In 2020, the current pandemic hit and put a serious hurt on productivity. People around the world were on lock down, not able to accomplish the goals they set out for themselves at the beginning of the year. Then there are some who just flourished in quarantine. Maybe they got fired and found their true calling – started a vlog with a captive audience and became an influencer. Started doing virtual events and had hundreds of attendees. Whatever way the pandemic made them pivot, they were able to come out on top. The same goes for some of the hottest stars right now during these pandemic days.
Only a select few knew who Andra Day was in these streets, and she’s rolling around with a Golden Globe right now. I know none of y’all watched Schitt’s Creek until y’all had nothing but time at home and now Dany Levy sitting pretty, and the show is not even shooting no more. First and foremost, I want to be clear, this is not a list of no name actors, these people been around. It’s about how they were able to flourish even during a worldwide shut down. Here are these actors and others who had the ill come up during the quarantine.
Our favorite pizza delivery guy is getting his due. Steven Yeun played Glen in the hit (and somehow never ending series) The Walking Dead. (Spoiler Alert for anyone who hasn’t watched The Walking Dead, but Negan came and knocked him out the series.) That was the point when mad fans said…welp – done watching this show! Who didn’t love Glen, the comic relief we all needed with the balance of common sense, just enough bravery and smarts to survive. Apparently, these attributes transferred to his real life, because he is tearing up the indie film scene.
The next big role we saw him in was alongside Lakeith Stanfeld in Sorry To Bother You. Yeun played the charismatic character Squeeze. Yeun’s character becomes the radical leader of the telemarketers movement against RegalView’s unfair wages and management practices. The film made serious waves for its content and hard-hitting metaphors. Since then, Yeun has been getting in on hits like Tuca and Birdie where he does the voice of Speckles, a spot in the new Twilight Zone, and voice work in major shows like Voltron as the voice of Keith and Troll Hunters as Steve Palchuk. But the pandemic hits and Yeun gets the alley-oop in the voice world starring as my man Invincible. He nails this role – all I can picture is Seven Yeun’s little face speaking into a pop filter in the studio with his witty retorts and sly comments and also making ALL the noises as he gets his ass beat! It is a joy to know he’s in the booth for this one and probably for many seasons to come.
He makes us laugh but always has our hearts. Yeun showed us this in his stunning performance in Minari. Yeun plays immigrant father Jacob Yi who moves his family to rural Arkansas to grow and sell Korean produce. The pressures of American life, assimilation, racism, and more test their bond. The resiliency of family is what keeps them together and fighting for the life they came to America to lead. Yeun took on this role as an Asian American and stood up to the challenge of a Korean immigrant accent and passed with flying colors. Is there something Yeun cannot do? I honestly hope not. I pray he continues to surprise us and give us gems we wouldn’t want anyone else to deliver. For his dedication and stellar performance, he is now Oscar Nominated Actor Steven Yeun – the first Asian American to ever be nominated for best actor at the Oscars. Yea – his quarantine lockdown was way different.
You probably love Andra Day’s music and her aesthetic. You might have heard her and not known it was her. You might know singles like “Forever Mine” that samples The Flamingos “I Only Have Eyes For You” or her single titled after her album “Cheers to the Fall.”
One single in particular you may have heard over and over again in commercials, special homages, and anything pretty much Blackity Black is Day’s single “Rise Up,” which was featured in every Black organizations highlight reel and every commercial about a resilient [insert city here]. Now I am not knocking the song, it is uplifting in all the right ways,
“You’re broken down and tired
Of living life on the merry-go-round
And you can’t find the fighter
But I see it in you, so we gonna walk it out”
Okay girrrl, I see you seeing me – especially these quarantine days when depression isn’t a selective disease but a worldwide state of being – thank you sis!
“When the silence isn’t quiet
And it feels like it’s getting hard to breathe
And I know you feel like dying
But I promise we’ll take the world to its feet”
Forreal Andra’s music has been holding people down during the quarantine and was one of the most requested artists in Jazz circles in 2020. Her sultry voice is not to be underestimated.
