It is always a privilege to talk with anyone who makes the time, even better when the talent is as fascinating as these two established guys. An Avenger (Falcon) Anthony Mackie and a Maze Runner (young English luminary) Will Poulter appear in this harsh true story of the 1967 Detroit racially charged riots with corruption amongst authorities as rife as the victims of circumstance. Directed by Oscar winner Kathryn Bigelow (Hurt Locker), this is hard to watch but an essential filmmaking view on part of America’s unsavoury history. Reaching out to shake hands as I entered the interview room, Will sparked up an instant conversation with me about his time living in Queensland when filming Narnia while Anthony fist-pumped me with a big smile.
Shane A. Bassett – Absolute pleasure meeting you both. How did you both become involved in Kathryn Bigelow’s romantic comedy, Sleepless in Detroit?
Anthony Mackie – That’s very good (laughs). Actually, I had heard that Kathryn was doing a film about the Detroit riots and I read it then became instantly impressed. She took this little nugget out of the entire chaos in the situation choosing to tell this specific story. Greg Shapiro, good friend of mine, produced the movie as he has done for Kathryn on previous films so I called him exclaiming whatever I can do to be a part of it, get me in.
Will Poulter – Intense audition process for me. Three months of various phases, then lucky to get the chance. Then eventually became part of the best ensemble I’ve probably been a part of. In the earlier stages, I had only known Jason Mitchell and Anthony was involved. Huge fan of Jason in Straight Outta Compton and familiar with all of Anthony’s work, so to be part of this amazing cast and crew was a no-brainer.
Did the intensity of the subject matter stay with you when cameras stopped rolling or was there time to chill out?
AM – Certain levels of dedication and trust went into this movie. The great thing about it was as soon as Kathryn said ‘cut’, there was a warmth and humbleness on everyone. Made it easy to walk out of that house leaving every emotion while we were shooting. Our cast became friends, it happened because we all went into the movie with right intentions. No one seemed to say, I am not enjoying this or show signs of fault. It never happened, that started with Kathryn as fearless leader.
How deep did you go for your characters or what research did you both do? Did you talk to people who were part of the 1967 incident?
WP – Fortunate in the sense writer Mark Boal went extremely deep to create a researched script built upon many generous contributions from Detroit who experienced the rebellion. Personally I had serious educating on the political state of America of the time, Detroit specifically, racial tensions which existed there. The concept wasn’t entirely foreign for me coming from Britain but there were unique things that applied to Detroit that we explored in immaculate detail.
Your character in particular Will is horrendous, what did you bring to maintain that visceral angry persona?
WP – I am not an angry person (laughs), you know the script was incredible. Working with the best material made it work for me, it was researched to perfection, fleshed out, and my ruling factor was to do justice to the facts in the best possible way. Speaking the truth inspired my performance. Reality is, justice wasn’t served for the victims and many people during the rebellion. Least we could do was tell the story accurately.
Anthony, did you bring any of your own persona to Greene?
AM – Good question, I don’t know. Because I never got the opportunity to meet him, I used the information from Mark and what I had studied on him. My uncle, who was a Veteran who came back at that time, told me stories of how he felt, what went down when he got back, so I feel it’s more of him than it is me. He was a distinguished dignified man, proud of everything he had, working hard for it, was important to me to portray.
As actors, is it any different to act in front of continuous hand-held as opposed to stationary cameras?
AM – Not with Barry Ackroyd, I’ve worked with DP’s (Directors of Photography) where it’s really hard (laughs). But Barry has this interesting voyeuristic non intrusive style when it comes to shooting. He puts cameras everywhere doing every angle but you never have to hit a mark or hit a light to make sure you’re getting the optimum coverage. He lets you go fitting into what you’re doing. A special way of shooting.
Action, comedy, drama – you two have done it all. How do you both choose roles: wait for them to be presented to you or actively pursue them like Anthony did for Detroit?
WP – I don’t discriminate according to genre, it’s about material quality of script, then my character takes shape. My personal view is keeping it interesting for myself hopefully keeps it interesting for audiences, variety makes watching something appealing to me.
AM – Even though it may not seem this way, there are very few actors out there looking for bad movies. Some actors certainly look like they are actively doing that (laughs) but all of us are looking for quality projects with quality people. Life is too short. If you’re doing this, you’re doing it because you love it like sitting here talking to you Shane (laughs). You want to surround yourself with people that have the same instinctual reaction to the business so it’s a never-ending search for quality scripts and projects.
DETROIT: Rated MA (143 min)
Shane A. Bassett