Lena Waithe is a superstar in the making.
She’s won an Emmy Award for her writing with Aziz Ansari for the Netflix series “Master of None,” where she also co-stars as Denise.
She’s the creator, writer and producer of the Showtime series “The Chi,” a contemporary look at life in her hometown of Chicago.
And this Thursday, Waithe makes her cinematic debut, being directed by none other than Steven Spielberg in the sci-fi adventure “Ready Player One,” based on the novel by Ernest Cline.
“Here’s the crazy thing,” the 33-year-old actress says about working with the iconic director, “People say, ‘Is that a dream come true?’ I wasn’t even smart enough to dream that up.”
She calls this a God dream — “Like, God dreamed this up for me because I absolutely didn’t.” Waithe was a fan of Spielberg’s films as a kid, singling out “The Color Purple,” “Jurassic Park” and “E.T.” as some favorites.
“I also believe in the law of attraction,” she says. “I think maybe because I was spending so much time studying him and just sort of being enamored by his art that, of course, I was lead to him in this way. And he’s really like one of my favorite people. We really bonded over the course of the film. And I just genuinely love him as a person. I think it goes beyond the whole working relationship.”
In “Ready Player One,” Waithe plays Aech, one of the avatar friends of the lead character of Parzival in the OASIS. Those might sound like nonsense words. Here’s the explanation: Set in 2045, to break away from the dire world, the population is immersed in a virtual world called the OASIS, where their avatars — which can look like whatever they can afford — can do whatever, be it go to school, fight in battles, hang out . . . really, whatever. Parzival, Wade Watts in real life (played by Tye Sheridan), and Aech are Gunters, who are people searching for a hidden Easter egg, which will give the finder control of the entire OASIS. It’s complicated to explain, but makes sense in the context of the movie.
Aech, in the OASIS, is a hulking dude with a massive workshop complete with an Iron Giant (You know, from the animated movie). And dude is key here — the person behind Aech, Helen, is a woman. Though with a manipulated voice, Aech just looks like a big man in the OASIS.
“I think Aech is like a really cool character,” Waithe says. “I like the fact that she changes her sex in the OASIS and wants to genuinely be one of the guys. I just love the fact that she’s very much a tomboy. She doesn’t fit into the typical things that you put a girl in, which I fully relate to.”
Cline, who created the character, says that Waithe is “perfect” as Aech.
“Aech is one of the coolest and funniest characters in the movie and kicks so much ass,” Cline says. “When she shows up in the real world, the first time you see Lena, she is wearing the exact same outfit that Aech is wearing in the book when Wade meets her for the first time. She’s wearing her Rush “2112” T-shirt. I couldn’t believe that. . . . Aech has come to life.”
Back to the Iron Giant. That hulking behemoth is one of countless pop culture references in the film. You can see people’s avatars being anything from RoboCop to Batman, driving around in some familiar vehicles, like the DeLorean from “Back to the Future.”
Waithe says that her nostalgic hot spots point back to the movies of her youth.
“For me ‘House Party’ is a movie that I love and go back to a lot,” she reveals. “‘Do the Right Thing’ is a movie I watch a ton. Obviously I was too young to see it in the movie theaters. But I used to watch it on literally VHS — that tells you my age. . . . And then I love old TV. So I would watch the ‘Mary Tyler Moore Show’ all the time. I still think it’s one of the most pitch perfect sitcoms to ever grace the small screen. . . . Also ‘A Different World.’ Anybody that knows me or follows me knows that show, those cats are like heroes to me.”
While an avatar sporting “A Different World’s” Dwayne Wayne’s iconic flip-up sunglasses would no doubt rock, Waithe says she thinks her avatar would take inspiration from some pop superstars.
“I feel like I want to be a cross between Pharrell and Janelle Monae,” she says. “I say that because Pharell is my style icon. I literally look at his clothes and always want to emulate what he’s rocking, what he’s doing. And Janelle Monae is a really good friend who I think is the coolest person ever. And I’m so honored to call her a friend. But she’s like a friend who I just admire so much because I think she’s so free and she’s so dope and she’s so talented. And everything seems to come so effortlessly to her. So I want a combination between those two.”