‘The Water Man:’ Amiah Miller on playing Jo and working with Lonnie Chavis

Photo courtesy of Karen Ballard
Courtesy of RJLE Films

Amiah Miller stars as Jo, the small town bully, in The Water Man.

The Water Man also stars David Oyelowo (Selma), Rosario Dawson (Seven Pounds), Lonnie Chavis (“This Is Us”), Alfred Molina (Spider-Man 2), and Maria Bello (“NCIS”). The film is the directorial debut of David Oyelowo and is written by first time feature screenwriter Emma Needell. Harpo Films produced the film with Oprah Winfrey serving as an Executive Producer.

Synopsis: Gunner (Lonnie) sets out on a quest to save his ill mother (Dawson) by searching for a mythic figure who possesses the secret to immortality, the Water Man. After enlisting the help of a mysterious local girl, Jo (Miller), they journey together into the remote Wild Horse forest — but the deeper they venture, the stranger and more dangerous the forest becomes. Their only hope for rescue is Gunner’s father (Oyelowo), who will stop at nothing to find them and in the process will discover who his son really is.

Check out my Q & A with Amiah!

Your character’s name is Jo, who is Jo?

Amiah: Oh, Jo is a firecracker. She’s kind of this small town bully who uses tactics like intimidation and stuff like that to torment the kids in the town, when in actuality, she’s a very emotionally damaged girl who has been through a lot of trauma in real life. My favorite thing about Jo is that over the course of the film you get to watch her evolve into a better person, and I think that is so incredible. Her character development throughout the film, I think, is something that really stuck with me.

Jo has an emotional journey throughout the film, how did you prepare to play her?

Amiah: I just prepared mentally, I think the best advice that I’ve ever been given was to put yourself in the other person’s shoes before you react. And that was referring to real life but I use that in my craft, and I think, to truly portray a character, you have to put yourself in their position and think about everything they face leading up to whatever scene you’re doing. I think that’s kind of what I had to do, truly think and reflect about everything she’s been through and the adversity that she’s had to overcome in such a young life. I think that’s what it was truly about. And, you know, because she’s so different from who I am and what I’ve had to go through that I had to truly just become her to play her, if that makes any sense. 

Photo courtesy of Karen Ballard
Another thing about Jo is her signature blue hair, was that your idea?

Amiah: No, actually, when I read the script, she had a short, brown bob or similar hairstyle to that, it was very short and brown. I remember having to prepare mentally of like, ‘oh, they’re gonna ask me to cut my hair and dye it,’ and then I met David, and he was like ‘yeah, she’s got blue hair and it’s long, and you’ll be wearing a wig.’ And I love that wig. I really liked the blue hair. When I wrapped, I did temporary blue dye because I missed it.

Jo makes friends with Gunner, Lonnie Chavis’s character, what was it like working with him and getting to create that bond?

Amiah: I love him. Our friendship is very similar to Gunner and Jo’s, with their bantering, kind of like brother and sister, I think. I have a little brother, and Lonnie is very similar to him, and I talk to him all the time, but working with him was truly incredible. He’s so talented. And while we were filming, I watched him become an even better actor right before my eyes. To be able to witness that, I think, was such an incredible experience and I can’t wait to see where his career will go and where life will take him. I’m one of his biggest fans. 

Photo courtesy of Karen Ballard
Did you meet him on set or were you friends before filming?

Amiah: We met at a chemistry read for this. I wasn’t expecting him to be there and I walked into the waiting room and he was walking down the hall and we kind of crossed paths and made eye contact. He looked away really quickly and it was just so funny. Our first scene was when I tackle him, and I actually did that. That was, I think, our first true bonding moment, when we were doing that scene. Little did we know that we would end up being on this journey together.

Why do you think Jo goes back to try to find Gunner and help him after she leaves him to go home?

Amiah: I think she turns around because she truly realizes, and I think too, that Gunner was the first person in her life that truly cares about her. And I think she realized that, you know, love is worth fighting for. Just like Gunnar is fighting for his mom, Jo was fighting for Gunner. I think that in her life, she had some very unfortunate circumstances, and I think Gunner really just opened her eyes to being a good person and to loving other people. And I think Gunner was the first person that she loved and she wanted him to stick around. So she turned around and I’m glad she did.

What was your favorite part of filming this movie?

Amiah: Well, I mean, just where we filmed, we were outdoors, in the forest in Oregon, which, I mean, it definitely came with its own set of challenges, but I love being outside in nature. That’s when I feel most at peace. So being able to be in an environment that I love, with people that I love, doing what I love, that was my favorite part. 

When I hear the outdoors I immediately think of bugs, which also makes me think of the scene with you and Lonnie in the cave. Are you a fan of bugs at all?

Amiah: You know, I’m a fan of one or two, but I would definitely react in a similar way that Jo did. That scene, we actually filmed it and there were no bugs in that scene, so we were just kind of mining it. That scene was very challenging to film, just with all of the screaming, but it ended up being my favorite scene which is pretty ironic but yeah, I would not be okay.

Is there anything else that you’d like to add about the movie?

Amiah: I hope people love it as much as I do. Everyone, all the cast, all the crew, we all put our heart and soul into this and I truly believed in his film. And watching it just validated all of my beliefs, and yeah I can’t wait for people to watch it and I hope that they love it. 

Photo courtesy of Karen Ballard
The Water Man is now available!