Josiah Cross’ delicate dance with scene partner Teyana Taylor in ‘A Thousand and One’

Dreams do come true. At 24, Cleveland-born, classically trained stage actor Josiah Cross won his first major screen role — playing a fraught 17-year-old opposite the formidably talented Teyana Taylor as his desperate mother in “A Thousand and One.” For Cross, now 26, his heartbreaking performance as Terry proved a knockout showcase for his rising acting skills.

The actor phoned in from a bustling Brooklyn coffee shop to chat about his life-changing role.

You’re pretty astounding in the film. Can you talk a bit about how you prepared for Terry’s many deeply emotional moments?

I come from the stage, so a lot of my working character development stems from a lot of traditional, artisan type of places of theater. But this story was just undeniably true and personal to me, almost identical to my real life … particularly the single-mother aspect, the only-child aspect and being young and Black and navigating a metropolitan, impoverished city. My mom didn’t kidnap me, though! [Laughs]

[That said] I don’t believe it was a cathartic experience as much as a way to explore what empathy really looks like. And that’s really just how I connected. Because as close as I was to Terry, I was still disconnected in ways. For me, that empathy was probably the biggest touchstone.

Since Terry is played at ages 6 and 13 by other actors, were you aware of how they each portrayed the character when you started filming?

No. And I think the brilliance and genius of [writer-director] A.V. Rockwell was that she kept us separated. We weren’t seeing dailies. We had no interactions, because we’re not in any scenes together. Yet because of the level of authenticity that A.V. encouraged and supported and upheld I think all three of us got to understand the [story’s] through line and the continuity between time periods.

How was it to act opposite a powerhouse like Teyana?

Teyana was stripped down of celebrity, so her being vulnerable in that sense and me being vulnerable in such a front-facing role, we just threw ourselves away for the moment, gave ourselves over to it. Her approach was different than mine, but I think a lot of our chemistry came from that place where we were “dance partners.” I would be in control, and then she would be in control. I would follow her lead, and she would follow mine. Just, like, ping-pong, back and forth, whatever the moment called for. And I truly respect her as an artist — she can do it all. Watching her be so nimble and flexible in her artistry allowed me to do the same.

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