‘A Thousand and One’ Director Says Casting Teyana Taylor in the Lead Was a ‘Leap of Faith’

“Even in those first readings, I could feel it,” A.V. Rockwell told TheWrap

A.V. Rockwell, Teyana Taylor and Lena Waithe (Getty Images)
A.V. Rockwell, Teyana Taylor and Lena Waithe (Getty Images)

“A Thousand and One” is the story of a Black woman named Inez who has just been released from Rikers Island and reconnects with her 6-year-old son Terry, who has been kept in the foster care system. At the risk of losing him again, she decides to abduct him and rebuild their life together in New York City as the home they’ve always known changes around them. 

Teyana Taylor, starring in the role of Inez in A.V. Rockwell’s feature film directorial debut “A Thousand and One,” was a “leap of faith” decision the writer-director said she’s “proud” she made in a recent discussion with TheWrap. 

“Even in those first readings, I could feel it. I could feel how much [Taylor] understood this woman because either she was her or she knew her,” Rockwell said. “I think all of that work we did, all those conversations, it shows up on screen.”

On the backdrop of their journey lies a number of themes “A Thousand and One” seeks to highlight, including Black sisterhood, gentrification, community, police brutality, racially-motivated policies like zoning laws, and even the byproducts of white supremacy and colorism. 

Throughout the film, the cameras close in on Inez ’s complex story and the societal and personal challenges she faces as a Black woman. In terms of finding the right person to bring Inez to life on screen, Rockwell said Taylor’s name was brought up lightly in the early stages of the film, and though she knew Taylor as a musician and actress Rockwell hadn’t seen work that featured Taylor’s range. 

“Inez is a very challenging character,” Rockwell says. “I wanted to know she had the full picture. I was open to it, but I didn’t have enough so I just continued looking through a large volume of actresses whether they were super known, or experienced, or just the first time out. Everybody read for the role. Teyana was among those tapes and I could see what stood out about her in a special way, and that she did have the depth and talent pedigree to take on this role. She gave me all of the truth of what I was looking for in this human being, especially for this inner city Black woman.”

Lena Waithe and her Hillman Grad Productions signed on as one of the producers for the film, alongside Makeready and Sight Unseen. Rockwell said Waithe was just one call away to provide her with any feedback or insight. Taylor becoming the lead role was one of their bigger phone call conversations.

“We talked at length about the decision to cast Teyana, which was a leap of faith and obviously a very wonderful decision that I’m grateful for,” Rockwell said, adding that Waithe helped prepare her on how to help mold Taylor into this character while on set. “I had to break [Inez] all the way down again so that I could hand her over to Teyana. I always really pushed her discretion during the most challenging moments of the character, to pull her from herself and from all her life experiences because I feel like she had so much to give this character even if they have a different story.”

Rockwell continued: “Lena was great in making sure that I kept that in mind as well, making sure I created the best space for collaboration for me and Teyana.”

Waithe and Rockwell share a relationship that goes back to Rockwell’s standout short film, “Feathers,” which landed Rockwell on the Filmmaker Magazine’s “25 New Faces of Independent Film” in 2019. From there, Waithe enlisted Rockwell to direct an episode of “Boomerang.” Rockwell’s detailed and unique work spoke for itself and that ultimately led to Waithe approaching her about projects she’s interested in. 

Waithe says those background and on-set conversations Rockwell had with Taylor are a “testament” to how grand the performance — which is now part of Academy awards chatter — was on-screen. 

“I’m honestly blown away,” Waithe said. “Teyana interpreted what A.V. gave her. It’s like watching a singer sing a song that was written by someone else, and it’s made for them to sing. That beautiful chemistry just brings out the magic. I think that’s what it’s like watching this movie.”

“We tend to go to [creatives] and say, ‘What do you want to do?’ Or, ‘If you want to do a feature what would that look like?’” said Waithe. “After working together on ‘Boomerang,’ we felt like, ‘Okay, there’s something here, let’s go on this ride. That journey was longer because there wasn’t a script there, but we were excited to watch this flower bloom.”

Rockwell said this is a “proud” moment for her and Taylor. 

“I feel proud of what we created together, I’m so proud of her,” Rockwell said. “I know she watches the movie all the time. I know she loves it, and she’s very proud of what she did, and she should be.”

“A Thousand and One” hit theaters on Friday, March 31, and the film stars Taylor, Aaron Kingsley Adetola, William Catlett, Josiah Cross, Aven Courtney, Terri Abney and Amelia Workman. 

Watch the trailer below.