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Characters from 'Nine Days' inspired Zazie Beetz, Winston Duke

Emma (Zazie Beetz) is making the most of her Nine Days whether she ultimately gets to be born or not. Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics
Emma (Zazie Beetz) is making the most of her "Nine Days" whether she ultimately gets to be born or not. Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

LOS ANGELES, July 29 (UPI) -- Winston Duke and Zazie Beetz, who star in the movie Nine Days, out Friday, said their characters have inspired them since completing the film.

Beetz plays Emma, a soul waiting to be born, and Duke plays Will, the being who gets to decide if the soul can become a person.

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"Will taught me a lot of acceptance," Duke said in a Zoom interview. "Will taught me to welcome and celebrate my light and also to acknowledge my shadow to feel whole."

Will lives in a spiritual realm in which he decides what souls will be born. It is a house in the middle of a barren desert.

Every nine days, Will interviews a new set of candidates from whom only one can be born. The others cease to be.

Beetz plays Emma, one of the candidates, along with Tony Hale and Bill Skarsgard. Beetz said Emma is living in the moment visiting Will's house, regardless of whether she is born.

Emma would like to be chosen to be born, but Beetz said she is enjoying her nine days with Will regardless of his decision. Beetz said Emma taught her not to live in the past or look to the future too long.

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"This is what she's going to get right now," Beetz said. "Right now, wherever it is, is the best because it's right now."

Brazilian writer/director Edson Oda developed Nine Days at the Sundance Screenwriting Lab. In the film's press notes, Oda said he was inspired by his uncle's suicide when Oda was 12 to think about life and death.

Each candidate in Nine Days views the process differently. Alexander (Hale) tries to negotiate with Will. Kane (Skarsgard) is cynical toward living beings, while Emma remains optimistic.

"I think everybody is born with certain personality traits," Beetz said. "All of the candidates have this inherent self, and I think Emma just came to be with this sense of not fearing the future and a heightened sense of curiosity."

As represented in Nine Days, the 30-year-old Beetz plays Emma in her adult body and with a full fluency in English. However, Beetz said that because Emma has never been born, she approaches Will's world like a baby.

"I thought a lot about how young children react to the world," Beetz said. "What do they find interesting?"

Will, on the other hand, attempts to remain businesslike throughout the nine days. The 34-year-old Duke said Will has never encountered a soul like Emma.

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"He has had a system that protects him, that protects his sense of safety -- the little safety and control that he has," Duke said. "He can never be the same after these nine days."

Will was human once, and he still watches the souls he's granted life on television sets via VHS tapes he had recorded. Duke said Will has been denying his human side since taking the job in this spiritual realm.

"Will is a failure at a lot of things and he fails to stop being human," Duke said. "He fails to stop feeling."

Duke said the characters defied stereotypes. Because the candidates were unborn spirits, and Will a spiritual bureaucrat, Duke said no limitations existed for casting.

"It's not a very gendered role," Duke said. "It's not age-specific, either. Anyone could play that role."

Although Will no longer is human, Duke said trying to deny parts of himself is a human quality.

"I think we try to define wholeness as the pursuit of happiness, instead of an acceptance of who you are, which is a duality, a yin and yang, day and night," Duke said.

And, whether Will chooses Emma or another candidate at the end of nine days, Beetz said, Emma has made the most out of her time. Beetz said she hopes to live her life as present as Emma did.

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"Elements of Emma were things that I strive to be in terms of remaining present, remaining curious and meeting people where they're at," Beetz said. "Her presence and her ability to remain in wonder at the world, those are things I hope to continue to carry with me."

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