In Gimme the Loot, Tashiana Washington plays a tagger from the Bronx with the kind of balls every New Yorker dreams of. The film, which won last year’s SXSW narrative grand jury prize, follows a two-day urban odyssey, and features Washington and Ty Hickson as two teenage graffiti artists, Sofia and Malcolm, out to get at their rivals and bomb the Mets Home Run Apple. But first they need to raise the $500 price tag to get into Citi Field. In its span, Gimme the Loot, directed by first timer Adam Leon, runs like a picture book of urban love, unrealized for now, filled with long cuts of the duo trekking through muggy downtown streets and rooftops—making moves, talking shit. Washington’s Sofia is especially charming with a performance that registers in the vein of Marisa Tomei circa My Cousin Vinny—feisty and magnetic. When we spoke to the actress on a recent break from her film festival tour, she discussed the film’s whirlwind success, getting tuned into graffiti culture, and acting hard.
Are you a New Yorker originally?
I am. I was born in Manhattan, but I was raised in Queens. I lived in Flushing Fresh Meadows, not to far from St. John’s.
How much tagging had you done before the movie?
I hadn’t had any experience with the art of graffiti. We had a great instructor come in. He’s done graffiti for years. His name was SP1, and he taught us about the culture of graffiti, the lingo, as well as the different styles and how to write graffiti.
The tagging that you are seen doing at the start of the film, how much of that was you?
I blended the colors together, but SP1 did the outline for me, because sometimes my lines would be a little bit crooked. Of course, since these kids have been doing it for a while, we wanted it to look good, so I would blend the colors together on the inside. I did half the work.
You beat out 500 girls for the role. What was it about Sofia that you were able to connect with so well?
When I read the sides, I fell in love, because the typical roles I usually go for are nothing like this. And I wanted something that would challenge me, be different, be almost like a 360 for me. I wanted people to see that I can play girly as well as tomboy. I wanted people to see my acting range. One thing I realized later in the script was that we both try to strongly be outside of ourselves and hide our feelings. Sofia’s someone I wish I was more like because of the way she expresses herself and stands up for herself. I’m more timid and humble, and I’ll hold my tongue and hope for the best sometimes, but I admire her courage. Since I don’t have it in real life, I got to play like I do. That really attracted me to the role.
What message does her tomboy style send?
I do think Sofia has a soft feminine side, but I think because she loves graffiti and is a high school kid, I figured she’s not concerned about doing make up and having a tight outfit on. I feel she’s more concerned about getting great tags all over the city, so she can get respect as a dope graffiti writer. I think as she gets older she may evolve into being more feminine looking in the way she dresses, but I think for now, her main focus is having more fun and writing all around the city.
You had a great back and forth with Ty throughout the movie. How much of that was scripted and how much was ad-libbed?
Actually 98% of the film was scripted, which was crazy, because when I read it, I was like, who wrote this? And then when they told me Adam, I was like seriously? That showed me how talented he is—to be basically the opposite of Sofia and nothing like that script, it’s so funny to me. As far as my chemistry with Ty, I auditioned three times. I didn’t read with Ty until the last time, and they had us go out and do a screen test, and I was nervous but it came off great—the way we played off of each other. We had scene rehearsals before we started shooting, so we were able to find the tones in the scenes and if we had any little tweaks that we needed to work on, we were granted the time on that. I think that’s another reason why it came of so well onscreen.
The film won an award at last year’s SXSW and now Rolling Stone just gave it a near perfect review with 3 1/2 out of 4 stars. Had you anticipated that the film would gain this much attention?
Me personally, no. The film completed superseded my expectations. I remember when we went to South By, our director Adam Leon said, “Don’t expect anything. We’re just happy to be here. I don’t want you guys to be upset if you guys don’t win. If we win great, if we don’t so what we’re just here to have a good time.” And then when they announced that we won, he was the first one jumping up like a jelly bean, so exuberant. I wanted to say, “I thought you said don’t expect anything?” [Laughs] And then from there LAFF, Cannes, Deauville France. It just went to a festival in Frankfurt. This film has taken me all over the world. I would have never expected that, but I’m really happy it did.
How was acting in your first lead role?
Well when I read the script and saw that I was the lead, I didn’t feel any pressure like oh my god it’s all upon me and Ty, my co-star. Usually, I have smaller supporting roles, but it was no pressure. It was so much fun getting up every day and going to set. We had fun, and it went by really quickly. I was happy one of two parts at the center of attention, because I’m like yes, this is my time to show people that I’m a great actress, modestly speaking, that I have range and I can do this. I was just really happy to have that chance.
How long have you been acting?
I would say since I was 12, I’ve been auditioning since I was 4, but I was really more into modeling from 4 to 12. Then I started booking more when I was 12 or 13.
What’s your ultimate dream?
To be an all around entertainer. I sing as well, but I’m like hey why not do both. At the end of the day, I consider myself a storyteller so whether that’s through singing or acting, I just want to entertain people and make them smile and give them something to enjoy and forget about their problems for however long I’m on the stage.
I just did a commercial with Jimmy Fallon for Capital One, and I’m in the recording studio. I have auditions later in the month, but for now, we’re very heavy promoting this film.
Gimme the Loot premieres March 22 at the IFC Center. For more on the film see the trailer below.