Gabrielle Byndloss. (Tara Gulledge Photography)
Gabrielle Byndloss is esctatic to be a part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, especially on a project like The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.
“It’s so surreal,” she said. “I’m actually tearing up thinking about it.”
Byndloss, who plays Olivia Walker, the wife of the new Captain America John Walker (Wyatt Russell), opened up about how important this series is to her and her desire to see questions about race discussed in the mainstream. In the interview below, we also talked about how her yoga and meditation practice helps her get into character and manage her anxiety, and what it feels like to be a part of two major comic book franchises at the same time.
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is currently streaming weekly on Disney+.
Monique Jones: We were introduced to your character Olivia in the second episode, which had a lot of important stuff in there that relates to the MCU and to today’s racial climate. But as for your character, how would you describe her?
Gabrielle Byndloss: I would describe Olivia as the calming supportive strength [for Walker] and you get that vibe from her when she walked in and in hearing her voice. She is the soothing side to John and also brings strength at the same time, which is what he needs with all of the stuff that’s going on around him to really have that anchor of like, where are we, what are we doing, what’s happening?
Since you mentioned Olivia’s calming nature, which was very evident in the episode, that brings to mind that you’re a meditation practitioner and yoga teacher. Do you think some of that experience with working on emotions and calmness helped in how you portrayed Olivia?
Absolutely. I deal with anxiety all of the time which is how I found yoga and meditation and it’s 100% about the way of how I approached Olivia, because she is that calming side that comes in and even down to where my voice registered and how I just came up with my lines and how I delivered them has that same yogic feel to it. Like, when you can hear Olivia, you hear that everything else just kind of gets quiet. You’re drawn into what she’s saying. And for me, that’s exactly what happens with meditation. Everything can be going crazy around me. And then I throw on and meditation, that’s guided and I listened to it and everything starts to get quiet and all I’m hearing what’s going on in meditation and I can recenter.
That definitely rings true for me because, full disclosure, I also have anxiety, depression, OCD–any anxious thing, I feel like I have it.
And I also have been practicing meditation because it helps me realize that my thoughts are just thoughts and I can leave them aside and continue with my day. So all of the stuff you said makes perfect sense.
You can get back to your power because [the thoughts] really do run wild in your head. And it’s until you say, ‘These are thoughts,’ that you can say, ‘I have power over my thoughts, I just have to choose to face them.’ I am right there with you with anxiety.
This series has been on its surface about the Falcon [Anthony Mackie] reckoning with Chris Evans’ version of Captain America giving up the mantle and his shield. The Falcon has been reckoning with what it means to be Captain America. But the series is also about race in America and I think it probably couldn’t have come at a better time in America than when we are dealing with the aftermath of 2020, especially with George Floyd and his death. How do you think the series is tackling this tough topic?
First of all, I want to say that I’m extremely proud to be in a series that’s tackling this, especially since I’ve been in the film industry for 10 years now and…[am] a Black woman watching this be a topic that needs to be addressed and brought up and not given the time it needs to. Marvel has such a platform to take a stand and [they chose] to center a new series around racial injustice and to take a powerful character to really question the idea of who America thinks is a hero. You take Captain America, and you have a certain image in your head through comic books, through media, through what we see as Americans every day, and Marvel using [the series] to ask the questions and to go on the journey of questioning it together. That automatically allows people to have an opinion. While it’s safer to not go that route [of questioning racial stereotypes], Marvel chose to go that route and to use every episode [to question race]. That to me is a powerhouse…To able to use their platform to take a stand on [racial injustice] is huge and I’m so happy to be a part of that.
While you’re now a part of the MCU, you’re also a part of the DC Cinematic Universe in Doom Patrol. What it’s like to now be a part of two of the biggest comic book franchises out there?
I feel the best word I could say is that it’s an honor, you know, that with both of the comic book industries, they have a lineage and they have diehard fans and they have history to them. I to be trusted to tell that story is a really big deal. And when you audition for the project, you don’t know really anything. You’re just using something that they call dummy sides, which typically don’t resemble anything in the script and you’re bringing yourself to them. Then from something like that, they trust you to tell this story that they know has such a strong fan base and also years of history they have to bring to it.
The fact that those platforms have trusted me to tell that story really is such an honor as an actor to not just have to do one thing or the other and to be trusted, to be like, “Yeah, you can help us tell this story and do it justice so that not only the fans love it, but it also does justice for the writers who created this series years before you were even born.
One of the scenes in your episode of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier that stood out to me was the scene with Isaiah Bradley, the first American super-soldier. I remember reading about him years before, and it was fascinating to me how they put him in this series and it’s probably the best series they could have put him since it’s dealing with the topic of race. If or when you saw that scene, what was it like to see? What was it like to see Marvel really tackle race and discrimination through that character?
So I did not see that scene being filmed because the way that it works is if you’re not in the scene, you actually aren’t on set. So my first viewing was just like you as an audience member and watching it. It was a beautiful description of both sides, to me. You have Isaiah Bradley, a black superhero who has been jailed, standing there next to somebody like Falcon and say, even in this moment, things have changed completely. And then watching Falcon put together the fact that there was another Black super soldier that he had never heard about until in that moment and the person standing next to him [Bucky, played by Sebastian Stan] knew about it. So from an actor’s perspective, it was a beautiful way to see history in front of you, and also watch a character go through moments of “How did I not know about this? What does this mean? What would have been different had I known and how do I go forward from here?”
And then, you know, they hit it right after that with the scene with the police running up on the Falcon and the Winter Soldier. So it was all kinds of feels for me as an actor and also being a Black woman in America. Here we are showing a black superhero that would fit in and also had been put in jail and [Bradley’s backstory] had the exact way of resembling [the experience of] Black men in America. And then now we’re going to walk outside and still experience racism as the cops go straight to Falcon, thinking something’s going on with him. That moment was like, here we are, you know, in 2021 addressing issues that we need to address in a Marvel series right here. And it felt good to see it and also was like a little emotional for me. I teared up a little bit watching Isaiah. I think it was hard not to–[Carl Lumbly’s] portrayal was so great.
What do you hope viewers take away from the series?
That’s a great question. I’m going to sum it up and say that this series allows the audience to question a lot of things they might think. [Because the series airs every week] and you can’t binge, it allows you to have time to process what you’ve watched and to reflect instead of just focusing on how it plays out in the Marvel [universe]…I hope they can see a whole different side to the [questions regarding race in America]. Whether you’re on one side or the other, I hope [the series] can add a different perspective.
*This article has been condensed and edited for clarity.