SHE loves hot doubles with the perfect ratio of channa to tamarind sauce, likes the beach and enjoys a good family lime.
She may sound like an average Trini but she is also the star of an upcoming Disney Plus/Marvel series.
Born to TT parents in the US, 23-year-old actress Dominique Thorne is set to invade your screen as Marvel’s Ironheart.
The actress was born and raised in New York but her mother, Nerissa Guy, is from Carapichaima and her father, Navie Guy, is from Mayaro. She also has two brothers – Ky-Mani, 13, and Caleb, four.
But when you interact with her, you’d think she was born and raised in Trinidad and Tobago, as her parents ensured they retained every aspect of their culture possible after migrating.
She told Sunday Newsday, “Most of my family, actually, is in Trinidad. All my cousins and everything. It’s only just really my immediate family that’s here but at least 90 per cent of my family members are still in Trinidad.”
They now live in Delaware. She said she communicates with her family daily and her parents’ TT friends “that grew up across the street or down the road that almost become like your family over time.”
Much to her dissatisfaction, she has only visited TT once in 2010. She stayed by her aunt in Chaguanas.
“I remember everything vividly.
“I stayed for a significant amount of time – long enough to participate in a summer camp, visit museums…We had gone absolutely everywhere. Down the islands, Maracas...I got to visit the family down in Mayaro. It was beautiful.”
Two things she loves about TT culture are the sense of pride and dignity of its people and the food. Her favourite meals are crab and dumplings and bake and shark.
“Just before Christmas, my dad and I drove back up to Brooklyn and we were getting groceries because you can’t really get some of the common ingredients to make what we want in Delaware. Even something as simple as a pimento pepper. So we made the trip, we stopped and got doubles on the way. So it was nice to be back in that kind of environment again.”
Caribbean schooling in New York
Her schooling journey was not that simple, as she switched schools often.
“My mom was very big on wherever she could find the best education, that’s where I would go to.”
She recalled attending a “Caribbean preschool” in Flatbush.
“All the teachers were from the Caribbean and they taught with that same kind of style. They even had that little red book (Nelson’s West Indian Readers) that’s used in TT.”
At one of the schools, she said, “My mom would get reviews during parent-teacher conferences like, ‘Oh, yes. She’s such a wonderful child. She’d even help me distribute things.’ And my mom was like, ‘Dais what I sending you to school for?’
She attended a series of Catholic schools and even a Greek Orthodox school.
She never quite felt like she fitted in, though, recalling why the trip to TT meant so much to her.
“It felt so good to finally connect with the place that had such a strong influence on my upbringing, the place where this accent originated.
“Because growing up in school, you’re automatically identified as being African-American and I accepted it. But as I grew older and learned more about US history, I realised it wasn’t exactly my history and my peers didn’t understand what I was talking about when I spoke of my favourite foods, music, the traditions my family has...So getting to finally getting to go there was great.”
She also recalled the anxiety that came with applying for high schools, especially since New York is filled with “really smart children.”
She always enjoyed TV as a child but wasn’t particularly interested in becoming an actress. Well, until one day.
“I just felt like I should apply for a performing arts high school. To this day, I don’t know where that thought, impulse or desire came from...A lot of people tried to talk me out of that decision but I was just so set on it.”
Acting, a platform of healing
Her mother arranged for her to be trained for a month by a professional who attended one of the city’s top schools, La Guardia High School of Music and Performing Arts.
She said she applied to several schools but was accepted to Professional Performing Arts School in Manhattan, where she studied drama for four years.
“This was the school that made me fall in love with acting and every bit of the performing arts.
“I had teachers who helped me see the beauty in the language and the text in things like Shakespeare. And I also had teachers who helped me realise the strength and the power in my own voice, vocal technique, my body, physicality. And then, I had teachers who made me realise how this artform could help heal me – how I could use this as a way to speak through whatever was going on in my mind and my heart.”
She said it was a beautiful environment to be in and she remains grateful for that experience.
Next up was college, which she winged signing up for with the assistance of her family and friends of her family.
She said the process was confusing for her. She wanted to continue studying the arts but she was also “very passionate about immigration legislation and reform.”
She applied for a top university known for academics, Cornell University, and one focused on performing arts, Mason Gross School of the Arts, at Rutgers in New Jersey.
“I was just like, ‘Okay, God, you just do what you gotta do.’”
