interview: actress dominique tipper of syfy’s ‘the expanse’- afrofuturism & #blackgirlmagic

March 9, 2017
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Dominique Tipper is a prime example of not being what you expect. Born in East London she is half British and half Dominican and has been an entertainer since she was small. As a teenager she won her way into the girl group Brazen Angels through singing at a showcase but left after 4 years to pursue a solo career. Singers go solo so that you might have expected. While in pursuit of her solo career she started working as a dancer and became highly successful working with the likes of Kylie Minogue, Rihanna, Black Eyed Peas, Katy Perry, Nicole Scherzinger, Kanye West, 50 Cent, and Ne-Yo. Her talents were also seen on The X Factor TV series, X Factor Tour 2007, The Brit Awards, and Mobo Awards. Some dancers dream of a career like Dominique had but she quit dancing to focus on her solo career again. While recording and working on her solo projects she was cast in the movie Fast Girls and then cast in Vampire Academy. Currently, she still loves music but she is now one of the main cast of Syfy’s space drama The Expanse and is earning rave reviews for her portrayal of Naomi Nagata a member of the crew of the spaceship The Roci. Naomi like her actress isn’t what you might expect either. She is the only female aboard the ship, the chief engineer and is logical and pragmatic amongst a crew of testosterone-laced men who seem to be led by their emotions more than reason. Where the members of the crew are prone to mood swings and passionate outbursts, including the captain, Naomi often acts as the counterbalance injecting sense that is all too often not as common an asset as believed to be. We got to chat with Dominique about Naomi, The Expanse and how it feels to be giving young girls a female character that is into science and technology and holding her own around a group of men and is the strong one.

By Ian Freeman*, AFROPUNK contributor

1. What drew you to playing the character Naomi. What do you like about her?

Naomi, for me, was the perfect balance of strength and vulnerability on the page and so the idea of bringing her to life felt like a challenge, an honor and a dream. I also really love the fact that she is mixed race but at the same time that never plays into her story as being important. There’s different kinds of challenges and prejudice’s in the world of The Expanse. I also love that she is a self-taught engineer with a high level of intelligence and she feels no way about showing it.

2. For those of us who don’t know Naomi, can’t you tell us who she is.

Naomi is the head engineer of the Roci Crew. She is a fiercely intelligent self-taught engineer with a troubled past. Strong morals and a big heart to match which she keeps mostly tucked away. She is a Belter and so that means she grew up on the asteroid belt, so she has never experienced life on Earth. 

3. Naomi seems to have this air of mystery about her. Like she always seems just this side of honest. Is there something she is hiding?

I think the great thing about The Expanse is this is a general theme that threads through all the characters. They all have something to hide and Naomi is no different. Pretty much everyone who found themselves on the Canterbury was running away from something in their past. I think how honest she is, or isn’t, probably depends on the viewers own personal set of morals and whether or not they fall in line with Naomi’s 🙂

4. She’s an engineer. Which is amazing now that we are in a world of Black Girls Code and the movie Hidden Figures and now we have a woman that girls can say looks like them as an engineer. How do you feel about that? Being someone girls of color everywhere can see this woman that looks like them doing these things that guys typically do.  

I feel so blessed to be part of a show that constantly makes an effort to present a world, that in my eyes, is normal in terms of gender roles and diversity.  I remember being a kid and there being maybe a handful of women that looked like me across all the forms of entertainment and media. There was hardly any representation and my own experience of being mixed race always seemed to be a rather contentious issue for everyone. So the fact that my work on this show may play a part in creating a world where it’s just normal for a little mixed race or black girl to see themselves in a complex, powerful, forthright, smart woman like Naomi is just incredible. I feel kinda weepy about it actually.

5. Traditionally women of color have been regulated to support roles in science fiction or portrayed very stereotypically. Angry black woman, over sexualized, emotional etc… Your character fights those and is a complex and logical in comparison to the rest of the crew.  Is that your portrayal or writing or both?

I think it’s a combination of both. It obviously started with Ty Franck and Daniel Abraham creating the character of Naomi for their series of books that the show is based on, and I think every creative that’s been handed her thereafter, the writers, the showrunner, casting, costume etc all the way down the line to myself, feels a great responsibility to not let her be obvious in any way. She is complex on the page and I’m dedicated to portraying her that way. We’ve all added something to what Naomi has become, but the seed had to be there in the first place for the rest to bloom. It’s the same for all the characters. I always think when you start to get a little too comfortable with who you think any of them are in the show, they change. And to me, that is just real people, in real situations doing what they can to survive. That’s what makes the Expanse such a solid show.

6. How does it feel to be a part of this movement of shows showcasing women of color that Syfy is doing.

It feels wonderful. I like a world where everyone can find pieces of themselves within whatever form of art they choose to use to escape. Film and TV have been very late to the game considering the reach they have. So I think as Networks and producers and writers and casting agents and EVERYONE who is involved in the journey of putting a tv show or film onto the screen, there is a responsibility to make sure that happens. There is still much work to do, but this is a big step and I am proud to be part of a show that belongs to a network that is at the forefront of it.

7. Star Trek had Michelle Nichols and now Zoe Saldana, Alien Vs Predator had Sanaa Lathan, do you think your role as Naomi can be an opportunity to further expand the view of Women of Color in sci-fi?

Yes, I do and I hope it does. There is space for everyone and I think the more the merrier. I’m not sure The Expanse has reached as big of an audience as some of those titles you mentioned have just yet, but when people come across her and the show, I tend to get a lot of positive feedback about how much people dig her as a character and what her being on screen represents and means for all kinds of women everywhere.

8. You have done some very diverse roles Girl with All the Gifts, Vampire Academy, now The Expanse Are you into geeky things or are these just the roles that called to you?

I wouldn’t say I’m heavy into geeky things but I feel very lucky in that The Expanse has been my big “in” to the geek world and all its wonders 🙂

I very much tend to be cast in these kinds of roles right now. It’s just been what’s fitted along the way, and the roles I’ve tended to gravitate towards. 

9. And you’re a singer and dancer, What do you enjoy the most?

I definitely enjoy acting the most. But I do love to dance and sing, so I hope I get to incorporate that into a role one day 🙂

Make sure you catch Dominique on Syfy’s The Expanse.

*Ian Freeman hails from the planet of Brooklyn and is a tech, pop culture, gaming and entertainment contributor whose writings can be found in The Urban Daily, Evolve Entertainment, Stuff Fly People Like, GIANT, Global Grind and Vibe. When he isn’t writing, he is out bringing the good word of geekdom to companies, brands and the unenlightened masses.