesn’t, I don’t know — it’s weird to think of somebody being yourself,” she said. “But Danielle as Zora and Zora as an entity in this world is so loving, smart, wry, supportive of her sister, speaking up when her needs aren’t getting met. There’s just so much color there. And when she’s in scenes, she’s playing so many different levels that switch on a dime. She’s just fascinating to watch. And it is the honor of my lifetime that that is who is playing me.”
Both Attica and Tembi praised Saldaña’s and Deadwyler’s chemistry as sisters on set. Both sisters had (and have onscreen) their fair share of conflicts, which uniquely form out of the layers of their lives and identities.
“What we wanted to do is first of all, we wanted every single character to have an arc, to not be the same every single episode, so that fell to reason that at some point Zora and Amy’s relationship has to be tested.” Attica said. “That’s kind of what happens in [Episode 4], when she brings Ken to the restaurant and ‘Why did you do that?’ And for most of that argument, they’re both kind of making a point like maybe Zora shouldn’t have done that, but at the same time, Amy seems kind of tone deaf, like all that just had to get out.”
After Amy and Lino, Saro’s onscreen counterpart, get married and Lino starts his own restaurant in Los Angeles, Zora decides to bring her new serious boyfriend Ken to the opening night to introduce him to her and Amy’s parents, who got divorced when the girls were younger.
“That was just pure good conflict that just had to happen that they are not talking when Amy really needed someone to talk to,” Attica said. “So that was a kind of manufactured fight, although Tembi did used to give me her lunch money so in that it’s reversed. Tembi actually used to make sure that I ate as a child.”
Even though Zora’s and Amy’s ages are reversed in the show, Attica still did have to care for Tembi when she lost Saro, and one of the most powerful grieving scenes sprouted from that dynamic. Zora confronts Amy, who lays in bed depressed after Lino’s death, and tells her to bathe, because she has a “funky smell of grief” hanging on her.
“In episode 8 that’s a scene that never happened, and I’ve been thinking about this a lot. Josh Allen wrote that scene, but I think what we were doing in that scene — and we were talking about it in the writers room — we were taking an experience that Amy was having that reflected things that Tembi felt, which is people are trying to rush my grieving timeline, and none of you understand what I’m going through,” Attica said. “And then we took something that Zora is experiencing, which I experienced, which was guilt. ‘I don’t know what to say, I don’t know what to do. I don’t know how to get to her,’ and there was a period of time in which Tembi may have not been bathing regularly, and grief had a note of funkiness. So that also was an invented scene, but it’s an invented scene of two real realities mashed together in a scene.”
Together, Tembi, Attica, Saldaña and Deadwyler wrought a story of sisterhood, sadness and the healing process to recover from and cope with such a devastating loss.
“Ultimately what we tried to do in the adaptation is always stay true to the emotional truth of basically my individual lived experience, and so whether or not someone felt or was trying to truly rush my grief, I as a grieving person remember feeling like ‘They’re going to get tired of me feeling this way. The world is going to not have a lot of patience because I don’t know when I’m going to feel better, and maybe I should snap out of this,’” Tembi said. “So although it wasn’t coming externally at me, I felt that internally, so in writing the scene and as Attica said, Josh Allen, our writer wrote that scene between the sisters, we sort of put all of that in there because it was the emotional truth of the moment.”
“From Scratch” is now streaming on Netflix.