Bow down: In conversation with Queenie’s Dionne Brown and Candice Carty-Williams

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Bow down to Dionne Brown as QueenieTerna Jogo

Cast your mind back to spring 2019 and you likely remember the unparalleled buzz that surrounded Candice Carty-Williams’ debut novel, Queenie. Never before had a book helped so many people, particularly Black women, to feel seen, thanks to its radically honest portrayal of those messy and joyful, but also agonising, formative years in your early twenties, when you’re just desperately trying to figure things out.

The story follows Queenie Jenkins, a 25-year-old Jamaican British South Londoner navigating her way in the world, following a break up (well, ‘break’) from her long-term boyfriend, Tom. She begins to seek comfort in all the wrong places, with both blisteringly awkward and often painfully real results that so many of us could relate to.

Queenie, which won Carty-Williams book of the year at the British Book Awards, has now been made into an eight-part series on Channel 4.

For the adaptation, Carty-Williams (who serves as a showrunner and executive producer) found her Queenie in Dionne Brown, a 28-year-old actor from North London, who previously starred in mini-series The Walk-In and Criminal Record, the AppleTV+ thriller. To celebrate Queenie’s TV debut - and Brown’s Cosmopolitan UK digital cover, we had the pleasure of listening in to a chat between the pair, as they shared Queenie-inspired wisdom and behind the scenes secrets from set.

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Jaime Lee/Terna Jogo

It’s 3pm on an overcast day in late May when Brown appears on Zoom wearing a white t-shirt, with her braids pulled off her face into a bun. The actor is warm, chatty and open, diving straight back into a conversation we’d shared a week earlier about horoscopes on her cover photoshoot. “You’re not still going on about Saturn Returns, are you?” Carty-Williams laughs when she joins the call.

In just three hours' time, the pair will celebrate the launch of Queenie with a screening at The Ritzy cinema in Brixton. But for now, the conversation flows naturally, as the actor and author discuss everything from how success looks different for everyone, to the lessons they’d like people to take away from watching the show.

This interview has been edited down for clarity.


Candice: Dionne Brown, give it to me. Obviously tonight is the launch of the show. How are you feeling?

Dionne: I feel grounded and centred. I feel cool, I feel good. How do you feel?

I feel a dread in my stomach. Because I’ve written the book, people have an idea that I am Queenie; that I must be like her as a person. So it’s been a weird thing to navigate over the past few years. When people approach me thinking I’m like this girl, they’re [shocked to discover] I’m actually painfully shy. So the idea of having 300 people looking at me, that’s like, ‘Oh my god.’ But the baby - as in my niece - is attending, so it’s going to be fine.

We’ve known each other for about a year and a half now - we met at your audition for [BBC series] Champion, when I put you in my back pocket for Queenie. I’d love to know, from getting the part of Queenie to today, what kind of emotional journey have you been on?

For some reason, that made me feel like crying? It’s been good. It’s been fun. A lot has been asked of me, but it’s been such a privilege and a dream come true. I knew it was going to be a big, emotional task [taking on Queenie], and we did a lot in a very short space of time. Sometimes I found filming quite overstimulating. The emotional demands of the character were a lot; in hindsight I should have communicated when I was struggling to you and my agents.

Right now, I feel like I’m on standby, because I don’t know what’s going to happen. I’m trying not to be too self important. I don’t really believe it when people say I’m ‘number one’ [the main character.] I really do believe in the power of an ensemble.

I don’t believe in hierarchy on sets either. In the grand scheme of the production, we all knuckled down and just did what we had to do. You’ve been asked this a lot, but how do you think you’re similar to Queenie? And how do you think you differ?

I’m similar to her sensitivity. That Cancer moon [sign]! When I was growing up, I didn’t understand why everything hurt so much. My oldest sister is a Cancer, and she was super nurturing and maternal. She used to say that I was quite boxed in, but there was so much going on [under the surface.] And that’s Queenie. When I was interrogating the text, it was all about the subtext for me. Actors use that tool all the time, like ‘What are they really trying to say?’ Queenie just feels everything so deeply, and we’re the same there.

And where are we not the same? I’m more front-footed than her. If someone asks what I think, I’ll say how I feel. And I don’t think that’s her; I don’t know how much of her opinion she’s willing to share if she’s aware it might sting people.

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One of the ways you and Queenie are similar is that neither of you are mean girls. It was important to me when I was writing this that Queenie was someone who is really upset and angry at the world around her, but she doesn’t use that anger as a weapon. And you took to that so well. She’s meant to be the antithesis of an angry Black girl - she’s a very soft Black girl. I could see when we were filming - you were going to advocate for yourself, but you also had care for other people. And that is Queenie.

I grew up in a time where Black women were always the sassy sidekick, or the angry ex-girlfriend, and I wanted to write something where a Black woman was front and centre. This is Queenie’s world! But if you could play any other character in the show, who would it be?

Diana [Queenie’s little cousin, played by Cristale De’Abreu] popped into my head for some reason.

I knew you were going to say that!

I want to be Diana. She’s 15 [and] she knows everything!

It’s one of my favourite performances. She’s so authentic and effortless with it. I wish we could have seen more of her character as a teenager. Separately, how do you think your friends and family are going to react to the show?

