In Without Remorse, Jodie Turner-Smith stars alongside Michael B. Jordan as Lt. Commander Karen Greer, an elite member of the U.S. Navy Seals tasked with increasingly harrowing missions in this adaption of the 1993 novel by Tom Clancy.
Ahead of the film’s release this week on Amazon Prime Video (April 30), I had the pleasure of speaking with Turner-Smith about her role in the film and what audiences can expect from her character.
Negroni: Excited to talk about this movie. I just finished watching it this morning.
Turner-Smith: Oh, you did!
Negroni: Yeah, I’m still a little amped up, actually.
Turner-Smith: It’s fresh in your mind!
Negroni: Big time. It’s not a movie I would recommend people watch in the morning, though I like watching movies in the morning…
Turner-Smith: (Laughs) Why not? It’s kind of like it has a coffee effect, no?
Negroni: Maybe so, yeah, I’m just going to have an action-packed day and be a little extra with people, but that’s fine!
Turner-Smith: Maybe a little bit aggro. (Laughs)
Negroni: (Laughs) Oh boy. Well, I’m excited to talk to you. It was really cool to see you in this. I don’t think I’ve seen you in anything since Queen and Slim. And I knew nothing about this movie before watching it…
Turner-Smith: Jon, you haven’t seen me in anything since Queen and Slim. Does that mean you didn’t watch my film I directed? Jackie?
Negroni: No! I haven’t seen that! It’s feature length?
Turner-Smith: No, it’s short.
Negroni: Oh, goodness, OK, so I gotta check that out.
Turner-Smith: Yeah, please do!
(UPDATE: Since doing this interview, I have watched Jackie twice on YouTube. Promises kept.)
Negroni: I definitely enjoyed [Without Remorse]. I was definitely surprised by how it’s a Tom Clancy film, but it’s not like any Tom Clancy adaptation I’ve ever seen before. Would you agree with that?
Turner-Smith: Yeah, I would agree in that…John Kelly is Tom Clancy’s second most famous character, and he’s kind of described as Jack Ryan’s “dark side”…and I always feel weird saying that because in our film he’s Black (laughs). So I mean not racially “dark side,” but also (laughs) he is darker. So in that sense, it is kind of different.
And I think that the Tom Clancy universe…obviously, we all know it and love it, and each novel lends itself to the possibility of many, multiple projects, with each really being able to stand alone. And in many ways, we also went away from exactly what Without Remorse, the novel, is about. So…perhaps that also adds to why it feels different.
Negroni: Oh yeah, a lot of creative departures, but obviously some things about it that remain the same. So let’s take it back a little bit. How did you get into this in the first place? How did this whole experience start for you?
Turner-Smith: I auditioned. I heard about the project, I heard about who was involved, Michael B. Jordan, not only involved as the leading man but also executive producing it. Obviously, the film that I did with Daniel Kaluuya as an executive producer…I was interested in this idea of having a strong leading man, a Black man as the leading man in a Tom Clancy world. Like, “Whoa, that’s different and interesting.”
And I loved the character. I always relish the opportunity to play a strong Black woman onscreen. And Karen Greer…I loved what she represented, who she was, the fact that her connection and her love for John Kelly was not borne of anything romantic, but out of a platonic love. Which is even purer, even stronger. And I just liked that, so I thought, “Right on.”
Negroni: Yeah, I was definitely taken aback a little bit by how sharp the script is with the male and female friendship and what you bring to that, of course. I’m still trying to wrap my head, too, around the headspace of your character throughout this movie. It feels like every scene she is trying to take hold of these different situations and trying to be a throughline in this very chaotic series of circumstances that her friend is going through. How did you approach making that come alive through your performance?
Turner-Smith: Well, you know, as a Black woman, you’re often in the position of having to hold it together for our male counterpart (laughs). And as a woman in general, that’s kind of always the woman’s role is to add this balance. And I think that men are extremely emotional creatures in a world in which they are not permitted to be, so it’s fitting that she would see her friend who is sort of spinning out in grief in a way, while he’s still focused on wanting to get his revenge for that. Because it’s motivated so much by the way that he’s spinning out in grief.
