Cynthia Addai-Robinson On Family Dynamics In The People We Hate At The Wedding - Exclusive Interview

Many people consider their wedding day one of the most important days, if not the most important day, of their lives. Years of dreaming and planning all go into a single day, and we all hope it will be perfect. But as anyone who has planned or attended a wedding knows, there are also so many opportunities for things to go terribly wrong. 

Prime's Video's upcoming film, "The People We Hate at the Wedding," is about exactly that. The comedy, based on a book by Grant Ginder, tells the story of a hilariously and relatably dysfunctional family. It follows American siblings Alice (Kristen Bell) and Paul (Ben Platt), who are pressured by their mother, Donna (Allison Janney), into attending the wedding of their estranged British half-sister Eloise (Cynthia Addai-Robinson).

Addai-Robinson sat down for an exclusive interview with The List to discuss her role in the film. During the interview, she opened up about the many layers of her character and how she sees another version of herself in Eloise. She also shared what it was like working with the rest of the cast in both comedic and surprisingly touching scenes.

What Cynthia loves about The People We Hate at the Wedding

What first drew you to this project?

The second I heard the title, I was already in. "The People We Hate at the Wedding" is such an evocative title, and I think everyone in their mind knows who those people are, at least for themselves. I was intrigued. I knew that [people love] the book by Grant Ginder and that the cast of characters is this dysfunctional family that he's created. I get to be in a family with Allison Janney, Kristen Bell, and Ben Platt, so who could say no to that?

Had you read the book before, or did you read it leading up to being in the film?

I hadn't read the book before, and now that the movie's out in the world, I feel like I can go to the book, because with adaptations, sometimes you don't want to get things confused if there are changes from book to film adaptation. 

Grant Ginder, the author, was lovely. I got a chance to meet him while we were filming. He came to set, and [I] got a chance to pick his brain and ask him, "How did you come up with this?" and "What was the idea behind this?" It was nice to talk to the author and then move into filming this version.

We filmed on location in London. The movie is directed by Claire Scanlon, who made filming such a joy. Really, it was sort of about being in London and taking [in] the energy of that city. In a lot of ways, this film is a love letter to London.

Cynthia's roots in London and connection to her character

Your character is interesting because she has this very proper facade, but then there's actually a lot more going on beneath the surface. What was that like for you to play her?

I got the opportunity to play the kind of character I feel like I never get asked to play. She's prim and proper, well-to-do, successful, marrying the perfect guy, and getting ready to have the perfect wedding. As you say, she is somebody who is trying to keep up appearances, but there's a lot more going on. 

If anything, it should be her family that she can confide in and be honest with, but she is still trying to keep up appearances for them, as well. There's definitely that tension of her siblings resenting her, resenting her perfect life, [and there's] that misunderstanding in terms of what her siblings think her life is like versus her reality. There's definitely a lot to play amongst all of this comedy. There are some more serious elements to the story, as well.

Did you feel like there were ways that you connected to Eloise?

Yeah. I was born in London, and I left and moved to the U.S. at a very, very young age. There is that thing that happens where ... With Eloise, it's the reverse [of my situation], where she has some time with her American half-siblings then moves to London and is raised there. There are even those cultural differences [between] her having this British, upper-crust life and the life that they had back in the U.S. 

It's interesting for me to even get the chance to film in London. This movie was the first time I filmed in London. I'm not normally asked to play British characters, even though it is a part of my upbringing, I suppose. It was an interesting opportunity to play a character that feels like an alternate version of who I could have been, perhaps, if I'd stayed in the U.K.

A dysfunctional family with Kristen Bell, Ben Platt, and Allison Janney

Watching the film, it really feels like you and Kristen Bell and Ben Platt are siblings, and you're all this dysfunctional family that loves each other deep down. What was it like playing that and having those family dynamics come across and feel real?

Some of my favorite scenes are those moments when we are all together because there's so much to play there. There are so many looks across the table amongst our main cast, but we also have a lot of incredibly funny supporting cast and different characters and cameos that fill this world. We have fun with it. 