I’m a child that probably should have been an only child. There are five of us, and I’m a twin, and we foster. I have five nieces and nephews. My oldest sister will cry - she cries at everything I do. My mum is super proud. My youngest sister is such a big fan, and my brother is very proud.

You’ve spoken a bit about your mum’s [religious] background, and how she’s training to be a bishop at the moment. Did you have to talk to her about the intimacy in the show?

I didn’t have to get permission, but I did let her know. I was raised religiously, but my mum is quite liberal. [She believes] if you love someone, it doesn’t matter where they come from or what they look like. She’s an angel, she’s such a lovely woman. She’s always loved the arts. It’s a bit opposite to what she does, but growing up, we all did after school clubs and my mum always wanted us to do things that were artistic.

I was never worried about what the reception of the show from my family would be. I know I have acceptance from them - I know whatever I do will be met with love. So when people ask ‘What does your mum think [of the sex scenes]?’ I’m like ‘Oh she’s fine, she’s great.’

Was there ever a point in your childhood where you thought you might follow in your mum’s footsteps?


Okay! And what would you be doing if you weren’t acting now?

I used to dance, so I thought I was going to be a dancer. I always wanted to study some form of psychology. In my head I’d be really good at sitting there with a clipboard.

The fact that you think they have a clipboard tells me everything I need to know…

They do! They have notepads. They’re always making notes about your brain.

They have iPads now.

My therapist doesn’t have an iPad. She has a pen and paper. I don’t know if she keeps [the notes] though, I was thinking about this the other day. Does she rip them up and put them in the bin when she’s done?

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My acupuncturist puts them in a file, and then always pulls out the Candice file.

Wait, what does your family think of all of this? [You being a] best-selling author.

I promise you, the majority of them don’t give a fuck. My mum is dyslexic and dyspraxic and has learning difficulties. She can read, but she wouldn’t be able to sit and read books. But she’s very proud - she’ll meet someone anywhere and be like, ‘Have you heard of Queenie? My daughter wrote that!’ Whatever my dad thinks about me, he would never tell me. My nan, the love of my life, she’s proud but she’s also like, ‘Can, you need to get me the right potatoes from Sainsbury’s next time.’ They’re proud, but they don’t care. And I’m also like, ‘I work hard, but this isn’t my identity.’

I feel that. We do the work and we go home. In my head, when people are like, ‘You’re going to be a superstar!’ I’m like, ‘I still live with my mum. I don’t drive.’ There are certain things that people think mark success, but it just looks different [for different people.] I hold onto that - I still need the people who are closest to me to love me, so I can love them back.

It’s like, this is your job, and this is my job, and it’s about trying to be as excellent as possible in a world that makes that quite difficult. And it’s about being proud of yourself for doing what you needed to do.

How did it feel stepping into Queenie’s wardrobe? The Bridget Jones bunny outfit moment was obviously a look, and I was so in awe of your confidence in that moment. You were just like, ‘Here I am!’

Yeah, but the build up to that! I was like, ‘I would never wear this in public!’ Everyone told me, ‘You look great!’ I felt like I could see too much of my body, and it was going to be on camera forever, but when we got to it, it was just like, ‘Alright, fine.’

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It’s iconic. Every time I saw a picture of it I was like I hope she feels good about it!

That’s going to follow me forever.

What would you like viewers to take away from watching Queenie?

It’s okay to be messy. It’s okay to not be messy as well.

It’s okay to just be who you want to be.

I don’t understand how people think there’s a way around it. You have to make some bad decisions. They don’t feel good at the time, and it’s difficult when you’re in a space where you’re constantly questioning things. Right now I’m going through a period of feeling like, ‘Yeah, but when? And how?’ You know, Saturn Returns or whatever… I need everything explained to me right now. And that’s okay. It’s okay to not have answers.

Absolutely. Death is a certainty, but the journey is not. And the thing that I’ve learned as I’ve got older is that as long as I know the people who are around me feel loved, cared for and understood, and I’m working hard and trying my best, that’s it. The journey is the thing.

Thank you Dionne for speaking with me for Cosmopolitan.

Thank you Candice for questioning me for Cosmopolitan.

Queenie is streaming on Channel 4 now

Photography: Terna Jogo, Talent: Dionne Brown, Fashion Editor: Maddy Alford, Hair: Danielle Igor using This Hair of Mine and Oribe, Make up: Laila Zakaria using Emolyne, Nails: Rebecca Jade Wilson at The Wall Group using BYREDO, Prop Stylist: Helen Zarkina, Flowers: The Floristry, Deputy Editor: Zoe Shenton, Art Editor: Jaime Lee, Entertainment & Lifestyle Director: Dusty Baxter-Wright, Entertainment Editors: Olivia Blair & Christobel Hastings, Entertainment Booker: Rosie Alexandra, Bookings Editor: Sophie Leen, Videographer:Rachel Anderson, Sound Recordist: Luke Finn, Photo Assistant: Ryanna Allen, Digi Tech: Johnny Fonseca, Fashion Assistant: Nicole Hutt, Video Producer: Chelia Batkin.

Cover look: Dress, Karina Bond. Slip, Commando. Earrings, Misho Designs. Rings, Daisy London x Shrimps.

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