But she was accepted to both and had another decision to make.
In the end, she attended Cornell, where she studied human development with a focus on social and personality development, with a minor in inequality studies. She graduated in 2019.
She said at times during her college journey, she became discouraged, as she had been sending out multiple audition tapes but was not getting any call-backs.
She was doing this while maintaining several customer service and administrative-type jobs on campus to earn cash.
Breakout role on Beale Street
But in 2018, she made her first feature film debut as Sheila Hunt in Barry Jenkins' If Beale Street Could Talk. The movie was nominated for Oscar and Golden Globe awards.
And in 2021, she will be sharing the screen with US actors Daniel Kaluuya and Lakeith Stanfield in Warner Brothers' Judas and the Messiah, directed by Shaka King.
Asked if auditioning becomes easier with time, she said not necessarily, but she has learnt to trust herself more.
“I have learnt to enjoy it more instead of entering every room with dread and fear.
“Now, I feel like now, I enter with excitement and gratitude like, ‘Okay, I get a minute to connect with someone.’”
She was used to sending audition tapes but now, “Whenever I get the opportunity to be face to face, I’m just like ‘Let’s do it!’ I try to do it as best as I can.”
But Ironheart was a special casting for her.
“Funny enough, I actually didn’t audition for this role. This was the first anything I didn't audition for and I was fortunate enough to get.
“I was offered this role and it was insane to make that realisation...To be told you are the person someone wants to do this particular thing…”
The Marvel character – whose real name is Riri Williams – made her first cameo appearance in 2015 in the comic book Invincible Iron Man. But only as Williams. Her debut as Ironheart was in 2016.
Some call Williams Iron Man’s (Tony Stark’s) successor or replacement but that isn’t exactly the case.
Marvel describes the character as “the creator of the most advanced suit of armour since Iron Man.”
She is a 15-year-old genius from Chicago who attends Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and has a love of high-tech armour.
She also has anxiety.
For instance, the following is an excerpt from her first comic-book appearance:
“This is Riri Williams broadcasting live from hell. Remember about five minutes ago when I was really, really excited about being a superhero? Ironheart. Copyright pending. Well, it seems – and I know this will be a big surprise to some of you – if you fly around in a gold and red tin suit and blast laser beams out of your hands, then a lot of people are going to pay attention. And then all of a sudden I’m kind of famous. Not Captain America famous but…”
She also mentions Stark’s mother offering her access to his lab.
“Oh, and I’m still being trained and assisted by Tony Stark’s Artificial Intelligence (AI) because that never sounds weird.”
Her mother Ronnie is a double widow.
The superhero’s father died before she was born, and then she witnessed the drive-by shooting of her stepfather and best friend. They were shot in the heart, which inspired the name.
This piqued her interest in making a suit and joining the crime-fighting scene.
Thorne said her family loves Marvel. And interestingly, they share a deep connection over Iron Man which they would watch together often.
But her mother had a typical Trini reaction to the news of her casting.
“She was like ‘You lie! Just hurry up and tell me what you have to tell me, please.’ And I said, ‘I’m serious!’ And then she kinda stopped and let it sink in and started to cry a little bit.
“My dad is the silent type. He nodded a couple of times and said congrats, said wow a couple of times but yeah, they're definitely excited. I think they might be just a bit more excited and proud of this than when they came to my college graduation,” she said laughingly.
“My little brother is trying to convince me to take him with me when I have to fight crime.”
Some similarities between Thorne and Williams, according to her, include the connection to school and to education, the quest for knowledge, upbringing not coming from the best of circumstances.
Asked who her favourite Marvel character is, she said she wasn’t sure she could choose but she loves Hawkeye, Iron Man, Black Widow and Black Panther.
Although Williams is still a relatively new character, Thorne is not worried about making her debut but rather, excited.
Marvel hasn’t given a release date yet for the series but fans remain eager as they await this, along with other series.
Asked if she is worried she might end up stuck at a traditional job, she said, “I remember in high school my senior year acting teacher, when I told him I was going to Cornell, he said congrats but he said, ‘If I ever find out that you’re working in a bank or something, I will drag you out myself.’ I’ve never forgotten that to this day.”
She urged young people not to doubt their potential, saying, “We tend to set the limitations that then become real in our life.
“You really only have one life to live and you never really meet people who are truly aware of what you can accomplish until you come to terms with what you can accomplish.”