What pulled actress Dominique Fishback into ‘The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey’—Apple TV+‘s new limited series—was a multitude of compelling reasons for most actors. What was unique about her experience, however, was the process of filming and whom she filmed with.
The new series starring Samuel L. Jackson is based on the book by author Walter Mosley of the same name. It follows Jackson’s character Ptolemy, who is on the brink of sinking into dementia completely when he’s offered a chance to regain his memories—but it comes at a price. Ptolemy takes the opportunity and along with his new caretaker and a friend of the family, Robyn (Fishback), the duo set out to find out what happened to Ptolemy’s old caretaker—his grand-nephew who was gunned down in the street.
What unfolds in the story was crafted by Mosley into the script, but the characters became personal to the actors—just ask Fishback.
The actress sat down to talk more about what left an impression on her both on and off camera while working on ‘The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey.’
What jumped out to you from the script when you first read it?
What jumped out at me was the fight scene. I want to do action, I want to show my athleticism a little bit—so that was kind of cool to be able to do that. And learning the different people who were going to be directing like Mrs. Debbie Allen, [and] Sam Jackson obviously is going to be in it. Also just getting this character who is so raw, she’s been through so much and she still leads with love whenever she gets the opportunity…It’s really nice.
Robyn and Ptolemy’s relationship goes from caretaking to a friendship, it was really fun to watch that dynamic especially unfold onscreen.
That’s all to Walter and his amazing book. When I got the script I was really excited about that, but then when I read the book I was like sheesh the book is so great. I decided to do this 20 page PDF where I took quotes from the book and images, and [I] just sent them to Sam and Walter and a producer. I was saying this is important, this was in the book, Walter these are your words but I think Robyn needs to say that. I think the audience could hear her point of view, could hear her truth and hear why she cares about Ptolemy so much and why this relationship has grown to be what it was.
What were some other conversations that you had with Walter concerning Robyn?
Oh, I was trying to do a lot of things. I wanted her to have tattoos and piercings… and I didn’t get that, but I did get a scar. I really wanted something that showed her history and showed what she’s about and where she’s from without her having to speak about it. In the PDF I had the scar, and I explained why I thought it was important and they liked it. Then [Walter] created a story, a background for the scar. They were really collaborative in a way, they listened to what I had to say.
I thought it was important that we knew Robyn’s dreams and that we had those conversations. At a certain point, there were conversations where Ptolemy would talk to Roger about his dreams and what he’s doing in school and I personally as Dominique was like, well he never asked [Robyn] that. So, then we got that in the script and Robyn says, “Well you’ve never asked me nothing like that.” So, it was nice to be in a place where I knew they wanted to hear what I had to say. They made time to hear it and they listened, because ultimately we want dynamic female characters and Black girls that feel nuanced. It’s ‘The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey,’ we want to make sure that we know that she’s a fully realized person. She has autonomy over her body and her thoughts and her mind and how she moves about in the world.
How was it getting to work so closely with Samuel L. Jackson?
How Sam is in interviews and on social media, he’s gonna be—so, he is very much himself. That was nice for me to watch. Being a young, Black actress and going to school and feeling like you have to be a certain way, after a while you say, well I’m not a robot. I have emotions, sometimes I have good days and sometimes I have bad days and sometimes you want to hold everything in for fear that somebody will misunderstand you.
And Sam is how he is and it helped me to be as I am. It was really sweet, my birthday came up while we were filming at the beginning, and he got me ‘Just As I Am’ by Cicely Tyson. So, the message of how it started ended with that…me just learning how to be myself and take up space in an authentic way that feels true.
You mentioned being interested in action. Why is that something you’re interested in specifically?
When I grew up I always played sports with all the boys. I played football, I’m a great quarterback. I’ve played basketball. I kind of fenced with the boys—I did everything. So, I always thought as an actor you would be able to show so many layers of yourself. Although I didn’t get to go to the WNBA, I could still play a role where I play basketball or, I don’t box but I would love to box. Then I got to be in ‘Transformers’ (coming out in 2023) and got to do an action movie…so I hope I do more.
Overall, what do you hope audiences take away from the series?
I hope that one would find it relatable and that they find themselves in one of the characters at least. And that we start to have more compassion for not only other people, but for ourselves. We see that Ptolemy is riddled with guilt and shame. Even saving his little friend from the fire…things like that, that stayed with him for 90 something years and he could not have done anything about it. Then when he gets the opportunity, he is so stuck in the past that he can’t even live in the present for that time. So, of course, there are times I look back on something and I have so much guilt. [I’m] thinking oh man, why did I do that and it’s embarrassing or I cringe at the thought of something…but we’re all just trying to figure it out.
We all come with different circumstances under different families from different areas with different information. To have compassion for ourselves allows us to have compassion for other people and when we do that, we’re able to see that everybody is trying to figure it out, nobody, no matter what age they are has it all figured out. We’re just learning.
‘The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey’ debuts March 11 on Apple TV+