Leon Thomas III, Nathan Davis Jr., and Jason Mitchell Talk Detroit

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Leon Thomas III, Nathan Davis Jr., and Jason Mitchell Talk Detroit
Posted by Wilson Morales

August 11, 2017

Currently in theaters from Annapurna Pictures is Detroit, which is directed by Academy Award winning director Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty).

Detroit offers a crime drama set against the backdrop of Detroit’s 1967 riots, a gripping story of one of the darkest moments during the civil unrest that rocked Detroit during that summer. The release date will coincide with the 50th anniversary of the riots.

The film stars an ensemble cast comprised of John Boyega, Will Poulter, Algee Smith, Jacob Latimore, Jason Mitchell, Hannah Murray, Kaitlyn Dever, Jack Reynor, Ben O’Toole, Joseph David-Jones, Ephraim Sykes, Leon Thomas III, Nathan Davis Jr., Peyton Alex Smith, Malcolm David Kelley, Gbenga Akinnabve, Chris Chalk, Jeremy Strong, Laz Alonzo, Austin Hebert, Miguel Pimentel, Kris Davis, with John Krasinski and Anthony Mackie.

Blackfilm.com recently spoke with Jason Mitchell, Leon Thomas III, Nathan Davis Jr. about their experiences working on the film. Mitchell plays Carl Cooper, Thomas III is Darryl, a member of The Dramatics, and Davis Jr. plays Aubrey, one of the victims from the incident.

Mitchell is best known for his electrifying performance as Easy E in the N.W.A. biopic “Straight Outta Compton,” and was recently seen in “Kong: Skull Island.” Thomas III is a gifted actor and musician. He can be seen in Fear The Walking Dead and won his first Grammy this year for Best R & B Album at the age of 21. Another talent musician and actor, Davis Jr. has been on Criminal Minds, The Soul Man and Glee while carving out a singing career as well.

What was the attraction to doing this film?

Jason Mitchell: I was actually watching a basketball game at the time and Kathryn Bigelow called me personally because she felt she wanted to know if I thought the role was too small for me or if I would pass on the film or not. Different things. She explained to me the entire situation. Everything about the riots and the snipers and ultimately about Carl Cooper, the role I play. She’s giving me this talk on how she wants people to fall in love with this character and all this things and I’m just sitting there nodding my head. “As soon as you finish, I’m going to ask you where do I sign.” That’s how I became a part of the film but just thinking about me being considered for a role like this or even being in the mind of an Oscar winning director and have these great group of guys around me, yes, sign me up.

Nathan Davis Jr.: For me, I didn’t know anything that was going on. I didn’t get a script. I didn’t have a character name. She just wanted us to go in the room and sing. I was like, “Ok. I can sing. This is easy.” Then Ben O’Toole just came in the room and was like, “Get on the wall with your hands” and I’m like, “Whoa. You’re throwing my iPhone around.” I was already going through a lot that day and I’m up here crying and balling my eyes out. Everybody’s doing their thing and Kathryn’s like, “He’s going to play Aubrey.” I still didn’t know until we got to the set and we still didn’t get a script. I saw my friends and figured we’re all doing the movie together. “Are we doing The Temptations? What’s going on?” We didn’t know what was going on and had real emotions. Then we started to do our research and figured it was about the riots in the 60s. Then we started digging deep into our characters. There was real confusion and fear.

Leon Thomas III: We had an idea by the time we got to the second audition. There was a lot of whispers and people trying to figure what was going on, but Victoria Thomas, who is an amazing casting director, reached out and I went to her office and read the piece that we all had to read. I was on a plane with Miguel, one of my favorite artists, and everyone I was supposed to be dealing with in the movie but we still had no idea what was going on. What they did for our group was that they had us sit down in a random room and read half the script, but we couldn’t take it back with us to the hotel. We became extremely informed about that side of the script, which is our part and good.

Once you knew about the film you were going to do, did you do research on your characters?

Jason Mitchell: To be honest, Kathryn called and explained to me everything about Carl Cooper and what happened. But in mind, I was thinking, here I am in the Algiers Motel and living life as usual. I wanted to know more about Detroit in that era. What was going on? Was Carl Cooper really a pimp? I also had the pleasure of talking to Julie, who was on set with us. She obviously had 1-1s with Carl and said, “Jason, I think you may be right in the pocket.” I wanted to bring happiness to it. I didn’t want to think about the riots. I didn’t want to think about none of that. I wanted to know about Carl and the life that he was living at the time and let everything else happen organically. It worked out for me that way.

How was the chemistry on the set?

Jason Mitchell: I started acting when I was 23. A lot of these guys are a lot younger than me and they’ve been successful for a minute now. There are new guys who are coming in and doing their thing. I have to keep going because I have to keep these young guys uplifted. There are really doing their thing and that makes me so happy.

Leon Thomas III: What’s really interesting is that we all knew each other before we auditioned for the film. We were going to the same parties and in some cases, seeing the same girls (Laughs). So, we had this brotherhood and whether we are related or not, we come from the same tribe of mentality. That was really awesome to see that I wasn’t the only one of our kind. It’s like going to the X-Men school and seeing other people like me.

How do you feel knowing that the incident in Detroit is still happening today in 2017 in some areas?

Nathan Davis Jr.: It fueled me. Growing up, I wasn’t really aware of police brutality. I really didn’t understand racism like that because my family kept me so sheltered from what was going on. I remembered researching Aubrey and seeing his photos. This kid was always smiling and always around his family. He was so innocent and so playful and I could relate to that. To watch the news now and see how kids are dying, I really felt that. With this role, I had to do it right. This was a real person that went through this and I can’t joke around. I have to tell this kid’s story. It really stuck to me.

What does it mean when you do this film and then you have to watch on TV someone get shot in the back?

Jason Mitchell: That society has control. They make you think what ever they want you to think. There are so many social media engines now and so much to dehumanize the situation. As long it’s on your phone and not in your life, then you’re not really feeling it. They are turning real into TV now, but it’s not TV. Just because someone recorded and put it on your phone, that’s doesn’t make it TV. You start to feel it when you see the results of this tragedy but they dehumanize it so much. It’s good that we get to take this form of non-violent protests because if we are wilding out, then we’re wrong and leaving ourselves subject to be shot. I would advise everyone to be on the same level. You can’t always fight with fire. Sometime you have to know how to approach the situation and I feel that Kathryn is so brave for putting herself in this situation. You never know what kind of backlash she might get by being a white woman. It’s a pleasure and privilege to put this history in the books.


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