There's that opportunity with comedy for people to improv a little bit, throw in some one-liners. I basically had to try and keep up with these amazing comedic actors and try not to laugh, because in the moment for Eloise, it's quite serious and, in a lot of ways, quite embarrassing. She has that discomfort of these American family members who are loud and brash, and she loves them, but it's also cringe.

Your character is definitely playing it straight while they're doing all their shenanigans. Was that a difficult part of filming, to not break that character?

Definitely. But I also think there's a lot of humor. Sometimes [in] British culture, there's the humor that comes from discomfort, embarrassment, and British people trying to pretend as if nothing is happening or nothing's wrong. There are a lot of those moments, too, where it's trying to gloss over the crazy things that are happening. As I said, that group of Kristen, Ben, Karan Soni, who plays Ben's partner, and Allison Janney — [in] some of our scenes, [I was] literally watching these folks do their thing, and it's magic. I got to try and keep up with them.

Cynthia Addai-Robinson's experience filming in London

Do you have any favorite memories from behind the scenes with all of them?

As crazy of a day as it was, the hot tub scene was a lot of fun to shoot. It was our first day of filming, so it was a literal and figurative leap of faith, and we were just getting into things. It was the craziness of finding yourself sitting in a hot tub in London, and going down the water and looking into the water and trying to ignore the floating pigeon feathers and mentally prepare yourself for falling in.

People who are really great at comedy are fully committed. Watching Kristen in her American bikini full-on fall into that water, I thought, "Here's a gal who's committed to the cause." It was a great day. Again, Claire [Scanlon] directed all of these scenes on location. We were bouncing from place to place every single day. I think it was 30 different setups in and around London, so that's a really fast-paced production. It was great for the comedy of it because everybody had to be really fast on their feet.

Do you feel like that element of filming on location and being in London made a big difference to the film?

I definitely do. There's an energy anytime you're filming on location, especially filming in a city, and in a city that has such iconic landmarks. You pull from that. We had a scene where we're filming in a black cab and driving through the streets of London, and we had a full rig, and we're sitting in London traffic, and people are looking into our cab, and we're going with it. It's a lot of fun. For me, it did feel like a full circle moment to have left London all those years ago and find myself filming on location there. It was a special moment when I would pause and think about it. I thought, "You know what? This is pretty cool that I'm filming here."

The film's balance of heartfelt moments and comedy

Even though the film's absolutely hilarious, there are also these heartfelt moments, especially one with you and Kristen. What were those like to film amidst the comedy scenes?

They felt very organic because the emotions and the feelings that we're dealing with or exploring — we have all been there, and we have all had those uncomfortable conversations, whether it's [with] a sibling or a parent, where you can't hold it in any longer. It's a forced confrontation where you finally have to say what's on your mind. Those emotions run deep because oftentimes, it's a lifetime's worth of feeling a certain way. 

I was so fortunate that I'm working with actors who are amazing at comedy but also excel at drama. When it's time to ground it in that real, deep feeling, it's just as easy to go to that other place. I actually think it really, really makes the comedy stand out even more. [There is a] balance between those moments when those conversations are quite serious and the more comedic elements — they complement each other.

How audiences will connect to The People We Hate at the Wedding

The film is called "The People We Hate at the Wedding." Do you feel like there are any stereotypes that you fall into when you go to a wedding? What person you would be?

I'm pretty calm at weddings. The one thing I love to do at weddings is dance. Any excuse to dance, especially dance with friends and family, I absolutely love it. I am pretty good. My track record for not embarrassing myself at weddings is pretty strong, and I absolutely intend to keep it that way.

What do you feel is the overall message or feeling that you hope people take away after watching this film?

I hope that people remember, when it comes to family, it's good to say your piece, say your truth. Hopefully, in doing so, it's an opportunity to feel closer to family members, even when you feel like you're estranged from them. Those breakthroughs, when they do happen, if you're lucky [enough] to have them happen, can save you a lot of heartache and a lot of frustration. I love that there is that opportunity to feel like there's something on the other side of those hurt feelings.

"The People We Hate at the Wedding" is launching globally on Prime Video on November 18. 

This interview has been edited for clarity.