We saw the full potential of Ms. Day’s voice in her debut role as the unforgettable Billie Holiday. Right out of the silver screen gate, Andra Day gets the opportunity of a lifetime to portray one of the most influential artists of all time in The United States vs. Billie Holiday. Whew chiile – this film was not one for the weak. It was hard to watch, and that is of no fault to Ms. Day. The film highlighted all the undesirable parts of Billie Holiday’s life. We watch a tough, drugged out Holiday being harassed by the FBI and pitted in a cycle of destruction. (which some argue is wildly inaccurate to boot). Now, I’m not saying I only want to see the good parts, all the achievements, and the happy times – No that would not do Billie Holiday’s life justice either, but can we at least have some good writing? A moment to breathe and sit with the trials and tribulations of the great Bille? I digress –
The reason I mention the weak parts of the film is to give all the credit to the great Andra Day – she carried this film like her back was made of the stones of Atticus. The way she changed her voice, her mannerisms – the way she held a cigarette and the look upon her face that could kill a man dead was chilling. I found myself saying Who da F- is this? Got me looking like a stank face Rihanna meme in my own house watching her slay this role. Goosebumps when she sang, goosebumps when she spoke, goosebumps when she laughed and cried – ugh! She left everything and the kitchen sink in that movie and is getting it all back and then some. After her FIRST, not second, not third, FIRST acting gig – her new trophy room dawns a Golden Globe. Yes – some people quarantine different.
As the son of Eugene Levy, you are not surprised Dan Levy has a perfect sense of humor. When Schitt’s Creek came out, he wasn’t a household name in acting, he had done some episodes of Degrassi (which is like Canadian Skins) and extra roles here and there, but nothing to give him the boost that he got in 2020. Now I know no one was watching Schitt’s Creek in 2015 when it came out – well not the amount that they binged it in 2020. A show about a rich and bougie family from New York who loses everything when their “trusted” accountant robs them for all they’ve got. The only thing the family has to their name is a little town called Schitt’s Creek that the father Johnny Rose bought as part of a joke. Now that little town is the only place they can afford to call home.
Living in a motel, they try everything to get back the life they once left realizing this is their new normal. The show aired on Canadian television and was picked up for distribution by Netflix. While it got little notice, those who did start watching it knew it was something special, but it took a little more convincing for others. Myself for example, a couple friends of mine said you have to watch this, but it never stuck until January when my job went fully remote. I would put on Schitt’s Creek to pass the workday and quickly become distracted as the seasons progressed to the point where – nope, this is no longer a work-through show – I’ve just gotta watch.
The writing is genius, the awkward jokes and exaggerations of rich attitudes to small town living are just right. Levy, who writes and stars in the piece, made the character Moira Rose perfectly odd and played by the incomparable Catherine O’Hara is the most entertaining person to watch. Every situation and moment made you laugh, and the progression of relationships was everything. The way Dan Levy’s character exists as a gay man – not as a symbol or trope is a radical way of writing – just existing. It’s sad to say queer people existing as they are in TV is radical, but that’s the world we live in. It should be the norm and hopefully new shows will take notice. The best part of Levy’s come up is the show got traction in its very last season winning nine primetime Emmy’s in 2020 alone – and the show doesn’t even happen anymore! He gets to sit back and get elevated. Needless to say, his work from home quarantine days are different.
The world really took notice of Mr. Kaluuya in Jordan Peele’s feature film directorial debut, Get Out. We were captivated by the story and premise, and the actors’ haunting performances. From there, Kaluuya has been making a serious household name for himself starring as a lead role in Black Panther and (the controversial) Queen and Slim.
The most acclaimed and impactful moment of his career so far is his performance as Chicago Chapter Black Panther Leader Fred Hampton in Judas and the Black Messiah. He took that role and played it like a one-man band in a symphony; he held every note to a perfect T. The energy, the focus, the intensity at which he played Mr. Hampton gave unrelenting chills to the audience and refilled our cups of appreciation for such a man. Not just for Kaluuya’s portrayal but for the work of Fred Hampton. Now don’t get me wrong, the film was not about him. The film was about deceit and betrayal, so the main character was really William “Bill” O’Neil played by Lakeith Stanfield. But you coulda thought they were sharing the main stage side by side, because Kaluuya’s performance took up that much space. He honored Hampton on this one, and Daniel Kaluuya gets the respect he deserves for it. Now sitting with a Golden Globe and an Oscar, the quarantine hit Kaluuya different.