'Nightalk' star: We still have 'far to go' to honestly show women's sexuality in movies

TORONTO, ONTARIO - SEPTEMBER 16: (L-R) Al Mukadam, Donald Shebib and Ashley Bryant attend the "Nightalk" Premiere during the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival at Scotiabank Theatre on September 16, 2022 in Toronto, Ontario. (Photo by Darren Eagles/Getty Images) (Darren Eagles via Getty Images)

Actor Ashley Bryant, starring in Donald Shebib’s Nightalk, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), is celebrating the opportunity to “push the envelope” in terms of women exploring their own sexuality in films.

“I'm always excited to work on stronger female characters,” Bryant said. “I think that nowadays we have to push that envelope.”

“I'm almost in my late 30s, almost 40, and I remember just [expressing] myself sexually was shunned upon, or if I was a woman who enjoyed sex, I…was labeled a certain thing... I think that for me, the films I watch are also things that I learn, and it gives me permission as a human, as a woman... Hopefully this is a start to see more of these roles of women being comfortable with…owning their sexuality, but we still have far to go.”

Nightalk (Courtesy of TIFF)
Nightalk (Courtesy of TIFF)

Nightalk is largely focused on Bryant’s character Brenda, a detective whose personal and professional worlds collide when she is assigned to a murder investigation, where the victim had used the phone-sex app called Nightalk before she died.

While using Nightalk herself, Brenda establishes a phone relationship with someone named Tom (Al Mukadam).

“First and foremost for me, it was the name Donald Shebib, Don is a legend,” Al Mukadam said about what drew him to the role. “For the character and for the script of Nightalk, I was really drawn to the idea of playing…the romantic lead, playing opposite the leading lady, that realm and that lane is something that I'm just beginning to get into and explore.”

As one can expect, much of the interactions between these two characters is over the phone, introducing a particularly interesting acting challenge.

“That collaboration of it was a dance,'re finding the chemistry and you're finding the spaces between, and it grew and it folded into each other nicely,” Mukadam said. “We were there for each other, we had each other's backs, and that, I think, was a game changer for us… We had that security locked in.”

“If he was on set,...he would always be there if I was doing something by myself, just to give that energy and that support, and I think that's such a great thing to have as an actor, especially with stuff that is sexual,” Bryant added.

Nightalk (Courtesy of TIFF)
Nightalk (Courtesy of TIFF)

While Nightalk largely focuses on the phone-sex app aspect of the story, it also touches on misogyny, particularly in the police force. For example, Brenda is told it would be “good PR” to have a woman on the investigation.

“I was struggling with that,” Bryant admitted. “But then I spoke with some people on the police force and they were like, ‘you know it still does exist.’”