Canadian actress Teneisha Collins chatted about playing ‘Ms Burns’ in the new Netflix film Fatherhood, opposite superstar comedian Kevin Hart.
In addition to Kevin Hart, some of Teneisha’s other co-stars in Fatherhood include Alfre Woodard, Lil Rel Howery, Anthony Corrigan and Paul Reiser.
Fatherhood will start streaming on Netflic from June 18, 2021.
Welcome, Teneisha and thank you for taking the time to speak with us.
Teneisha Collins (TC): Thanks for having me here today, Conor.
With your onscreen credits including popular television series such as The Bold Type and Future Man, who or what first inspired you to start acting?
TC: You know what, it was a teacher in primary school who inspired me. When I was 8 years old, one of my old teachers who used to be an actor started a theatre programme in my school where she basically empowered us little kids to take our favourite stories and rewrite them as plays and perform them. My first play at 8 years old… I did a gender-bending role and played Santa Claus. I have to say, the first time I stepped on stage, I was hooked. I also had the benefit, I think around the same age, to be in a music video and being in front of the camera was so mesmerizing to me. I don’t think I ever stopped thinking about it at that time.
From your experience, what’s one thing about acting that people are surprised about when they start acting?
TC: I think that a lot of people feel that ‘if I have talent, that’s all I need’. They jump in and expect things to move really, really quickly. You know, my career’s been a slow burn. I got my first agent at the age of 10. People don’t realise that just like if I’m a musician, I need to train and practice on top of that. If I’m an athlete, the biggest footballer… they’re training, they’re practicing. It’s the same with an actor.
You have to practice and work at it constantly. Even when you do get to a certain level, you’re always working on something whether it’s an accent for particular characters. It’s a continuous learning field that I think not everybody realises. A lot of people expect to come in and be like, “You know what, I have talent. I’m going to walk in here, they’ll love me and I’ll book the lead in the next movie coming out. “That happens sometimes, but it’s not usually how it works.
One of your most recent projects is the new Netflix film Fatherhood, starring Kevin Hart. How much about the project did you know while auditioning?
TC: I did know that Kevin was attached. At that point, when I was auditioning, he was the only person announced. I had no idea who was playing Maddy – who is Melody Hurd. I had no idea that Alfre Woodard, who is one of my idols was in the project as well. Or Paul Reiser, that was announced later on during the process. The only thing I knew was that Kevin Hart was attached to this project and because it’s based on a true story, I was able to do my research and find out about what really happened in this story and how they got to make the movie.
Compared to a lot of projects that are really shrouded in secrecy, I had the benefit that because it was a true story there was so much at my disposal. I could easily buy Matt Logelin’s memoir to learn about the story, which is what the movie’s based on. It’s very rare, but I’m very, very happy that I had that opportunity in advance.
Without giving any spoilers away, how would you describe Fatherhood and the role your character plays in the story? Do they have a real-life counterpart?
TC: Yes and no. I don’t know if I’m an amalgamation of multiple real people or just one real person. I do know having spoken to the real Matt Logelin that the situation did happen. My character, I play Ms Burns… basically in this movie, we follow this father and his newborn until the age of 7. I play 7-year-old Maddy’s teacher. It’s a very rule-abiding Catholic school and my role, even though I’m an educator and nurturer, is also to try and enforce these rules. Even though I have the best intentions, unfortunately some of my actions do create a lot of friction in the story.
That’s not really a secret. Maddy was raised by Matt, who is a guy’s guy, without much female influence where they were living. There’s a lot of the storyline that maybe people don’t know unless they’ve actually read the memoir or were following Matt’s story when it was just a blog. I’d like to keep that secretive until the movie comes out, but definitely my character creates conflict while trying to her best. She’s not the villain, but inevitably she ends up shifting the story in not necessarily a positive way.
Would you say people who know the real story will be surprised or know what to expect?
TC: I think people who’ve read the story… maybe won’t be surprised because the real Matt Logelin has a great sense of humour. They’re an amazing family overall. He’s down-to-Earth and Kevin brought himself to the role, but also a lot of Matt’s qualities. I think people who aren’t familiar with Matt’s real story would be surprised by the fact that Matt’s a white guy. This is not a story about a black family. It’s about a father and his daughter. That love and that story transcends race, culture and diversity, which is a shock to see.
I can’t think of a better person to play the role than Kevin at this stage, having witnessed his evolution into the role.
In the UK, the film is being released on June 20th, near Father’s Day. Is it the same in North America?
TC: Yes, exactly. Father’s Day is June 20th and the release is Father’s Day weekend, June 18th. This movie, I feel is a gift to Fathers. You don’t see a lot of movies with Fathers, let alone single Fathers or black single Fathers. You see the struggles, you see the humour but you see the love and care as well. To me, this is a love letter to all the Fathers out there.
You are actually not the first person interviewed by Courageous Nerd who has worked with Kevin Hart. We’ve heard he is “very, very delightful” to work with. Does your experience on set reflect that?
