How That ‘Black Cake’ Train Crash Scene Came Together: ‘As Long as It Feels Real, Do It’

This article contains spoilers for episode 2 of Hulu’s “Black Cake.”

“Black Cake” director Natalia Leite carefully constructed the train crash scene in episode two of the Hulu drama series around a different kind of perspective than the typical action scene.

The show’s second episode watches Covey (Mia Isaac) attempt to run away from London with her new friend Eleanor, or “Elly,” in hopes of finding better lives in Scotland. Covey piggybacked off of Elly’s dream to study geology at a school in Scotland with a really good program for it, but before they could take a chance at establishing roots there together, a tragic train crash kills Eleanor.

“There were a few different versions in the script originally of how that train sequence was going to go and it felt to me that, like with a lot of the choices, I wanted to be with Covey. I wanted to be in her frame of mind. I wanted to feel what she’s feeling. So for me to put the viewer in that seat, everything that I’m constructing around it, like working with the cinematographer, should help dictate that,” Leite said.

“It wasn’t about seeing other people flying or being outside the train and seeing a big crash. It wasn’t about the violence of the crash. It was about the violence of what she was going through in that moment. We decided to lock the camera off so that she was not spinning in space, but she was just looking at us the whole time, or just past us and the world’s moving beyond her and around her and you’re there frozen with her expression rather than seeing random people flying out the window.”

Showrunner Marissa Jo Cerar, who adapted the screenplay from Charmaine Wilkerson’s best-selling novel of the same name, credits Leite with the creation of the cinematic scene.

“The way I wrote that scene, was that we see them talking. Everything is there, what they did, but we cut and Nalia wanted to see more of the actual crash. And I said do it man,” Cerar told TheWrap. “I’m like ‘If it’s cool and it feels grounded and it doesn’t feel like an action movie, as long as it feels real, do it.’ So they built a train car and then they literally turned all the actors and stunt people and then we messed with it in slow motion in VFX, but Mia was literally flipping over and stuff. People were flying across the room and it was amazing to see.”

“It was emotional. You could tell before any effects or any sound or score. Just sitting there filming that day, I started crying. It was there. It was so great, and that was really Natalia — whatever she said to them in that moment, they never let go of it,” Cerar continued. You could just see them looking at each other knowing ’Oh, we’re gonna die.’ The execution of that is one of my favorite things in the show. So many amazing crew members are responsible for it, but the birth of that was really Natalia.”

Karise Yansen as Elly in “Black Cake” (Hulu)
Karise Yansen as Elly in “Black Cake” (Hulu)

Leite also took it upon herself to get into the water when she directed the many ocean scenes in the beginning of her three episodes. Covey and her childhood friend Bunny (Lashay Anderson) swam competitively before their lives took a very different course because of Covey’s father.

“There was a lot of ocean stuff in Jamaica. The ocean itself and water was a big metaphor in the story that MJ was weaving throughout. It was challenging because we’re in the actual ocean and the ocean is bobbing. There was one day where I had to be — I think it was a scene where Gibbs and Covey are, flirting and hanging out after she surfs and I was in a little boat holding the monitor because we have to be like past where the waves break,” she said. “So I was a little further out and a little boat holding the monitor and I get so carsick, and I didn’t think about this, but then I’m like watching the monitor and at a certain point, I was like, ‘No, no, I need to be in the water.’ So I’m like, then in the water with the water safety people and everyone’s just trying to make do with whatever the water’s doing. Gladly, it was warm, so no one was really getting very cold being in the water, except at night. That could be a little challenging.”

Leite, who has worked on episodes of “The Handmaid’s Tale” and the feature film “MFA,” classified “Black Cake” as fitting in with the themes of stories that attract her: hope tempered with struggle.

“I’ve always been interested in telling stories, especially from a female perspective, about identity and resilience. A lot of the stories that I’ve worked on are, in some essence, a survival story at heart,” Leite said. “For sure ‘Black Cake’ for the Covey story, I am an optimist at heart. I want everything to feel empowering in some way not just like, ‘Ugh this is bringing me down’. But that said, I love going into the dark stuff. I love the dark side. I feel like I do well wanting to dig deep in our fears and social anxieties and things that are part of what it means to be human in this world.”

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