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June 2008
THE DARK KNIGHT : An Exclusive Interview with Michael Jai White

An Exclusive Interview with Michael Jai White
By Wilson Morales

June 25, 2008

Long known for his role as ‘Spawn’ in the live action film, which was based on the comic book character, Michael Jai White has taken various roles since then from ‘Undisputed 2’ to most recently, the blockbuster hit ‘Tyler Perry’s Why Did I Get Married?’. While still actively involved in the Spawn franchise with his work in the animated series, White has also done voicework on Justice League and Static Shock. He will also be featured in another comic book film as he’s set to play the role of Gamble in ‘The Dark Knight’, the sequel to ‘Batman Begins’.

According to producers, Gamble is the head of one of the competing gangs trying to fill the void in Gotham’s criminal underworld since the demise of Carmine Falcone (Tom Wilkinson) in ‘ Batman Begins’.

While speaking exclusively to Blackfilm.com, White talks about his role, working with Heath Ledger and Eric Roberts, his thoughts on bringing back Spawn to the big screen, and his upcoming projects.

What interested you in taking the role of Gamble?

Michael Ji White: Well, they contacted me actually, and if Batman and his people are contacting you, you have to take it serious.

What’s Gamble’s role in the film?

MJW: He’s an underworld figure who basically vying for control of the underworld, along with some other folks. There seems to be a vacancy from the last film after Falcone’s demise.

Did you see ‘Batman Begins’ before or after you got the part?

MJW: I saw it when it was in theaters.

Are you a huge Batman fan?

MJW: Most definitely a fan of the franchise. When Christian Bale got attached to ‘Batman Begins’, I knew that (Chris) Nolan got it right because that’s a guy I knew would be as Batman. I was excited from that point. when they match actor and character well, everything else follows.

How was working with Eric Roberts?

MJW: Working with Eric was a lot of fun. Despite what anything looks like on screen, no one knows how many laughs were going on with Eric once ‘Cut’ is yelled.

How was working with Heath Ledger?

MJW: He was incredible. He was a really nice guy. I discovered gradually in certain elements of how much of a nice guy he was. I noticed one day he was in his full Joker gear and he wasn’t going to be filmed that entire day. It was all on the other guys. Heath could have came in dressed in jeans and a t-shirt if he wanted to, but he dressed like that for the benefit of the other actors to play off of him. Here’s a guy who was very successful, and puts himself through hours of prosthetics and wearing uncomfortable clothes just to help out other actors; and no one would have blamed him if he just wore jeans and a t-shirt, but he wasn’t opposed to it as at all. I had to ask the director, ‘Is he going to be filmed at all today?’ Once half the day was gone, the director said no.

In the opening seconds of one of the trailers, there’s a scene where Heath (as the Joker ) says to you, ‘Why So Serious?’ What’s he referring to?

MJW: He’s asking me, ‘Why so serious?’, and he recounts the story of his dad, who said to him those same words, and he’s reciting that to me with ‘Why am I so serious?’

From doing these comic book films and animation work, where did the love for this genre come from?

MJW: There’s a kid in me that always like those heroes. I think that I’m a natural fit in that genre. A lot of it is also about who reaches out to me as well. I’m more pursued in that genre than me chasing it down.

What did you learn from director Chris Nolan on this film?

MJW: I learned a genius filmmaker doesn’t have to be eccentric. Chris Nolan is one of the most normal guys you ever want to meet. I thought that after watching ‘The Prestige’ and ‘Batman Begins’ that this might be one of those eccentric guys whose such an artist that he’s in his own world. To come on set and ask him a question, and he says to me, ‘I don’t know, what do you think Mike?’ He was so incredibly easygoing and fun to work with. It’s another one of those laughfest, and I’m saying to myself, ‘Is this the guy who did The Prestige?’ Wow, it was such a relaxed set. Although the project was so hush-hush and people had to be secretive about any information that goes out, it was surprisingly relaxed on set. I didn’t get a chance to work with Christian Bale on screen but while on the set, I saw him with the suit on and I laughed a bit and he was a little surprised as to why and I said to him that if there’s anybody who deserves to laugh, it’s me.

Did you give yourself a background as to how Gamble got to be in his position as a leader of a gang?

MJW: Oh yeah, I always give a background to the characters I play, but with this film, it was tight. I only could read my scenes. I never read a script. I haven’t seen a finished product so I don’t know how much I’m in the film. It’s all a mystery.