TC: Oh my God. Kevin… I’d seen his movies, I love his comedy but this is a family drama, right? I didn’t really know what to expect, but lovely is the best way to put it. He is a delight to work with. The Kevin that you see on the stage is the Kevin is you meet in real life. He’s very charismatic, energetic. He’s not the tallest man, but he feels like he’s six feet tall. He has that confidence and that gravitas. For me, the benefit of working with him and something that people will see as well in this movie is the softer side of Kevin.
I got to witness while he was shooting in Montreal, one of the comedy capitals of the world. After long, 18-hour days of shooting, he’d go and perform stand-up to work out new material for his next show. He was producing a radio show and developing all these movies. I got to see just how hard-working he is. Once again, it ties back to what I said before. The work never stops, you’re constantly evolving. He’s one of the hardest-working people that I know. We had a lot of laughs, but we also had a lot of heart-to-heart moments on the set that were very profound.
You don’t get to see that profound side of Kevin publicly a lot. In 2020 and 2021, he released some documentaries that really showed a different side of him. I got to actually experience that first-hand. He’s super caring, at the end of the shoot, he gave cast and crew members this beautiful piece of memorabilia from the movie that was just so thoughtful. I would never have imagined to give to somebody. That’s the kind of person that he is. I’m a teacher, so we worked with a lot of children on-set.
There were days where we had 40-children on set, doing background performances. Kids are unpredictable; in the middle of a scene, a kid will stop like, “I know you, you’re Kevin Hart.” Or, they’ll tug on my skirt and start talking to me. He’d roll with the punches, talk to every kid who spoke to him. He gave them high-fives, he gave them hugs. You could tell that he’s a good parent because of how amazing he was with those kids. This whole project was a gift to me. Working with Kevin was such a gift because his energy, drive and outlook on life is infectious. It just amplified the way that I live my life.
From a production standpoint, how does making a film for Netflix differ to the usual process?
TC: It wasn’t. It’s a feature film and was supposed to have a theatrical release. We filmed this in 2019 pre-pandemic. It was a Sony Picture and the pandemic delayed the release date as much as possible. Perfectly, Kevin inked a four-figure deal with Netflix so it got acquired by Netflix and the Obamas’ Higher Ground production company that made this journey to Netflix.
At the time, we didn’t know it was going to be on Netflix. I’ve worked on Netflix projects as well and I have to say that the process is the same. It’s still a shoot, a lot of people on set. A lot of talent from the cast, crew and production. Surrounded by talented people, long days that are very rewarding. I can’t say that it’s very different. Honestly, working for a project for Netflix or working on a project for TV or Film, in terms of the actual shooting process, it’s the same. The only difference is with Theatrical releases, a movie will be released in America, the in the UK, the rest of Europe and Asia. Whereas the benefit of Netflix is that this movie is dropped on the same day worldwide, except for China, because they don’t have Netflix in China. They’re getting a Theatrical release.
Everyone around the world will be able to view it on the same day, which gives a lot more access to people who maybe aren’t comfortable going to a movie theatre right now.
As already mentioned, you have played recurring or guest roles on multiple popular shows. Do any stand out in your mind and for what reason?
TC: We just premiered the final episode… I did this series, Dungeons and Distancing. ‘Courageous Nerd’ is the perfect way to put it, because it’s basically this group of very different friends who play Dungeons and Dragons and they have to adapt for the pandemic. So, they’re playing over Zoom. You get to see the live gameplay; I play Casey the ‘Dungeon Master’, so I get to take on all these crazy characters like a little ogre, weasel, wizards and play with different voices.
You also get to see the relationship dynamics between all of these characters, the story, the drama between them. We just released the sixth episode a few weeks ago on YouTube and now it’s doing the festival circuit. It’s getting rave reviews; people who are avid players love it because this is how it really is.
People that I know and even people I don’t know have reached out to me who haven’t played before are just so eager to try to play now. It was such a fun shoot and you could tell we had fun making this project. So, definitely, Dungeons and Distancing is one that is very special and Canadian-made. Very tremendous talents involved, that would be the most recent project that I’ve worked on/
To round this off, how would you tease Fatherhood to anyone who’s thinking about watching?
TC: For people who know who Kevin Hart is, who are familiar with his work, that’s the whole world… you don’t know who Kevin Hart is. That’s the biggest thing that I will say is get ready to see a side of Kevin Hart you have never seen. I work a lot in dramatic projects as well, but I expected him to perform like a comedian would perform in drama. He blew me away and if you’ve seen any of the clips, he is killing it. I think that it’s a totally different side of Kevin that people are not expecting to see, with the comedy as well.
I think to anybody that’s not familiar with the story, it’s a story of fatherly love overcoming obstacles despite despair. This man lost the love of his life less than two days after delivering their baby girl. He was grieving, trying to be a parent to this girl and raising her in the best way that he can.
Knowing that it’s a true story and seeing how far they’ve come now… watching throughout the movie, maybe he finds love again. Get ready to fall in love with Kevin and Melody Hurd, she’s one of the stars of Them on Amazon Prime right now and the real Matt Logelin and Maddy, because they’re exceptional people. That’s what I would say, fall in love, bring your tissues but you’ll laugh as well.
Thanks again for taking the time to speak with us, Teneisha. Take care and stay safe!
TC: Thank you so much Conor, it was a pleasure.