Indie darling Marvelous and the Black Hole hit the 2021 festival circuit to wide praise, and it finally is hitting theaters in select markets (including L.A. and New York) on April 22. The coming-of-age tale follows Sammy Ko, an intensely angry 13-year-old who crosses paths with Margot, a children’s party magician. Through Margot and her magic lessons, Sammy learns to process grief, accept friendship and find hope even through life’s darkest moments. Ahead of Marvelous and the Black Hole’s theatrical release, LA Confidential spoke with Miya Cech, who plays Sammy, about learning magic, working with Rhea Perlman and what’s next.
Before Marvelous and the Black Hole, did you ever have any interest in magic or try out some tricks?
I did when I was younger when you get those little magic kits at the Dollar Store. And I’d always loved watching magic and it was just something that I had never really tried and not really gone in depth with it the way I was able to with Marvelous. And then as soon as I had my first magic lesson with Rhea Perlman, it became something that I started to look into a little more, and it's certainly one of my interests now.
What was your magic training like?
Actually, one of the first things I did with Rhea, director Kate Tsang and producer Carolyn Mao was go to the Magic Castle. We got to watch a couple of magic shows, which is super fun and great for bonding. And then we had a magic lesson lesson with our magic instructor, Kayla Drescher, who is this amazing female magician and she's just super fun. She was super patient with me and Rhea, who had never done any magic before. It was just a super fun experience and it was not something that, as an actor, I had ever done on screen before. And so, it was really wonderful and super amazing.
A lot of sleight of hand is mostly based off card magic. And I learned that they're not just flipping cards around, there's a way that you have to do it to make it reappear and sort in a way, trick the audience. But you also have to make it look graceful. It's kind of like dancing a little bit. You have to make it give that sense of wonder and amaze your audience, but also make it look really good.
What was it like to work with Rhea Perlman?
The first time I met her I was super nervous because I mean, it's Rhea Perlman. She’s a legend. And so I was super nervous, but she's one of the nicest people I've ever met. Like ever. She has such a fun energy. She's so warm and just so motherly that it was really easy to be on set with her because in between scenes, we were giggling, we were laughing. And it was so wonderful and just easy and smooth to build that relationship that Margot and Sammy have. With Rhea, it was almost instant by the time we got on set and were filming our first scene. We were already giggling and having so much fun.
What did you think of Sammy when you first read the script?
I thought she was really different. As an actor, you see roles come through and a lot of the time, especially as an Asian American actor, they're not super branched out. They're in one area or a sub-genre of that area. But when I read Sammy, she was really just raw and had real emotion. She was a kid who was having a hard time and the film presented her in that way where it wasn't glorified or made to look good. She was really just a kid who was struggling. And it told a real story. And so that was really the first thing that drew me to wanting to be in that character. And then during my audition process, when I met Kate Tsang, the director who also wrote the script, that's when I knew I had to get this role. I had to be Sammy because Kate is just amazing. She's incredible. I want to be a director when I grow up. And I was sort of like, “Oh, I mean, if it works out,” and then as soon as I met Kate, it was like I knew that it was possible. She was such a huge inspiration to me, and I knew 100%, I was 100% positive that I wanted to be a director. But as soon as I met Kate and heard that the script is based off her story, it was just something that I really wanted to be a part of.
What were your conversations like with Kate before filming?
One of the first things after I had gotten the role was Kate invited me to her house. I met with her and Carolyn and we really just went through the script. We went through some of those core scenes that embody Sammy's angrier side and then some of the scenes where she was going through that change of seeing the world in a new light. Kate gave me two things. She gave me a playlist that was sort of Sammy’s journey in music. I love music, so that was really helpful for me and something that I had not seen done before or not have had to help me with character development and where I was pulling certain emotions from.The other thing that she gave me was Sammy’s notebook. I'm an amateur artist. I love doing art. And so she gave me like Sammy’s three notebooks and she told me, “Just put down like angry drawings and then maybe some doodles. Just go through the map of Sammy in art,” which is really wonderful.
Sammy’s rage is very layered and it comes from a place of just being angry. It comes from a place of loss and a place of grief, so we had to sort that out. And what's really wonderful about the filming process is that it was always collaborative. So Kate would help each actor through the scenes and pull from the different sources that she gave each person. And sometimes even she would go, “OK, we've got what we need, so go ahead and do what you think is right for this take,” which is really wonderful as an actor to get that freedom to put your own experiences and a little bit of yourself into the character.
What was it like filming the movie’s big final performance scene?
We had to do a lot of takes for that scene because there was so much magic that actually had to be in it. I remember that one of the funny outtakes of that performance scene is one where I have to hide a doll and then it disappears. It's one of the first magic tricks that Sammy does in the show, but we couldn't get it to disappear smoothly in a way that made it look like it really just disappeared. So that was one of those things that was just like, “Hold on. We have to do that over again.”
I remember getting onto that set and I'm about to start filming and it’s just empty. Because it's only on Sammy, there was no one in the audience, just a bunch of cameras and maybe a couple sound people. And so Kate was like, “Do you want Leonardo Nam (who plays Angus) and Kannon Omachi (who plays Patricia) and Paulina Lule (who plays Marianne) to sit there?,” so at least I have something to look at. And it’s just funny because I'm doing this big show, talking to an audience that is not there. That was definitely one of my favorite scenes.
Apple TV Plus’ “Surfside Girls” comes out later this year. What did you enjoy about playing Jade?
I love playing unique characters. Jade is Chinese American. She's really into science, but she's also really into fashion. And she's a surfer, she's a detective. Even though she is a little bit nerdy and into the sciencey side of things, she's also really cool and relatable. And that was really wonderful for me to see. And I want to be a role model for other young girls and for me to be able to put my all into that character, who was still nerdy and stuff, but that didn't mean she couldn't be cool and a fashionista and a surfer. It's just really wonderful that I got to play such a unique character that other younger girls would look up to.
This interview has been edited and condensed. Marvelous and the Black Hole is available on demand beginning April 28.
Photography by: Lee Clower