You had mentioned before about Heath wearing the prosthetic mask and over ten years ago, you were in the same position having played ‘Spawn’ as the lead of a film. What is that feeling like when you are the center of attention playing a comic book character?

MJW: For me, it was really hot. I took it all in stride because I knew it had nothing to do with me because if someone else were cast in my place, they would be in the same situation. It’s sort of uncomfortable, but it’s not really about the attention. I was just trying to do the best job I can because I’m my harshest critic.

With ‘Iron Man’ doing great at the box office as well as ‘The Incredible Hulk’, and most recently success have come to the Spider-Man and X-Men films, what do you think of the mass amount, not sudden, of comic book films being out these days?

MJW: Well, they are starting to get it right. I think they made a number of mistakes in the past but they are realizing what the people want to see. A lot of studios want to save face. ‘Spawn’ was before its time. It was an edgier type of film and we always battled with going all the way there. I always felt, as well as Todd McFarlane, that Spawn should have been rated R. If we do another one, it will certainly will be.

There has been talk for years as to whether Spawn would be resurrected or rebooted. Are you involved in any of that?

MJW: Yeah. I’ve always been involved in conversations about it and people like Todd saying that we can do it again. To me, it makes too much sense. To do a Spawn film with an R rating and be this totally edgy superhero, we’ve seen how to do it right. People have taken the Spawn mode and look, you have ‘Hellboy’ now in theaters. It’s pretty much a very similar tone. Hellboy is nowhere near as popular as Spawn was as a comic book.

If you could do the film now, and you certain seem to be in good shape to play the role again, what would you do differently in an R rated film?

MJW: It’s about a guy from Hell! You don’t do a PG-13 film. Studios get scared because they want lots of kids to come and they think they know what’s best. The kids are more sophisticated and they like edgier things. The reason why the comic book was the number one comic book for so long was because it had that edge. In the same way people were attracted to the comic book, the movie should have been a reflection of that. For not to be that way invites criticism. There is a need for people that have this anti-hero that is really dark. When they give an edge to Spider-Man and give an edge to Batman, you see how many great benefits they reaped from that. This Batman is far more successful only because it’s darker. Spider-Man is also successful because it’s darker. It’s not cookie cutter. Well, it seems to be common sense. You have the darkest of the characters. With Spawn, it really can quench an audience’s desire for truly how badass a superhero could be.

With you voicing the character Barabbas in the ‘Spawn: The Animation’ TV series, you’ve never let go of the franchise.

MJW: The animated series came before the movie and Keith David did the voice of Spawn for the animated series before I did the live action version. He is who is recognized as the voice of Spawn in the animated series.

I see that you have a film called ‘Blood and Bone’ upcoming. What’s the premise of the film?

MJW: It’s a kick ass martial arts action film that’s also an action drama. The story is sort of a mystery, more related to the older films of Clint Eastwood. Like a mysterious drifter type of film. It’s about a guy who is on a mission and also a really amazing fighter, like a prize fighter. We have some really good actors in it with some of the top mixed martial arts fighters today in the film as well.

You also have another film ‘Black Dynamite’ that you did?

MJW: The film is about a 70s movie that was in the can that got rediscovered. We have cameos from some amazing actors. There’s a lot of buzz that’s going on with the film. It’s got myself, Arsenio Hall, Tommy Davidson, and a big cast of characters. It’s a real fun type of film. There’s no release date yet, but it’s being negotiated now. I’m also directing a film called ‘Mad’. It’s an action drama about giving back to the streets. I’m in the film with Bokeen Woodbine, Jim Brown, Master P, and it takes place in New Orleans and it’s about a character who is a hometown hero who back to give the kids in the neighborhood who follow the drug dealers something positive to do.

Why should anyone see ‘The Dark Knight’?

MJW: Well, if they didn’t see the first movie, then they are probably not fans of good movies and good action movies. I don’t think anyone can argue that ‘Batman Begins’ was one of the best films of its type. I don’t need to read a script. I know that ‘Dark Knight’ will be a great film just because of the people involved. I’m very careful to be as honest as I can possibly be at all times. My word is my word so I’m very protective of that. I can’t say with any confidence because I haven’t seen or read anything, but I just know the caliber of the people working. ‘Batman Begins’ changed the whole game. That movie was incredible, and so will this one.


THE DARK NIGHT opens on July 18th


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