Lifetime is rolling out a couple of movies celebrating the legacies of Black women. The first one airs tomorrow, the story of Salt-N-Pepa, starring G.G. Townson as Cheryl James (Salt) and Laila Odom as Sandra Denton (Pepa).
Recently, we had a chance to speak with the stars of this upcoming film about their arduous audition process, emotional moments on set, and what they hope audiences will take from Salt N Pepa’s story.
For Laila, she felt secured the role of Pep was something she manifested. After seeing the New Edition biopic, she knew she wanted to be involved in something as epic.
Laila Odom: I just know it was dope that my friend got to play such an important role. And I saw all the bootcamp and training and I said, I can do that. I could have played Ricky Bell or something. And now, years later, I’m here. Same writer. Awesome experience. It’s one of those things where you don’t even realize what God or the universe is giving to you until you ask for something. You’re playing something and you have a billboard up on Sunset.
MadameNoire: What was the audition process like?
GG Townson: The audition process was over a month, month and a half. And it your first read, do your sides, rap and dance. Then you get a call back. Mario [Van Peebles, the director] has notes. Go in do those notes. There were so many moving parts. At one point they told me and Laila, I need y’all to go shoot a video. We had to legit shoot a video in less than 12-hours. So many people don’t understand how intense the audition process can be.
But that’s where the professionalism comes in. We do this! There were no excuses. So we got a studio, we got a choreographer and we made a video , we got it edited and sent it off. Obviously, we were able to get it done. That’s why we’re here. But the backside of this entire process is that Sheryl and Sandy are watching all of it. They were aware. We had to get signed off. If they didn’t like us, we wouldn’t be here. They were the bosses. They had the final say. They were a part of the entire process.
MN: How did them being there affect you guys? Did you like that pressure or did you find it unnerving?
Laila Odom: I think it was a benefit for them to be there on set. You don’t have to go too far to get an answer. The first day of shooting, we’re in Toronto, some of the crew came to me and said, ‘Your mom’s here.’ I was like, ‘No, she’s not. My mom is in Jersey.’ My mom didn’t even know where I was. They meant Pep. There were moments where they thought I was her daughter. And I was like, ‘I’ll take it.’
Now, she’s here and it’s a heightened awareness that she’s here and that’s you so you better bring it on home. I didn’t feel the pressure but I think we all want to live up to someone’s expectations because it’s their life, it’s their legacy and you want to do the very best.
The first times I worked with Pep was during a scene with a young actor who portrays her son Tyran. She pulled me aside and said to me, ‘That was not right. That wasn’t it. You can’t just say, ‘Bye Tyran!’’
I was like, ‘Oh, okay. Let me try this again. Let me get into my mom zone because I’m not a mom. And if she wasn’t there, I don’t know if I would have got into that adjustment like that or understood what she meant. But when I looked at her, I felt what she was saying.
Salt and G had a relationship too. When it came dramatic scenes, issues that really mattered to Cheryl, they worked together in a different way.
GG Townson: There was one scene, it was a bathroom scene where I was purging. And it was very emotional and she got emotional. And she came into the bathroom and we closed the door and we just sat and cried there for a second. She said, ‘Just get it out.’ And we hugged. Because I was a mess after that scene. Mario even said, ‘Take a second.’ Because he would always say, ‘Your body doesn’t know that you’re acting. Your body just thinks stuff is going on. So take your time.’ So it was great to have Cheryl there to cry together and have her have my back in those moments.
MN: Speaking of that, what was the most challenging aspect of portraying these women. I was thinking you guys were going to say choreography. But listening to that, it seems like the emotional aspect might have taken as toll as well.
Laila: I think for me, the relationship with Treach, to do that with care and respect for him, also. No one’s here to embarrass anyone or out anyone. We’re not doing that. They’re young and people make mistakes. We’re not here to crucify Treach but we did push those tough moments in a relationship. That was tough because it’s not just me. I was working with the actor who played Treach. There’s a child from that relationship so let’s handle this with the right amount of regard. G, I know you had a similar experience working with Hurby (the group’s manager and Cheryl’s love interest).
GG: When we were in, we were in it. The gloves were off. I’m talking real pushes, real shoves. It got real a lot. We all got so close. We were all we had in Toronto, so going through those emotional things with each other, it was hard. I’m not even gon hold you. It’s real for you, to serve the best purpose of the scene.
Even me and Laila’s (Salt n Pepa’s) breakup scene, I was on the side like, wipes tears. I was trying not to let her see me. But I needed to get it together.
MN: GG, you mentioned a difficult moment for you. But Laila did you have a similar moment playing Pep? She’s the one with the tougher exterior and we may assume that not as much affects her. Were there scenes that were rough for her to watch you reenact?
Laila: Sure. I don’t want to give it away but everybody has different coping mechanisms. It might be drinking, it might be sex or harming yourself. And she dealt with the issue of how do you deal with pain. What me and Pep have in common is we both lost our fathers and being raised in a tough city. Those things helped me find her and connect with her. She’s tough. I’m tough. But we as women still need love. We’re still vulnerable. I might not be as vulnerable as often as someone else but I still have my moments. And she has a moment. She’s quick to be like, ‘So! I don’t care.’ But it’s nice to see a different side of her.
MN: On a little lighter note, Salt n Pepa were known for their outfits, their hair. What was your favorite look during filming?
GG: The “Push It” outfit was dope, once we got into it. I was like, ‘I see what y’all saw when we was auditioning.’ Oftentimes you can see a little bit but when you’re in it, it’s undeniable. That and “Shoop.” Seeing scenes from “Shoop”…yeah! Dem is money, baby!
Laila: The “Push It” outfits were cut on our body. They were made for us. Just like the roles were made for GG and myself. It was truly a remake, shout out to Michelle Lyte, our costume designer. When you look back at that, it was like wow.
And not for nothing, when we came in, people were like skeptical face ‘These the girls?’ We were like, ‘Excuse us. We just got off a flight, relax!’ And as time went on, they were like, ‘I see it.’ By the time we shot, “Shoop,” they were like ‘That’s Salt n Pepa over there.’
I think people are in store for a nice treat. It’s about women, Black women and we’re going to change the idea of a Lifetime film.
MN: What are you ladies looking forward to audiences learning about Salt n Pepa and taking from this project? I feel like we’re going to learn a lot.
GG: I’m personally looking to audiences learning what they went through and still managed to maintain and keep it together. I’m happy that they’re taking this opportunity to be candid with the good, the bad and the ugly. They could have chosen to say we’re going to give you a cookie cutter movie or we’re not going to do it at all. But they’re choosing to say, ‘Here’s my heart. Here are my experiences. Take it or leave it.’ They’re telling their story the way they want it to be told by the people they want it to be told by. They had complete control and this is their gift for those who have the question: what was really going on back then?
You can follow Laila Odom on social media @lailaodom and GG Townson @ggtownson.
Salt N Pepa airs Saturday, January 23 at 11 PM EST/10 PM CST on Lifetime.