I’m still trying to wrap my head around the pandemic world as it relates to press junkets. To cover the second season of “Homecoming.” the critically-acclaimed series from Amazon Prime Video which returns May 22, I stepped into my very first Zoom press junket for the opportunity to interview Janelle Monáe who enters the mystery with a bang.
Monáe’s character wakes in a rowboat adrift a lake, with no memory of how she got there — or even who she is. Her frantic search for identity will lead her into the heart of the Geist Group, the unorthodox wellness company behind the Homecoming Initiative.
The second season finds Stephan James reprising his role as soldier Walter Cruz, who is desperately trying to rebuild his life following the traumas of war and the Homecoming Initiative when he begins to realize that there’s an even more insidious version of the program underway – if only he can remember. Hong Chau returns as Audrey Temple, an anonymous worker at Geist, who finds herself pushed into unexpected positions at the top of the greedy corporate ladder. Joining the cast for season Two are Oscar-winner Chris Cooper as Leonard Geist, the company’s eccentric founder; and Emmy-winner Joan Cusack as Francine Bunda, an equally eccentric military woman.
Returning to season two is Homecoming’s co-showrunners and executive producers Eli Horowitz and Micah Bloomberg, who are also the creators of the Gimlet Media podcast upon which the show is based. All episodes of the second season are directed by Kyle Patrick Alvarez, who also serves as executive producer. Homecoming is co-produced by Amazon Studios and UCP, a division of NBCUniversal Content Studios, and executive produced by, in addition to those already named: Julia Roberts through her production company Red Om Films, Sam Esmail through his production company Esmail Corp, Chad Hamilton of Anonymous Content, and Chris Giliberti, Alex Blumberg and Matt Lieber of Gimlet Media. Julia Roberts, who portrayed the protagonist social worker at the Homecoming facility in Heidi Bergman in season one, did not return for season two but remains as an executive producer.
It’s important not to give away spoilers and there is a treasure trove of nuggets that will leave fans breathless and introduce new viewers to the world of the Geist Group and their Homecoming Initiative. Season one is currently playing on Amazon Prime Video.
Although you don’t need to watch season one of Homecoming to understand the second season, I strongly suggest that you watch season one and buckle up, tight, it’s a rather bumpy ride.
Succinctly the Geist Group runs a program on a small group of returning soldiers giving them drugs — without their knowledge — to suppress their memories of trauma for the sole reason of making them combat-ready, again. Although this series is described as sci-fi, is it?
Let’s rewind to In 1932, “Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Males” which was conducted as a public health service without the men’s knowledge. The United States of America’s consistent disrespect of its citizens has a long list of absolutes. To that end, watching how the Homecoming Initiative unfolds in this series often feels (to me) like a peek into the evil empire that is the foundation of big business. Corporations care, they do. They make it very clear what they care about which is profits. So … knowing this, step into the Homecoming world with an open eye.
Janelle Monáe was born in Kansas City in 1985 and got her big break in 2005 when she was invited by Big Boi to perform on several OutKast tracks. Discovered and signed by producer Sean “Puffy” Combs to his Bad Boy Records label, the legend of Monáe began.
In 2010, her debut full-length album, “The ArchAndroid,” rose to No. 17 on the Billboard U.S. album chart and received a Grammy nomination. She followed up with the sophomore album “The Electric Lady” (2013), which featured singers Prince and Erykah Badu. Monáe’s film credits include “Moonlight” and “Hidden Figures.” In 2018, she released her third album, Dirty Computer.
This is an edited interview with Janelle Monáe and on her role in “Homecoming 2” which will return for season two Amazon Prime Video on May 22nd.
LOS ANGELES SENTINEL: Thank you for this time Janelle Monáe. I hope that you don’t take this as an insult because it’s not made in that spirit, but I did not see Janelle Monáe the performer in this character. Like — I forgot it was you.
JM: I’m not insulted at all. Every time you see the character on screen, I don’t want you to think about Janelle Monáe the musician. I want you to think about the woman who wakes up in a boat and discovers that she doesn’t how she got into this boat. She doesn’t know who she is. So that’s a lot of spirit work to not see Janelle Monáe.
LAS: Yass and that spirit work, worked.
LAS: How do you approach building a character now that we are on this subject?
JM: I do a lot of searching. I ask questions. What does this character love? Who does this character hate? What motivates her? What are her vices? It’s doing all that work that I enjoy. I try to shape each character and I always [I] pray and meditate to reduce Janelle, to reduce me, to allow that character to shine.
LAS: There are so many potential spoilers that I am tip-toeing around questions. Feel me?
JM: (laughing) I do.
LAS: What can you say without spilling the beans?
JM: We are uncovering her story. That’s the cool thing about it. She can’t remember anything. And you are watching it who’s BS, her before she does. It’s a pretty intriguing journey to watch someone uncover who they are.
LAS: It’s very interesting that people have tagged and bagged the series Homecoming as sci-fi but as you know, Ok. For me, Homecoming 1 and 2 play like a documentary. Wait. Hear me out. The United States of America has used people, in the past, as guineas pigs. We know of the Tuskegee Study. Imagine what we don’t know.
LAS: What did you think of your character’s relationship with Cruz? You are both African-Americans and caught in the web—so to speak—of a corporation run by White males.
JM: What do you think of the relationship?
LAS: As a woman of color, I was very emotional that an African-American woman was leading an African-American right back into danger. It made me angry and it made me sad. Tossing back.
JM: Keep going.
LAS: Well, again — I can’t spoil the plot but the ending, it made me feel a certain way.
JM: Talk. You probably can’t print it but talk.
LAS: …. in the end, I felt that she listened to her soul.
JM: The end is one of my favorite scenes. It’s not just beautiful, it’s frightening. Beautifully frightening.
LAS: Beautifully frightening. Thank you, Janelle Monáe.
JM: You’re so welcome.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.