‘Black Cake’ Interview: Series Creator Marissa Jo Cerar

Premiering on Hulu beginning November 1st is the new series ‘Black Cake,’ which is based on the popular novel by author Charmaine Wilkerson and was created by Marissa Jo Cerar (‘The Handmaid’s Tale’).

Moviefone recently had the pleasure of speaking with series creator Marissa Jo Cerar about her work on ‘Black Cake,’ adapting the novel, discovering family secrets, working in the writer’s room, casting, collaborating with directors, and her responsibilities as a showrunner.

'Black Cake' director Natalia Leite, Executive Producer and Showrunner Marissa Jo Cerar and Byron (Ashley Thomas).

(L to R) ‘Black Cake’ director Natalia Leite, Executive Producer and Showrunner Marissa Jo Cerar and Byron (Ashley Thomas). Photo: James Van Evers/Hulu.

You can watch the full interview below or click on the video player above to watch our interviews.

Moviefone: To begin with, can you talk about adapting the novel for this series?

Marissa Jo Cerar: When I read it, I just immediately saw it. That’s why I had to do it because it just spoke to me and I saw the series, I saw the structure. I knew exactly what I wanted to do. I took the book; I read it fifty times and then wrote a pitch. The way I wanted to structure it, make it non-linear and have different characters points of view, and returning to the night of the murder multiple times. So, it spoke to me, I think. It wasn’t challenging to map that out and get the bible done. Then once we sold it and had to staff the writer’s room to write episodes two through eight, it was presenting them with all the things that I had done and then coming in with new voices, new stories and new perspectives, and how to expand all of that and add all the details and the texture to the map that I had created for everybody. The map that I had created, in addition to the book that existed.

MF: What was the process like for you in the writer’s room working with the other writers to complete the scripts?

MJC: I do a lot of prep for the writer’s room because I’ve been a writer in so many other rooms before I got my own show. So, I’ve learned what I think works best. For me, it’s just coming in with as much work as done as you can and then making it deeper, richer, more exciting, more surprising, and more interesting. Then bringing these new voices of people who have new perspectives and walk different paths than you. I tell them, “I don’t want you just to agree with me”, or to say, “This is great because I did it.” That’s a complete waste of time. Let’s just be honest and respectful, obviously, because it can break your heart when people tell you that what you’ve just worked so hard on for months is not good. But it’s just being as honest as possible with all of us having the same goal, make an amazing series with great characters.

Mia Isaac in 'Black Cake.'

Mia Isaac in ‘Black Cake.’ Photo: James Van Evers/Hulu.

MF: Did you already have certain actors in mind during the writing process?

MJC: I didn’t. For Benny, I absolutely did because I was working on my first show, ‘Women of the Movement’ with Adrienne Warren. She was starring in it, so I was hearing her because I was literally hearing her on set every day and working with her, and then editing and seeing her every day. So, I heard her as Benny, and I just thought it would be an amazing different kind of character that she hasn’t played before. So, I heard her. Then everybody else, they came on screen, and I suddenly saw them. Like Mia Isaac who plays Covey. Covey was born when I looked on my computer screen and saw her casting tape. I was like, “Okay, Covey was born.” When I saw Ashley Thomas who plays Byron, when I met him for the first time on Zoom, I was like, “Oh, you are Byron.” Nobody else is Byron. So, it gradually happened through these magical actors who just brought it and they showed us things that we didn’t even know existed, and they really brought these characters to life.

MF: Can you talk about the symbolism of the Black Cake in the series?

MJC: As it was in the book, it’s this marriage of cultures. The colonizers brought it to the islands and then it was adapted for the people of that community, and they made it their own. ‘Black Cake,’ the series, it’s all these characters and these cultures from all over the world, from multiple timelines, all coming together to tell the story, which all begins in Jamaica. They’re all connected by this one character, and the event of the murder is the big turning point, but they don’t know it fifty-six years later that it was a turning point in their lives too, until they hear Eleanor reflecting on it as she’s dying to find out who she is. So, it’s really about the marriage of cultures and how we’re all connected.

Related Article: Kerry Washington and Delroy Lindo Talk ‘UnPrisoned’ and Working Together

Benny (Adrienne Warren) and Byron (Ashley Thomas) in 'Black Cake.'

(L to R) Benny (Adrienne Warren) and Byron (Ashley Thomas) in ‘Black Cake.’ Photo: James Van Evers/Hulu.

MF: Byron and Benny learn some shocking secrets about their family, was that difficult for you to imagine as a writer?

