Saturday, January 29, 2022

How Mamoudou Ati from ‘Archive 81’ Learned to Live Without Regrets

Just hours after waking up to the news of Sidney Poitier’s death, Mamoudou Ati, the actor now strolling down the road once paved by the black film legend, jumps into Zoom with a wistful smile. “Hey how’s it going?” he asks, and really wants an honest answer.

Now, in the third year of the pandemic, with the world still in shambles, there may be plenty to complain about that is usually hidden behind the ubiquitous “okay” response. But to this day, Ati is like so many of the characters he’s played, from flashbacks to a young husband in “Sorry for Your Loss” to an aspiring sommelier in “Uncorked” to his latest tormented archivist in the Netflix thriller series.” Archive 81″ – thinks a lot.

Although the Mauritanian-born, Maryland-raised actor and Yale graduate is grateful for the many opportunities he has earned, including a whopping 20 credits in just seven years, today he solemnly contemplates the deceased icon on whose shoulders he stands.

“God rest his soul,” Ati, 33, begins. “Sidney Poitier exemplifies this spirit of dignity and grace.” Ati can’t help but think of his peers who are still trying to break down the doors. “I think of all the actors who graduated from high school just a couple of years before me, who didn’t even come close to taking advantage of some of the opportunities that I had.”

And Poitiers had to go out of nowhere. “I was just thinking about the opportunities that were given to me, which were completely closed to people in Sidney’s time,” Ati continues. “And I feel like I owe a lot to them all.”

Throughout our conversation, Ati often has moments of deep reflection that also help him dive deeper into the role or ground himself as a person living in the modern world. Some characters, such as Matt Greer from I’m Sorry About Your Loss, who only appears in flashbacks after he takes his own life, require Ati to research topics such as mental illness, which he admits he knew very well. few.

“Oh man, I’ve been thinking a lot about the people in my life who are experiencing depression and some of the things I’d like to say to try and help,” he recalls. “I felt a little ashamed that I had not done this study earlier if this person I was so close to was suffering from this disease.”

Mamoudou Ati as Dan Turner in Archive 81 episode 101.


But for Archive 81’s archivist Dan Turner, who spends hours alone in a dark room looking straight into his own past, reconstructing increasingly ominous footage recorded in an apartment building in 1994, Ati was immediately able to access the character.

“We were in the middle of this pandemic,” Ati explains, referring to last year’s six-month shoot that took place in the midst of the lockdown and after the racial reckoning. “We’ve had the last couple of years – that summer, the election… I was raw.”

However, the huge loneliness in his life and in Dan’s life made Archive 81 more organic for the actor. “Just being alone all this time and being alone on set,” Ati says. “I mean, there are people around and we have someone to talk to. But when it came down to it, he felt very isolated and alone. full [the emotional labor] took care of himself.”

However, viewers will learn that Dan’s journey, and then Ety’s performance, goes frighteningly far beyond the resonant experience of seclusion. Early in the story, it is established that Dan previously had a nervous breakdown after his family was burned to death in a house fire.

So, while he soon becomes convinced that his late father (Charlie Hudson III), a psychologist, appears in videos exposing the cult and a graduate student (Dina Sheehabi) documents the events, his past mental instability causes even his best friend (Matt McGorry) to question its truth. More worryingly, Dan himself begins to doubt it.

Mamoudu Ati as Dan Turner in Episode 102 "Archive 81."
Mamoudu Ati as Dan Turner in Archive 81 episode 102.


“He’s like, ‘Well, I have to be reasonable,'” Ati says of his character. “What I see very well may not be so.” Then finally [he] receives this confirmation. This confirmation for him is almost a period of joy, because it is like: “I’m not crazy.” And I get that opportunity.”

When the actor says this last part, his smile widens in front of the camera, because he knows that this is important in order to get to the essence of the character, even in dark narratives like Archive 81, and open it wide – the acting phase . process that he cares about the most. This is when Dan realizes that he can restore something that someone has lost and hopefully get his life back. “[He’s] for example: “Here’s a chance to do something right,” he adds. “This is the best.”

It was this display of almost restrained emotion even in his portrayals of the most self-contradictory characters that captivated Archive 81 showrunner Rebecca Sonnenshine, who was already familiar with his talent after seeing him in I’m Sorry About Your Loss.

“Dan’s character really needs someone who has a vulnerable side,” she said during a recent phone call. “But within them, a ball of anger coiled.” For Sonnenshine, Ati possesses this quality. “He has such an expressive face. There is silence in it, and I was just fascinated watching him.

It really comes down to his empathy – to the fictional characters he embodies, as well as to the world around him. Sometimes he’s so impressed that he does a self-inspection after production is complete. After “Archive 81” Ati took some time to step away from the role.

“You haven’t been working for a while,” he says bluntly. “You just sit at home. I thought, “What will be good for me is to relax.” I have never felt it to such an extent before in my life. I think lockdown and COVID and everything obviously had a lot to do with it. But I just needed time to recover.”

Mamudu Ati.

On the other hand, during our conversation, he has another moment of clarity when he realizes that even when he feels overwhelmed by his creative process, he remembers that he is doing much better than many others. “I think, man, people have had the worst year of their lives,” he says. “I was doing well. If you know what I mean? I was Great“.

Either way, immersing yourself in the process of building your presentation is what fuels it. Ati realized that Matt in “Sorry for Your Loss” was an intense empath who, as the actor puts it, accepted everything around him and tried to face it with a kindness that “can be exhausting.” However, Ati read the paper and soaked up every article like Matt, to the point where he could barely get out of bed.

But Ati prefers the artistic process to seeing the final product on screen, which he rarely does. “I’m not that interested,” he says. “At the beginning [of my career]I thought, “I need to do this so I can learn. I need to know if what I think I’m doing is real.” And now I’m much more confident in myself.”

When it comes to his diligent work ethic, Ati credits his father, who was a Mauritanian government diplomat before he received family asylum in the States amid the African country’s dangerous political situation when the actor was a child. Well, he and “student loans,” Ati adds jokingly.

“My dad always told me – I didn’t listen to him, and then it became really obvious to me when I focused on becoming an actor and tried to be a good actor – “Mamudu, every job that you do, you have it.” treat him like someone you love,” he recalls fondly.

However, with all this emphasis on fine-tuning the performance, you might wonder if he’s a perfectionist. “I wouldn’t say I’m a perfectionist, but I just learned the difference between cutting corners and having no regrets,” he explains. “I don’t want to regret anymore because I had regrets. Like, “If I just didn’t get some sleep…”

In hindsight, this is the method that brought him to school and remains his approach as an artist because, in his words, “I fell in love with working on it.” This also seems to be what makes him so humble. “It’s all imagination,” he says, adding perspective. “It’s not like I’m digging a ditch. It’s not that hard, painstaking work. It’s more like how far can you get into that person’s psyche and that person’s circumstances? Because it will all take care of itself.”

Archive 81 began streaming on Netflix on Friday.


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