The Color Purple isn’t the only Oprah Winfrey-produced project receiving rave reviews right now. On Hulu, the Oprah-produced Black Cake is an epic eight-episode adaptation of the bestselling novel by Charmaine Wilkerson, packed with the perennial juiciness of murder, mystery, and family secrets unfolding from the grave. A sweeping saga centering the Caribbean Diaspora, Black Cake, which ran every Wednesday from November 1 to December 6, follows the journey of a biracial woman of Jamaican-Chinese heritage from girlhood to womanhood as she’s forced to move from Jamaica to England and on to Wales before eventually settling in California.
Black Cake introduces her as Eleanor Bennett just a short time before her death. In that moment, she is a widow with an estranged daughter, Benny, and a devoted son, Byron. Through audio recordings played after her death, her children learn that she was a deeply layered woman with a past they never imagined. Instead of growing up an orphan, they discover that their mother was born Coventina “Covey” Lyncook in Jamaica to a Jamaican mother who ran off when she was a child and a Chinese father who gambled her future of becoming a world-renowned swimmer away.
As Covey, Atlanta’s own Mia Isaac shines as she brings both insight and heart to the young woman who is the foundation to whom Eleanor Bennett would become. Atlanta magazine caught up with the rising star via Zoom to learn about her Atlanta roots and star-turning role. This interview has been condensed for length and clarity.
You are from Atlanta, correct? Which part?
I am from Atlanta. I went to Springdale Park Elementary School, Inman Middle School, Grady High School, which is now Midtown High School. So yeah, I’m definitely an Atlantan.
When did you start acting and what role did Atlanta play?
I started acting when I was 10. Atlanta’s such a great place to start acting. I was just so interested in the film world and commercials and television and Disney Channel and all of that. I really wanted to be an actor from a young age. I think the first thing I did was a play called Madeline’s Christmas at a local theater. I think it was the Horizon Theatre. So I did that [one] Christmas, and that kind of just sparked my love for acting. My first agent was J Pervis here in Atlanta. So I definitely have all of my acting roots in Atlanta.
During the summer you showed up on Project Greenlight [a reality show about creating a feature film] as the star of its film, Gray Matter, now streaming on Max. How did Black Cake come about for you? Did the projects overlap?
I actually auditioned for Black Cake while I was filming Project Greenlight. It was about five rounds of auditions over the course of like three months. I was doing each callback in between my shoots for Gray Matter. Gray Matter was completely night shoots, so I would do about 12 hours of filming in the night. I would wrap at like 7 a.m., go to sleep for like three hours, wake up at 11 a.m., and do a Zoom call. So I honestly wasn’t even thinking about the audition process that much just because I was so busy and I was working so much. When I found out that I actually got the [Black Cake] role, I was on set [and] I just was in complete shock because it hadn’t even crossed my mind that I could get the role.
What was your reaction when you first learned of the role?
When I first got the audition, the breakdown said it was to play “a young girl who is half-Chinese and half-Jamaican,” and that really resonated with me because I’ve never seen an audition breakdown like that. I felt really represented, and I felt really seen. Then when I went even further to learn more about the character herself, this strong young girl who is in many ways ahead of her time: she’s unapologetic, she’s unafraid to be herself, she’s strong spirited, she’s strong-minded and strong willed. And I just loved the character from the moment that I read the breakdown, and reading the book and getting to play her was just really rewarding.
Do you mind sharing your heritage?
I’m Chinese and Panamanian. So, my dad is Caribbean. And when I read the book with my parents, my mom was able to resonate with the Chinese cultural aspects in the book, and my dad was able to resonate with the Caribbean cultural aspects. Obviously, there’s a difference between Panamanians and Jamaicans, but culturally, there are a lot of similarities. My grandma made black cake when I was a kid.
What kind of preparation went into playing Covey?
I did work with a dialect coach [so] it was a lot of preparation for the accent. I really wanted to do justice to Jamaican people and Caribbean people. I didn’t want it to sound fake or inauthentic. I worked with a dialect coach on my own even when I was auditioning because I had to audition in the Jamaican accent, and I didn’t know how to do that. So I took Zoom classes. Once I actually booked the role, they had a dialect coach that they provided, and she was great. We worked together over Zoom in the months leading up to shooting, and then we met in person in Jamaica. On top of that, I was working with a stunt coordinator, a water stunt coordinator. We met in California and worked in the water. We swam in Santa Monica. And then, when we met in Jamaica, he taught me how to surf. It was just such an incredible experience.
Was playing Covey challenging? Rewarding? Or both?
It was really challenging. I booked the role of Covey when I was 17, and I play Covey from age 17 to about 23-24 and she has to go through a lot. As a person my age, not having had those life experiences, to kind of put myself emotionally through everything that she goes through was really difficult. And not only that, but it was my first time being the leader of a show, which is a lot of pressure. I feel like I went through a lot of impostor syndrome or feeling like I wasn’t good enough, or I wasn’t worthy. I kind of had to remind myself that I was there for a reason and that people believed in me. I think that I grew up with Covey. When I first read the role and got the role, I was young, and I learned a lot through playing Covey. And I feel like I’ve changed because of it.
What was the hardest part?
I think the hardest thing for me was filming the pieces about motherhood and being pregnant and giving birth and losing a child. These are all feelings that I haven’t had to experience or even think about in my life or in my world. So trying to grasp the feelings that Covey was dealing with was really difficult. It’s not the kind of thing where I could draw from my own life experiences, or substitute or pull from my real life. I really had to feel exactly what Covey was feeling, and it was hard mentally, and it was hard emotionally.
What kind of impact do you think Black Cake will have?
It’s going to have an impact that I think is going to affect generations. I have never seen a show like this before, my parents have never seen a show like this before, and my grandparents had never seen a show like this before. It’s really cool to see our culture and our people represented not only in the background of a show or a movie, but at the forefront and as the leads.
All eight episodes of Black Cake are currently streaming on Hulu.