The first two episodes of creator Rebecca Addelman’s gripping dark comedy drama Guilty Party premiere on Paramount+ on Thursday October 14th. Making an auspicious screen debut in the ten-part series is recent Juilliard graduate Jules Latimer who gives an impactful, nuanced performance as Toni Plimpton, a woman known in the media as “The Dick Cutter”, who is serving life for her husband’s murder. Determined to put forward her side of the story and exonerate herself, Toni invites discredited investigative journalist Beth Burgess (Kate Beckinsale)—who is desperate to salvage her career after being accused of making up quotes—to visit her in prison.
Ahead of the series premiere, The Queer Review’s editor James Kleinmann had an exclusive conversation with actor, musician, and singer-songwriter Jules Latimer about what it meant to her to land the role in the midst of the pandemic, dealing with the isolation of shooting during Covid, how supportive Kate Beckinsale was as a scene partner, why being visible and open as a Black queer woman in the entertainment industry is important to her, and why The L Word was her ‘Gay Bible’.
James Kleinmann, The Queer Review: congratulations on Guilty Party. I’ve seen the first three episodes now and I’m completely hooked. You just graduated Juilliard last year, so tell me a bit about what the experience was like of landing this role?
Jules Latimer: “I had initially gone in for it pre-pandemic and then got the news when I was in quarantine in a hotel in Atlanta, because my mom lives there. It was the best news one could get during the pandemic because it was just a lot of doom and gloom. I was in class still. That was the beginning of doing class on Zoom. My partner and I went to see my dad in Tulsa and then I was in New Mexico with her family. We were staying Airbnbs waiting for our time to go shoot. It was the best gift that one could get out of school for sure.”
In the first few episodes your character Toni is very intriguing and I’m sure that we’re going to find out a lot more about her as the series progresses, but give us an insight into where we find her in her life when we first meet her.
“When you meet Toni she’s sending out notices to different journalists to help her tell her story. She’s known as “The Dick Cutter” and she’s locked up for killing her husband and wants people to hear her side of things. So I meet with Beth Burgess and it doesn’t go very well. I’m trying to figure out whether or not this lady’s actually going to help me and get me to where I need to go. It’s not pretty, us trying to connect, and trying to get her to help me on my mission. So that’s where Tony is. She’s trying to strategize and figure out how she can get out of prison so she can be with her daughter, so she can live the life that she wants to live. She’s first generation, she’s not close with her mother and she is kind of a loner and is always trying to look for the next best thing to help further her life. You get introduced to Toni in the first three episodes as someone who is very determined to not just survive in prison, but with her daughter outside of that environment.”
It’s a really engaging dynamic between your character Toni and Beth played by Kate Beckinsale who comes into the prison to see her. It really keeps us on our toes as viewers, you’re not quite sure where it’s going go. What was it like creating that onscreen relationship with her and getting to work with her? I saw an Instagram post where you put something like, ‘Thank you for holding my baby hands when I cried’, so it sounds like she was pretty supportive on set.
“She was incredibly supportive. When I first met her, her first piece of advice to me was to mind my energy while we’re on set, to really take care of myself, because shooting can be very intense and the subject matter was intense with my character being in prison and all that she goes through. There was a moment when I was having such a hard time with all the isolation and with Covid and being lonely, and we were shooting a scene that was incredibly intense, which you’ll see later in the season, and I couldn’t stop crying. I had the cameras on me and the crew was ready, and I was just emotionally not there and she was like, ‘Take the time that you need. 10, 15 minutes, the day. Whatever it is that you need, do it’. She’s incredible. Anything that you think about Kate Beckinsale just let it be known that she’s a fantastic, phenomenal person and I call her a friend, a confidant. She’s absolutely lovely. I love her so much.”
Well, it’s good to hear that. Actually, I’m 100% gay, but she has always been a screen crush of mine, all those Underworld movies and everything else she’s been in!
“Me too! She’s been a crush for me too, but I don’t tell her that!”
Talking about your character being incarcerated, with a very heavy sentence, and she’s a new mother; what was it like putting yourself into the mindset of someone in that situation?
“Well, I’ve never been in that sort of situation, but I am a Black queer woman who’s always looking out to see if something is coming. I’m a survivor. I can relate to what that could be. I’ll never say that I know that situation, because I don’t. So with that I channeled that heavy, where I was like, Where’s my next move? Are you going to help me? You’re not going to help me? Well, bye then Beth Burgess, bye! I don’t care if you look like Kate Beckinsale, bye!”
“It was interesting because I was in isolation while shooting, so I felt like I was getting to know yes, Toni, but also myself more, because I was shooting this TV show and this isn’t even the half of what folks get when they’re in prison, but I’m there alone with my books and I can only imagine what it is that she truly would be going through if she was in that situation in real life. So it was humbling and also very easy to connect with her.”
Particularly once people get to see this show and more offers of work are coming in, I just wondered as a queer woman how actively you might be looking for queer roles to play or LGBTQ+ related work?
“All the time. Just like being a Black person is not a monolith, being a queer woman there are a lot of different characters that I love to play. One dream that I have is doing Audre Lorde. I’m very open and I want to live openly. As I’m in this business and I gather fans, I want to connect to the queer Black girl, or queer Black person, in the country, in middle America. I’m from Tulsa, Oklahoma and it’s so important to me for that representation to be on TV and film. Half the reason I got into this business is to see more people that are like me, that are open and out and proud. I’m incredibly proud of who I am and I just cannot wait for people to see this show.”
Was there anyone who you looked up to in the entertainment industry and could identify with as you were training or once you decided that you wanted to act?
“Viola Davis’ journey. I did everything that she did. Well, not everything, but I went to Juilliard. There’s also another woman who I’m a huge fan of who grew up in Atlanta and went to Juilliard as well and is doing well for herself. Her name is Joaquina Kalukango. I think she’s absolutely phenomenal. Danielle Brooks. The Black women that were before me that went to Juilliard, they not only have been so generous with their advice and their time but they’ve shown me love and I give that love right back to the folks who are at school as well.”
So I’ve got one final question for you and it’s for your favorite piece of LGBTQ+ culture or you could pick a person who identifies as LGBTQ+; someone or something that’s had an impact on you and resonated with you over the years and why?
“Well, it’s funny because my partner and I were watching The L Word last night and I was like, ‘That was my Gay Bible!’ I watched that all the time. Old seasons and the new season. One of my homies, Rosanny Zayas, she’s on the show. I love that show so much. There are aspects with trans characters that I always have to question, but all in all, being a queer woman I watched the show all the time, late at night turning on Showtime I was like, ‘Oh my God, that’s how they live in West Hollywood!’ That was my show.”
By James Kleinmann
Guilty Party premieres on Thursday October 14th exclusively on Paramount+
Follow Jules Latimer on Instagram @JulesLatimer