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The Young Wife Offers Leon Bridges His Largest Acting Role Yet

Fort Worth musician Leon Bridges is a key figure in director Tayarisha Poe's exploration of vulnerability over tradition.
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Leon Bridges and Kiersey Clemons prepare for their big day in The Young Wife. Republic Pictures

Tayarisha Poe didn’t want to do the traditional opulent wedding. She envisioned more of a free-spirited party with nuptials thrown in the middle.

Different approach, same result. That worked for the filmmaker and her husband, George, but less so for Celestina, the bride-to-be protagonist of her independent drama The Young Wife.

“We very much did not want the traditional wedding, and I realized that weddings are less for the people getting married and more for everyone else,” Poe said. “I was very interested in how weddings had been portrayed in cinema. Most of them didn’t really capture it. Some days, the most important thing on your mind is not your wedding, but the fact that you quit your job or there’s a storm approaching.”

Those dilemmas indeed plague Celestina (Kiersey Clemons), who’s trying to survive her wedding day without having a mental breakdown. Waiting for the delayed arrival of her fiancé, River (Leon Bridges), as the couple’s nontraditional ceremony draws near, she’s surrounded by quirky friends and family who are too eager to share their opinions or impose upon her wishes. As a result, she begins to endure an existential crisis and question her own feelings rather than join the celebration for her special day.

“I don’t think tradition is bad. It’s just important to ask ourselves how I’m going to actively participate in the traditions I’m choosing to continue,” Poe said. “I think a lot of us just passively do what has been done. It’s a film about choosing to actively show up in your life rather than passively letting your life happen to you.”

The film represents the largest acting role to date for Bridges, the Grammy-winning singer-songwriter from Fort Worth who previously had cameos in Ocean’s Eight and First Man.

“It’s kind of scary how much the character reflects who I am,” Bridges said following the film’s world premiere at the SXSW Film & TV Festival in Austin last March. “I was a little apprehensive about doing this because at the time I was so busy with music. I pretty much just signed up to support some badass women. Everybody was really supportive throughout the process.”

His character, coincidentally named River, provides a source of calm and stability, which Poe (Selah and the Spades) said was a good fit despite Bridges’ lack of typical acting experience.

“All of these different artistic roles that we have, we’re all trying to tell stories,” Poe said. “[He played] River from the point of view of a musician embodying a character, which he’s so used to doing. It was a natural way to approach the character, and that worked really well for him.”

Meanwhile, Clemons (Dope) said the entire cast — which includes Judith Light, Michaela Watkins, and Sheryl Lee Ralph — leaned into their own anxieties and vulnerabilities while shaping their roles.

That proved beneficial in Clemons and Bridges establishing their chemistry for The Young Wife, which releases on digital platforms this weekend.

“We all kind of latched on to each other very quickly,” Clemons said. “We did a lot of body exercises and choreography before we started filming. It was so much fun. We set this dynamic for [Leon] to feel safe with me.

“There was a certain scene he was trying to figure out. I told him, ‘you know it’s like a song, right?’ I watched his brain just explode, because that made sense to him,” she said. “That really connected us. It felt like what we were seeing on screen was really natural.”

Author

Todd Jorgenson

Todd Jorgenson

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