MJC: I couldn’t, and that’s why we talked about it a lot and we wanted to be truthful in that portrayal. This is an earth-shaking discovery by these adult siblings, that you find out you’ve been living your life a certain way and suddenly you find out that it was a lie. “My mom was not telling me all this stuff that happened to her, who she was before she was my mom? She was lying. We thought she was an orphan. She wasn’t an orphan.” I can’t imagine it. I wanted to make sure we capture that with Byron and Benny’s relationship and their scenes because to feel honest, like a truthful portrayal of this discovery, it’s not something you’ve just learned. You’re like, “Okay, let’s listen to these recordings and figure it out.” You’re like, “Wait, I don’t know if I can listen right now.” Then you listen a little bit and you’re like, “I can’t, I have to stop”, because it’s too much and you don’t know what it means. They must take a full journey. Season one is just the beginning of that journey for them.

MF: Can you talk about your responsibilities as a showrunner and what that entails?

MJC: Everything. It’s hard to explain. I try to explain to my parents what my job is, and it depends where we are. In the beginning stages, this was a book that I read, and I brought to the studio where I have a deal, Capital Entertainment, and I said, “I want this to be my next project.” So, then we take it out. It wasn’t like it was sent to me like, “Hey, what’s your take, your pitch?” It was like, “No, let’s take this out.” So, at that point, it’s like, “Okay, crafting an amazing pitch.” Then when you sell it, and I write my script. I staff a writer’s room. So, staffing a room, reading dozens and dozens of scripts, finding the people to fill up the room and tell the story. I’d already had a Bible written before I staffed the room. Then it’s in the writer’s room every day, breaking the stories, reading the outlines, writing them, and rewriting them. Then when you’re casting, it’s doing all of that and casting at the same time. Watching casting tapes, sending your selects. Then when you’re in pre-production and scouting locations, hiring costume designers and production designers. Then it’s filming, and you’re on set. Usually my experience, this is my second show as showrunner, it’s writing, filming, and editing all at the same time and casting all at the same time, because you’re still casting later episodes when you’re filming the early episodes. So, it is me approving, meeting, adjusting, and rewriting for several reasons at the last minute because we lost a location, or an actor dropped out and can’t be in this episode. So, we must rewrite the episode. It’s everything. Being a showrunner, it’s being the creative last word before you deliver a script and outline an episode to the studio, the production company, and the network.

'Black Cake' director Natalia Leite and executive producer and Showrunner Marissa Jo Cerar.

(L to R) ‘Black Cake’ director Natalia Leite and executive producer and Showrunner Marissa Jo Cerar. Photo: James Van Evers/Hulu.

MF: Finally, can you talk about collaborating with series directors?

MJC: On television, sometimes the director does all the episodes. Sometimes you only have two. We had four. It’s just making sure it’s a collaboration. But so much work is done before the director. In this instance, before the directors come on, because writing all the episodes, breaking all the story, there was a book. It’s just making sure you’re creatively on the same wavelength and tonally, you understand it’s the type of show that you both want to make. Then when the director is on set and running set, it’s just having communication that works for both of you and never stepping into their role. It’s a delicate dance and it’s a case-by-case basis. But I just like working and collaborating with people. We just want to make something cool and great, and I also want people to show me a new idea, something I didn’t think of. A writer, a director, an editor, a composer. That’s the beauty of doing television. It’s so collaborative. They are running the ship. They are, but in TV, it’s still a little different with the showrunner because we’re with the episodes for long after the directors are.

Chipo Chung in 'Black Cake.'

Chipo Chung in ‘Black Cake.’ Photo: Beth Dubber/Hulu.

What is the plot of ‘Black Cake’?

In the late 1960s, a runaway bride named Covey (Mia Isaac) disappears into the surf off the coast of Jamaica and is feared drowned or a fugitive on the run for her husband’s murder. Fifty years later in California, a widow named Eleanor Bennett (Chipo Chung), loses her battle with cancer, leaving her two estranged children, Byron (Ashley Thomas) and Benny (Lashay Anderson), a flash drive that holds previously untold stories of her journey from the Caribbean to America. These stories, narrated by Eleanor, shock her children and challenge everything they thought they knew about their family’s origin.

Who is in the cast of ‘Black Cake?’

'Black Cake' Executive Producer and Showrunner Marissa Jo Cerar and Author Charmaine Wilkerson.

(L to R) ‘Black Cake’ Executive Producer and Showrunner Marissa Jo Cerar and Author Charmaine Wilkerson. Photo: James Van Evers/Hulu.

Movies Currently on Hulu:

Buy Glynn Turman Movies on Amazon

#Black #Cake #Interview #Marissa #Cerar

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top