Darien acting coach worked on Emmy nominated series ‘When They See Us’

Photo of TinaMarie Craven

The Netflix limited series “When They See Us” was nominated for 16 Emmys for its powerful narrative about the Central Park Five in 1989.

Matt Newton, the founder of MN Acting Studio based in New York City and Darien, was the on set coach for one of the Emmy-nominated actors and said he had an incredible experience working with director Ava DuVernay and the cast.

“The whole show was nominated for 16 total, so everyone on that set was at the top of their game, really good, wanted to be there, wanted to work for Ava and it was one of the better sets I’ve been on because everyone really, really cared about the end product — not that other sets don’t — it’s just this was less of a machine and more of a creative fulfillment for everybody,” he said.

“When They See Us” is a four-part series that depicts how Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana, Antron McCray, Yusef Salaam and Korey Wise were picked up at Central Park and how they were interrogated and coerced into admitting to a crime they didn’t know anything about. As the series progresses, DuVernay explores the details of the trial, how the prosecution's case lacked any physical evidence that the boys were involved in the crime and how their case hinged upon the false confessions. After the trial, “When They See Us” examines each of the five boys’ incarcerations and how they adjusted to life after prison. The series ends with their convictions being overturned more than a decade after their imprisonment.

“It’s a really, really powerful true story about the Central Park Five so in the first episode ... the four the kids are being accused, they’re breaking down and being forced to confess. These scenes were very, very intense so I worked closely with the director, Ava DuVernay, to focus on everything going on to make sure that the actors are ready when it’s game time,” he said.

Newton was hired to work with the five teens. His client, Asante Blackk who played young Kevin Richardson, earned an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Limited Series, for a role which also happened to be the young actor’s first.

“He’s a raw talent and working on set with someone like that and making sure they’re staying focused and having that turn into [an Emmy nomination] is absolutely insane,” he said.

Newton said he felt important and necessary while working on “When They See Us” because he was able to help DuVernay get the performances the show needed.

“I could help a director who’s on the top of her game who’s focused on so many things on the set and I could get really specific with each actor and pull them aside and say ‘look we’re going to do the scene again and let’s take it even further, let’s think even more, let’s imagine ourselves in the situation, what would we do,’ it’s one of the most rewarding things,” he said.

Newton also noted that working with DuVernay has pushed him to ask more from his clients’ performances.

“No one’s ever been like ‘hey, can you be better than that?’ and when you work on set with someone like Ava DuVernay who says go further, go further it makes me as a coach want to constantly be pushing my clients in a way that says ‘look you can do this on a professional level if you trust yourself and if you use your imagination and you go there. I’ve been doing this for ten years now; I work with a lot of people, a lot of different ages and a lot of our clients book a lot of jobs so it’s really about getting through to them in a practical way.”

In addition to Blackk’s nomination, DuVernay’s brilliant direction earned “When They See Us” two nominations for Outstanding Directing for a Limited Series, Movie, or Dramatic Special. Jharrel Jerome was nominated for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series for his role as Korey Wise. Both Aunjanue Ellis (Sharon Salaam) and Niecy Nash (Delores Wise) were nominated for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series. John Leguizamo (Raymond Santana Sr.) and Michael K. Williams (Bobby McCray) were nominated for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Limited Series. Marsha Stephanie Blake (Linda McCray) and Vera Farmiga (Elizabeth Lederer) were nominated for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Limited Series.

Tune in on Sept. 22 to watch the Emmys.