Adepero Oduye opened up about her experience filming the Hurricane Katrina Apple TV+ limited TV series, Five Days at Memorial. Carlton Cuse (Locke and Key, Lost) and John Ridley created and directed the series, which focuses on the heart-wrenching events at one specific hospital in New Orleans when the levees broke, and 80% of the city ended up underwater. The Five Days At Memorial cast also stars Vera Farmiga, Robert Pine, Cherry Jones, Julie Ann Emery, Cornelius Smith, Molly Hager, Michael Gaston, and W. Earl Brown.
Adepero Oduye portrays Nurse Manager Karen Wynn in ‘Five Days at Memorial’ on Apple TV+
Karen Wynn is the nurse manager at the intensive care unit and head of the ethics committee at Memorial Hospital. She’s watching the system fail everyone around her. It’s heart-wrenching to see it all from her perspective. How do you get into a character for a role with so many layers?
“I think it’s a balance of my own thoughts and my own experiences of something like Katrina,” The Falcon and The Winter Soldier star began. “But, the book from which the series is based off of is a great, great resource in terms of really giving you historical background and just background in general on the hospital, New Orleans, as it pertains to the hospital, the importance of that hospital in that city and and a lot of the people that were involved.”
Five Days at Memorial is based on the non-fiction book by Pulitzer Prize winner Sheri Fink.
“And so just kind of getting what felt like a firsthand account, it really helped to get in in that world. Also, I have family members who are health care workers. And so a combination of all of that really helped guide me along in terms of the cartoonal of this character of Karen Wynn.”
Did you feel an immense responsibility to portray Karen Wynn in ‘Five Days at Memorial’ accurately on Apple TV+?
“To play a dramatized version of her accurately, for sure — wanting to be as honest as possible, as vulnerable as possible, as open as possible, and not shying away. Which is easy to do when you’re an actor because you have the luxury. When the story is done for the day, I could go home, but at the moment when your spirit and your brain is kind of resisting, what’s happening in a scene, a very hard, challenging scene. It’s like, no, I have a job to do. Just like someone like a Karen Wynn had a job to do. She had a job to take care of people in spite of being tired and hot and hungry and not being with her family.”
“And so it’s like if all those people were able to do it in real life, I’m able to do it. I’m able to tell the story to stay in it. That is my job. And I want to do that justice in terms of respecting what happened and what happens now, as we see with COVID, just respect, that responsibility to really bring that as honestly and truthfully as possible.”
What was it like to be on set with all the water pouring in?
“On the first day in the studio, the art department was charged with creating the impression of the wind and rain that comes with a hurricane,” production designer Matthew Davies explained in notes from Apple TV+. “Water – 600 gallons per minute — was pumped through several very large hoses from a distribution tank located in the production parking lot and then funneled into 15 rain heads running along the top of the set and four drip walls as well as four towers in the background.”
“There’s that part of you that’s just really fascinated about the magic of when artists come together and are able to recreate things,” Adepero Oduye marveled. “Like, I was really, really, really geeked out. Like, wow — not even knowing how they were going to do it. But then seeing it, I’m just wowed because it is detailed, so specific. And then it also helped immensely to really place us in the moment as much as possible. Very, very, very detailed, very helpful.”
Do you think they did a good job portraying the social and racial inequality during Hurricane Katrina?
“I think it’s a complex story,” Oduye began. “And I felt it reading the book, reading the scripts, on set, when Katrina happened, just feeling all of the feelings and the complexities. There’s just so much to take in. And I think I’m very proud that the story was handled with care and tenderness. I hope that people will talk about it and form their own opinions, because I don’t think we’re telling people how to feel about anything. We’re just showing you as best we can what this story was like for these people. The hope is that people just talk and hopefully something like this doesn’t happen again.”
Do you think you would be on the same page as your character, Nurse Karen Wynn?
“It’s so hard to tell,” she thoughtfully continued. “It’s so hard to know because it’s one thing to have a creative exploration of the real events. And there’s another thing to be there. And so, I don’t know. What I do feel is that these people were put in a very, very complex situation.”
“One story in the series — What we see is people trying to do their best from their own individual point of view to make things better. I don’t know. It’s a tough one.”
What is one thing you want everyone to take away from ‘Five Days At Memorial’ on Apple TV+?
“I want people to be able to talk about it,” Oduye explained. Talk. Everyone’s going to have different ideas and feelings about it, which is valid. And it’s OK to have conversations and debates and arguments. But then at the same time, really have conversations with all of that about how possibly we don’t we don’t repeat this again.”
“We saw a little bit of this during COVID with what people had to deal with on the health care side. But how can we keep having this conversation so that the people that we take for granted are supported because that’s a big thing. We take so much for granted for what these people do. And they shouldn’t be taken for granted. So we have to find ways so that people aren’t taken for granted.”
Were you angered by the government’s response to Hurricane Katrina?
“Yeah, it’s angering,” she agreed. “It’s just funny, for me, what was angering about watching Katrina happen as it happened. As a black person, you’re seeing people who look like you being affected. And so because I live in America, we’re used to how things can go in a myriad of ways. But it’s always kind of surprising and shocking still, the levels of how a system can fail its people. I can never get used to it, even though I’ve experienced things either firsthand or second hand, but I never get used to it. And I think in the series, we really do see all the areas in which people were failed — health workers, patients, families. [At the] Federal level, Corporate level, local level — How things just went by the wayside.”
The first three episodes of Five Days at Memorial hit Apple TV+ on Aug. 12, 2022. The remaining episodes drop every Friday following the premiere.