Karen really is trying to be something that balances him and grounds him and keeps him focused on an idea of, “Yes, we can absolutely search for justice in this because that is deserved and it’s fair.” But not wanting him to lose himself while he’s trying to get there. And being concerned that he might be.
Negroni: Yeah, that’s definitely the outcome. You have this character who provides all this emotional support. She also has his back throughout this movie. But was it difficult figuring this out for the character? Did you add a lot to this out of our own creative spirit?
Turner-Smith: I mean certainly, I think with everything, that’s how we get hired, to sort of add as much as we can to it with our creative spirt. Like who do we think this person is? What I have to uniquely bring to this role is “me.” Right? Because I’m the only person who can bring “me” to this. And so there is definitely an element of, “What is my take on all of these things that are written on the page? What is my take as a woman, as a Black woman, as a human being in the world, right now? What is my take on loving someone in this way and supporting someone in this way and wanting the best for them in this way?”
You kind of take all of the things that are about the character on the page, and then you rinse them through the lens of who you are and what you think about all these things and what kind of story you want to tell. I hope to do that for Karen Greer, I hope to create a person who, when you look at her, you’re wondering, “What is it that she’s thinking and why? And who is she inside of all of this?” I wanted her to feel three-dimensional and not two-dimensional in any way. I hope that translates (laughs).
Negroni: I personally think it does. I was so worried about how this movie was going to go about that. Because sometimes that really does happen where that supporting character is very one-dimensional and not even two-dimensional. Where you can’t predict what this person is going to do, how they’re going to react, how they’re going to be in control of what’s happening to them and around them. So I appreciate that about your performance for sure.
Turner-Smith: Yeah, and also I love that it was written that instead of her being this sort of “yes-man” in John Kelly’s life, that she was like, “You’re not OK, right now.” And I’m going to step up and say, “I don’t think that you’re OK and that you should be a part of this, no matter what that’s going to mean for you.” I can literally be sitting across from you, looking you in your face, and telling you that. And I love that that’s what they envisioned for her and that’s what they wrote for her. And that, eventually, he has to in many ways also redeem himself for her. Enroll her in what he’s trying to do.
Negroni: Yeah, and also, not a yes-person to the government or the rules, or anything like that. Just looking at every situation as a person.
Turner-Smith: Exactly, I love that, too. She wasn’t just like, “OK, I’m going to go along with it.” Even though something that is written for her character is that she is fiercely loyal, that she plays by the rules, that she’s a patriot, she believes in her country. It was still something where in her spirit, she needed to support her friend. And she saw what her friend was going through, and that what the government was doing was unjust. And she was like, “No. I’m going to give you this information.”
Negroni: Yeah, it’s like the mark of a good character is when, if I put myself into her shoes, I don’t know if I would be strong enough to make some of the decisions that she makes. So yeah, that’s the definitely the mark of an intriguing character and one who adds a lot to the story. So you work with a lot of really talented people here: Jamie Bell, Guy Pearce, Michale B. Jordan…had you met Michael B. Jordan before you worked on this project?
Turner-Smith: You know what, I actually did meet Michael before I worked on this project. I met him at a party…at a GQ Man of the Year party…Actually, no! That’s not even true. I actually met Michael well before this. I completely forgot that. Such a funny story. So it was like a friend of a friend who knew the gentleman who at the time was his roommate. And I remember I went over there once and I must have signed into my Spotify account on Michael’s laptop. Two years after that, I kept getting kicked off my Spotify, and it was like, “So and so is using your Spotify,” and the name wasn’t Michael. It was his middle name. So I was like, “Who is f—— using my Spotify and kicking me off it?!” And then I ran into him years later, and he’s like, “Oh, I’ve been using your Spotify by the way.”
And I was like, “THIS is what has been happening! Because every time I’ve been getting kicked off Spotify.” And I guess he just did not feel like putting in the effort of signing into his own. He was literally kicking me out of my Spotify for a good year and a half (laughs).
Negroni: First of all, relatable. Who hasn’t gone through that, hacking your friend’s Spotify by accident…
Turner-Smith: Or on purpose, really. Being like, “I can’t be bothered to sign up for my own account. Here’s this free one I have access to.”
