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SPOILER ALERT: This article discusses plot twists in the new movie “Imaginary.“

To the public, DeWanda Wise is the glamorous heart of movies like “The Harder They Fall” and “Jurassic World Dominion,” but she consistently describes herself as a “nerdy actor.”

While she plays it cool as Jessica, the hero battling a sinister teddy bear named Chauncey in the new horror movie “Imaginary,” Wise pushes herself by working behind the camera. Her executive producer credit on the Lionsgate film was not a vanity title, but rather an essential step on her journey to claim space behind the scenes.

“I’m a filmmaker,” she said. “I have never been the kind of actor that shows up to a set and just lays back in the makeup chair.”

Wearing multiple hats encouraged Wise to prepare deeply for the role, essential for a film like “Imaginary,” which required plenty of emotion and physicality.

“My acting muscle is well-developed,” she said. “I wanted to make sure that when I was on set, I was available to be Producer DeWanda. I feel like I was prepared as an actor far sooner than I normally do, so that the story is in my body. By the time I get to say the lines, it’s less work trying to find it, more muscle memory. Not every actor is the same, but I always have an idea, a certain shape of craft. I know the beats we have to hit to build the performance.”

Wise said that director and co-writer Jeff Wadlow’s openness on set helped her make an imprint on the movie.

“I’m very fortunate to work with collaborators who listen from day one,” she said. “I got the script and it was written to be set in Connecticut at the time. I knew we were shooting in New Orleans, so certain small changes needed to be made in that respect. Whenever you cast an actor, things are going to change, so there was some script development work.”

Wise’s attention to detail, and background making indie films in pressure-filled circumstances, allowed her to have a shorthand with Wadlow.

“With me, people know they’re safe and I’m not going to go off and call my agents or do weird things,” she said. “Usually it takes a little configuration to build that trust, but we seemed to have it from the beginning. I think that also contributed to the efficiency with which we were able to be in alignment. And then trust is built once he starts sending emails and I’m looking at photos of everything.”

Wadlow said that DeWanda’s personality leads her to success in all aspects of her performance and leadership.

“DeWanda is just so grounded,” she said. “I’ve never worked with an actor who has both feet so firmly planted on this earth. She’s just a wonderful person to be around. She knows who she is, she knows who you are, she knows her character. And it’s not just some innate sense she has. She does her homework — she showed me pages and pages of biography she wrote about [her character] Jessica, and she can be so grounded, connected and so real.”

Wise also said that thoughts about scary “Imaginary” sequels came up on set, including from 10-year-old co-star Pyper Brraun.

“There could be more Chauncey stories,” she said. “She was talking about a potential coda: ‘There could be a missing child thing, and it could be Liam’s sibling, because we don’t know if Liam has a sibling.’ And I was like, ‘You better sit down with Jeff and get to writing!’”



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