In 2015, A’Ziah “Zola” King took Twitter users on an epic adventure on the road full of strip clubs, pimping, violence, kidnapping and sex trafficking. Zola’s endearing wit and strong storytelling skills, then 19, made the dark story relatable and even downright funny. Zola’s viral tweets (all 148) were all over social media platforms and in mainstream media.
After a few years in Hollywood limbo, Zola’s story finally fell into the capable hands of the director / screenwriter. Well done Janizca. Zola premieres in theaters across the country on Wednesday, June 30 with Taylor paige (Ma Rainey’s black stockings) in the title role and also starring Colman Domingue (Fear the living dead), Riley keough (Under the Silver Lake), and Nicolas braun (Succession).
BET.com chatted with Paige about how she prepared for the pole dance scenes, what it was like working with a black female director, and how she plans to rack up more production credits.
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BET.com: You are a professionally trained dancer with prestigious international and national tutelage (Ms. Debbie Allen is one of your teachers). Zola, however, does the pole work. Did you do all of these scenes yourself and if so was this skill already in your repertoire?
Taylor Paige: Oh no! I had to train. I worked at a strip club called Crazy Girls on Sunset and La Brea for four weeks. I was a little undercover there. Then I worked with Yung Pole Master Miles, then production found me a pole instructor in Tampa, and did a few private sessions with her. It’s not easy, I have crazy respect. I don’t even scratch the surface of what these people can do. Of course, I took the discipline of technicality from my dance training, but most of my work with Zola was undoing it all.
BET.com: This role definitely seemed to require a 15 on a body confidence scale of 1 to 10! Lots of close-ups with very little clothing. Did you care to do everything right or did you feel confident to get started?
Taylor Paige: I definitely had my thoughts like, “Oh, can I do this? I just wanted to make sure I really looked like a stripper. It was more a question of mentality. I have spent most of my life quite shy. Dancing doesn’t make you safer or happier with your body, it just makes you more aware of it. It was just like the start of my permission to flourish and be in touch with my sexuality and not apologize.
BET.com: What do you think you have in common with Zola?
Taylor Paige: I think it’s his spirit, his tenacity, his values, his words. I feel like she taught me so much. I’m so much more assertive and defending myself, but overall I think probably about his compassion and his ability to take his trauma and make it funny. I identify with that.
BET.com: Since Zola is really a real person, did you speak to her about this role?
Taylor Paige: We talked a lot ! I contacted her when I found out I was going into the room because I wanted her blessing. She said, ‘You are so me it hurts and I’m not going to take a no for an answer and they have to listen to me. It must be fair. And so yeah, we were sort of going through some big wild things back then like his car broke down and my car broke down. She was waiting for her film to be shot and I was waiting for work. It all came together.
BET.com: In recent years, black actors have spoken more about the awkward situations on set when it comes to hair and not having the right resources. For a movie about a stripper from Detroit, you had to get it right. Did you have to add your own ideas for Zola’s final look?
Taylor Paige: No, Janizca was really specific about what she wanted and was very clear about it. I just trusted his vision. Having a black female director, there is a certain type of education and understanding of your needs or your edges or your skin. There is another kind of care and consideration.
BET.com: You take your talents from in front of the camera to the backstage of an upcoming project called Pointed stick. How important is it to you to build that executive producer muscle?
Taylor Paige: Yeah, I wish I could. As long as the collaboration feels good; spirits, you know, it’s a matter of the soul. I’m pushing my way through it.
Zola opens in cinemas nationwide on June 30, 2021.
Take a look at the exclusive “Zola” clip below. Discretion of viewers recommended.