“Rian really let me run free with creating the accent,” the actress says.
Author Maureen Lee Lenker
Warning: This article contains spoilers about Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery
She sits at the heart of the mystery, playing both betrayed CEO Andy and her (plot twist!) twin sister, Helen, who must masquerade as Andy to attempt to uncover who murdered her sister. This requires that she ping between the calm, controlled voice of Andy, which Helen calls her “rich bitch” voice, and Helen’s natural Southern twang.
“I was born and raised in Kansas City, by way of Atlanta, Georgia,” Monáe tells EW. “I’ve spent time in South Carolina, a lot of time down South. [Director] Rian [Johnson] had some ideas. But he let me run free with creating the accent. He was like, ‘Just make sure that they’re distinct enough.’ I know that for Cassandra, she didn’t want you to know where she was from. She was used to playing in corporate spaces, so her voice was a bit more corporate. Still warm, still inviting, but more, you probably wouldn’t know where she was from.
“With Helen, it was important that this character stayed grounded in where she was from,” she continues. “Making sure that people knew that she was proud of where she was from and that she wasn’t going to code switch. That was real beauty, too, to root it in something from the Deep South.”
In addition to bringing in some of her own upbringing in Atlanta, Monáe wanted Helen’s voice to help endear her to audiences after the twist is revealed. “You want to root for Helen, right?” she explains. “I knew that she had to have a voice that was so disarming and like, ‘Oh, I love her. I want her to win.’ Because when you get to the end of it, you want people like, ‘Yes, I f— with Helen. I’m so happy for this cute little Southern, smart woman.”
GLASS ONION: A KNIVES OUT MYSTERY (2022) Janelle Mon·e as Andi. Cr: Courtesy NETFLIX
Monáe had to juggle an array of roles in her head, sometimes portraying the real Cassandra, sometimes the real Helen, and sometimes Helen pretending to be Cassandra. Johnson describes watching her navigate this and switch back and forth as “a magic trick.”
For Monáe, the key was tapping into the characters’ very different energies. “When I read the script, I was like, ‘Oh, this is going to be a beast in the best possible way,'” she says. “Usually, when I do character work, I start with energy. It was like, ‘What is Helen’s energy? What is Andy’s energy? What is Helen pretending to be Andy’s energy?’ I would dream about it — daydream about it, go to sleep thinking about it — meditating on making sure that that energy is what you saw. Whoever is supposed to be present, make sure that their energy shines.”
She credits Johnson and her previous acting experiences with helping her slip in and out of the characters so seamlessly. “I’m thankful for the Moonlights and the Hidden Figures and all of the stuff I’d done up until this date,” she says. “Because if I hadn’t done that, I would’ve not been able to do this role. I was very proud of the work that I did in this film because it did require me to keep track and to honor the spirits of both characters. It took a lot of mental gymnastics to make it look easy and to make it feel seamless.”
Glass Onion is now streaming on Netflix.
Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery (2022 movie)