Negroni: I’ve got my free Spotify account. Been using it since 2011, so…(laughs)
Negroni: I ask that too because even if you’ve met the person and you meet with them to do the movie and figure out chemistry and everything…did you kind of have a sense of how your rapport was going to go, like as actors? Did you feel like you’d need to improvise or build it slowly over time?
Turner-Smith: Oh yeah. For sure. Michael is super approachable. From the first time that I met him, I mean obviously friendly enough so that I was signed on through my Spotify account to his computer. You know what I mean? Just as like a “cool buddy.” But also like when I met him again…we were at the GQ Man of the Year party and Lena Waithe was like bringing me up to Michael and he was so nice and so cool and so down to earth. So I already got a sense, and even as I was in negotiations for getting onto the project, he reached out to me over Instagram to say he was excited to do it. So even though I didn’t have loads of time before the project of being in prep…like the moment from when I signed on to when I went out there was quite short. So we didn’t have all of this time before to be like, “Oh, let’s create camaraderie.” But I really felt that from meeting him and from how he sort of behaved, that he was going to be down to earth and we were going to be able to create the camaraderie.
Negroni: Yeah, sounds like you kind of hit the ground running, there, which I guess worked out. I mean you knew his music tastes, so you were just able to totally, you know, no camaraderie needed (Laughs).
Turner-Smith: I knew he was the type of person to make off with his friend’s Spotify, so I was like, you know what, he’s one of us (Laughs). Stars, they’re just like us. They also steal your Spotify.
Negroni: Right on. So this movie is coming out soon. Have you been able to watch anybody else react to seeing the film for the first time, and if so, how did that go?
Turner-Smith: Yeah, absolutely, I watched it with my mom and my husband. So it was nice to see them see the film as well and be entertained by it. And my mom would see me and be like, “Whoo!” I mean they’re my family, so who knows? (Laughs) They cheer me on. And they’re always very honest with me. There’s nothing like a mom to be sort of really honest with you. My mom, she’ll be like, “Mmmm, you know, you weren’t that good in that scene.” But she liked the film.
Negroni: The movie is kind of nonstop, honestly, in terms of the action. What do you think was the key to getting a lot of that right? Because you’re in the thick of it for a lot of this movie. I felt like I knew where I was at any given moment, I understood what the stakes were, so while you were on set, how were you able to pull that off?
Turner-Smith: Yeah, number one, obviously, we had guys on set who are constantly there to make sure that in everything that we’re doing, the way that we’re moving, the way we’re operating combat, the way we’re talking to each other as teammates, as fellow combatants, that it feels authentic and real. So there was that. I went and spoke to as many people as I could that sort of did what Karen Greer does to kind of get a sense of, “Well, what are these personalities and energies like? And how can I emulate that in my characterization of this woman.”
And while there are no women who do the job that Karen Greer has in this film, I think that’s very much a “there are no women, yet.” I think that all of these different branches of the Armed Forces are finally opening up in a way that is saying equality is important for them. I just wanted to ground her in as much reality as possible. As much as I can. Being that the reality is I’m an actor, and I don’t do that for a living, and I haven’t worked nearly as hard as any of the women who get even a fraction close to what the character I’m portraying is doing. But I tried to honor them and their experiences by bringing as much authenticity into it as I could by asking experts.
Negroni: You’ve got this awesome action franchise under your belt, I mean more than one. But yeah, are there any other action franchises you’ve ever dreamed about being a part of?
Turner-Smith: Yeah, I mean listen, I obviously I’m open to…I just got started in all of this, and I really truly love it, and obviously, action is one of the first genres I kind of entered into and I have a special place inside my heart, and especially being that it is one of my favorite genres to consume as an audience member, so really nothing is off limits. You know? I mean, I’m down. (Laughs)
Negroni: Sounds like it, yeah. I hope to see you in all kinds of new stuff pretty soon. Congrats and thanks so much for spending some time today.
Turner-Smith: Thank you. Thank you very much, Jon.
Without Remorse will be available via Amazon Prime Video on April 30.
Photo: Nadja Klier