The Acolyte Twist Amandla Stenberg Thought Would Leak


[This story contains spoilers for the first two episodes of Star Wars: The Acolyte.]

If you study enough trailers and promotional spots, you’ll start to notice the very deep game that trailer editors will sometimes play, especially with franchises as notoriously coy as Star Wars. Of course, any coded language is most evident when watching marketing materials after you’ve finally viewed the title in question, but in the case of the Leslye Headland-created and Amandla Stenberg-led The Acolyte, our first glimpse of their mystery-thriller series offered a few lines that were bound to perk up ears.

In March, when The Acolyte’s official trailer debuted, it began with Lee Jung-jae’s Master Sol addressing a group of Jedi younglings by saying, “Close your eyes. Your eyes can deceive you. We must not trust them.” That’s when yours truly theorized that Lee’s character was also offering meta advice to the audience about the Disney+ series’ overall narrative, and as we now know from yesterday’s two-episode premiere, The Acolyte’s marketing was absolutely conducting a long con by withholding the co-lead character of the entire show.

Instead of Stenberg just playing Mae, the vengeful assassin who’s targeting Jedi from her past, she also plays Mae’s twin, Osha, a space mechanic (or meknek in Star Wars terms), who’s wrongfully accused of committing Mae’s Jedi murders due to their shared likeness. The twin sisters were separated 16 years earlier for reasons that will soon come into focus, and needless to say, Stenberg and Headland are stunned that the character of Osha remained a secret to the majority of the audience.

“I totally thought it was going to leak earlier, like a lot earlier,” Stenberg tells The Hollywood Reporter

However, Headland hints that the deception may not be over yet, as Master Sol’s words will have further significance throughout the rest of the season.

“I also think that line could apply to the rest of the season as well, not just the promotional materials, which, yeah, it did work,” Headland says.

Stenberg first turned heads in 2012’s The Hunger Games by way of Rue, a role she manifested for herself upon reading the original source material. And then, as fate would have it, The Acolyte manifested Stenberg by designing concept art with her in mind before she was even cast. Headland credits 2018’s The Hate U Give for this turn of events, as that’s when she knew that Stenberg could handle not only the dual role of Mae/Osha, but also the responsibility that comes with leading a Star Wars project.

The Hate U Give, though, was really what pushed me over the edge into the Mae-Osha territory of just feeling so deeply emotionally invested in a performance,” Headland shares. “[Amandla] was my first choice of someone who would be able to not only embody the characters … but to also understand what she was stepping into. And I felt that in that film a lot, too.”

Below, during a recent conversation with THR, Stenberg and Headland also discuss working with Carrie-Anne Moss and why Stenberg received the rare note to pump the brakes on the speed of her action choreography.

When the trailer premiered, I wondered if Master Sol’s instruction to the younglings to not trust their eyes was also meta instruction for everyone watching the trailer, and it actually was. Are the two of you surprised that you were able to keep the cat in the bag for this long? 

Amandla Stenberg: I was shocked! 

Leslye Headland: I was surprised. 

Stenberg: I totally thought it was going to leak earlier, like a lot earlier.

Headland: I also think that line could apply to the rest of the season as well, not just the promotional materials, which, yeah, it did work.

Stenberg: That’s also what you’re so good at as a storyteller. It’s challenging how people perceive things and challenging what they are, from a front-facing view and then delving deeper into what’s behind it and how complex individuals are. So that’s what that means to me.

Headland: Thank you.

Stenberg: Yeah! (Stenberg and Headland look at each other fondly.)

Amandla Stenberg as Osha in The Acolyte

Lucasfilm

Amandla, you probably had many “how did I get here?” moments on set, but was fighting Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss’ Master Indara) near the top of the list?

Stenberg: (Laughs.) Definitely, yes. Carrie-Anne Moss is just everything you would hope and expect Carrie-Anne Moss to be. 

Headland: I know.

Stenberg: She is such a spiritually grounded, compassionate, warm, kind person. She kind of took on a mom role with me, while I, [as Mae], was trying to kill her, and that was really kind. She really lovingly guided me, and she gave me tricks and tips, not just physically when it came to the choreography. I learned so much from just observing her, but also just about being in this industry and doing this kind of work over a long period of time and how you sustain yourself when you’re doing this kind of work, because that’s a huge part of it, too.

Leslye, I brought this up to Amandla on the virtual slopes of last year’s Sundance, but she launched her career by manifesting a role in The Hunger Games. And now, Star Wars manifested her by putting her in concept art before she was actually cast. What incepted the idea of Amandla into your brain before anything was even official?

Headland: Well, obviously, I admired [Amandla] from a distance, which, as I say that out loud sounds …

Stenberg & Headland: (Laugh.) 

Headland: Anyway, The Hate U Give, though, was really what pushed me over the edge into the Mae-Osha territory of just feeling so deeply emotionally invested in a performance, not just because of the story, but because of the legacy of the story that you’re telling. So the idea of being involved in a huge IP like this, in a world that George [Lucas] brilliantly created, it felt to me that [Amandla] was my first choice of someone who would be able to not only embody the characters and give an incredible performance and do all of the action required and all of what she [eventually] did, but to also understand what she was stepping into. And I felt that in that film a lot, too.

Stenberg: Aww.

Headland: That’s what happened. 

(L-R): Mae (Amandla Stenberg) and Jedi Master Indara (Carrie-Anne Moss) in The Acolyte

Lucasfilm

Amandla, Leslye said that she referred to you as “Bruce Lee” for how fast you performed the fight choreography, and that’s evident in Mae’s early fights. 

Stenberg & Headland: (Laugh.) 

Headland: I was like, “You’re so fast! You have to slow down! They’re going to think you’re the stunt double. They’re going to think you’re [stunt doubles] Kellina [Rutherford] or Cassie [Jo Craig].” 

Stenberg: (Laughs.) Isn’t that what we want!? At the time, I was like, “That’s what we want! We want them to think that I’m doing all of it.”

Headland: That’s true. That’s the point.

Stenberg: That’s the goal!

Was it difficult to fight your natural instinct and speed for the camera?

Stenberg: There was something very Jedi-like about the process of learning how to do that kind of stunt choreography. The reason why I was going so fast is because I was nervous and wanted to prove myself, and that felt like the way to do it. So I learned from my master, [assistant fight coordinator] Lu [Junchang], who trained me very lovingly. And then I learned from camera that I actually needed to be slower and that I needed to relax into my body and into myself, and trust that my movement looked great. So it felt like a very spiritual lesson around how to approach this kind of work.

***
The Acolyte is now streaming its two-part premiere on Disney+.



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