"It's interesting to watch," Opia, 32, tells PEOPLE. "With expectations … are things always what we think they are?"
Keep reading below to learn more about Terry and Kwame's journeys and how Opia and Essiedu prepared to take on such heavy roles.
Opia and Essiedu on how their different sex scenes explored expectations of sex and consent and what they learned through the portrayals.
Opia: "At first, it's a scene of empowerment where Terry feels like she's decided to have this threesome and she felt she had been in control in that situation, but we see at the end, when the guys are walking away that she is then a bit conflicted in herself because she realizes it may have been different."
Opia: "She's conflicted in trying to balance whether she gave consent or whether her consent was taken from her. It's interesting to watch. With expectations… are they always what we think they are? If she hadn't seen that, I'm sure she would have been satisfied with herself knowing she decided to do this by herself. But, we see also her reaction to Arabella, when Arabella comes to find her, she doesn't say how she feels, she's hiding and I think that's because she's trying to process what happened — whether or not she was in control of the situation or not."
Essiedu: "We can only connect to what we experience ourselves, but for me it's always about having an openness to learn and actually to be curious and having the courage to confront my own preconceptions."
Essiedu: "We're all miseducated so severely in this sphere. Sex education is a joke. To an extent, a lot of people are making it up as they go and it's not an excuse but a lot of us are struggling out here in terms of what's right and what's wrong. For me it's been a big education and it continues to be."
Essiedu on why his Black gay male character’s experience is important to include when discussing rape.
Essiedu: "You're looking at a Black gay man going to the police particularly for justice. Already, there's a myriad of different kind of prejudices that you're coming up against like to deal with Black men and victimhood and that not going hand-in-hand in terms of what police expect when they see a Black man. I think it was really important for us to see something that happens, and a lot of people have this experience and if we don't see that, it kind of erases it and makes people feel like it doesn't exist. That makes people feel invalidated. It's important that we see ourselves. I think it was crucial that people are now thinking there's something a bit more nuance than just a very binary point of view of what assault is."
Opia on her hair campaign audition scene — where she is subjected to questions about her hair — and why it’s necessary for people to understand the severity of microagressions.
Opia: "I hope people will understand more about microagressions and know it's not cool. I think it has to do with a knowledge of knowing what to say and what not to say and at this time right now, nobody can plead ignorance at the moment we are in in history. I think people should educate themselves on what those things are, microaggressions, comments that are made, the expectations put on people to address them and know that it's not professional in the workplace."
Opia and Essiedu on how they relate to their characters and how they prepared themselves for the roles.
Opia: "I can definitely relate to Terry in the sense of being a young actor, trying to get her foot in the door, dealing with issues of self-confidence. I know all about the nerves going to auditions. I've always gone in and never chickened out, but I understand it and the struggle of committing to something you know you want to do but there's so many obstacles in the way. I've been acting for 10 years and I'm only now feeling I am scratching the surface. I can relate to having those self-confidence issues and pushing forward. I love that Terry cares about her friends. I love her spice. She's a big character. She's very confident, very bubbly. As much as she has her own issues, she keeps pushing. She's growing, there's growth."
Essiedu: "I think [Kwame] is amazing. I think he is kind of like uncompromising in the desire to be himself. That's what he wants, he wants to be himself. He doesn't want to be perfect. He realizes he has imperfections and good points as well — and he desires to sit in that. And obviously the events of the show knock him off that path and he tries to scramble back towards that way. I think he has tremendous courage and spirit."
Essiedu: "I try and treat all scenes the same. I try not to think of this being an emotional, dark scene or this being a light scene. All these scenes are investigating moments of what I see as a real person's life. You have to give all of these moments respect and equal attention. I set up for it being as open minded as possible, as curious as possible, giving Kwame the opportunity to emerge organically. I wanted to give space and breath and him to really be real and be him."
Essiedu: "The response to [Kwame] has been amazing. Also, kind of hard. Lots of people have contacted me and been like that happened to me and it feels so good for that story to have been told. Me hearing that is pride tinged with sadness because of the prevalence of people not being able to voice these stories. I'm glad these voices can be heard."
Opia on Terry valuing friendships and balancing a career.
Opia: "It's definitely something we all experience, what is important at any given time. Communication and understanding your friends and knowing when you have to put yourself first. You cannot bring peace, if you don't have peace. I think the balance is making sure you are in a good place to be a good friend."
I May Destroy You airs on Mondays at 9 p.m. on HBO.
If you or someone you know has been a victim of sexual abuse, text "STRENGTH" to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 to be connected to a certified crisis counselor.
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