Exclusive: Jason Mitchell Talks Dee Rees’ Mudbound

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TIFF 2017 Exclusive: Jason Mitchell Talks Dee Rees’ Mudbound
Posted by Wilson Morales

November 8, 2017

Launching on Netflix and in select theaters on Friday, November 17 is director Dee Rees‘ WWII indie drama ‘Mudbound,’ starring Carey Mulligan, Jason Clarke, Jason Mitchell, Mary J. Blige, Garrett Hedlund, Rob Morgan and Jonathan Banks.

The film had its its World Premiere at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival and had appearances at the Toronto Film Festival, New York Film Festival and AFI.

Mudbound is based on Hillary Jordan’s 2008 novel of the same name, in which Virgil Williams wrote the screenplay with Rees.

Set in the post-WWII South, Mudbound is an epic story of two families pitted against a barbaric social hierarchy and an unrelenting landscape as they simultaneously fight the battle at home and the battle abroad. The film is about friendship, unacknowledged heritage and the unending struggle for and against the land.

Newly transplanted from the quiet civility of Memphis, the McAllan family is underprepared and overly hopeful for Henry’s (Jason Clarke) grandiose farming dreams. Laura (Carey Mulligan) struggles to keep the faith in her husband’s losing venture, meanwhile, for Hap (Rob Morgan) and Florence Jackson (Mary J. Blige), whose families have worked the land for generations, every day is a losing venture as they struggle bravely to build some small dream of their own. The war upends both families’ plans as their returning loved ones, Jamie (Garrett Hedlund) and Ronsel (Jason Mitchell) forge a fast, uneasy friendship that challenges them all.

During the Toronto International Film Festival, Blackfilm.com exclusively spoke with Jason Mitchell, who was featured with Samuel L. Jackson in Kong: Skull Island released earlier this year and Kathryn Bigelow’s Detroit. Mitchell is best known for his portrayal of rapper Easy-E in the hit film Straight Outta Compton.

What attracted you to this film?

Jason Mitchell: This is my grandfather’s story. He fought in the Korean War. He came home and had a fifth grade education. He got married, started a family and started a business. My grandmother also started a business. His oldest brother was a slave. I remember when I took him to see ‘Straight Outta Comptom’ and he was just completely impressed by how far we have come. I always told myself that if I could ever his story in any shape form or fashion, I would do it. I didn’t know that it would come like this. This supersedes whatever I thought I would be able to do.

Had you read the book to get deeper into the character you play?

Jason Mitchell: I actually didn’t. I’m raised in the Deep South. I’m from New Orleans. I’m no stranger to this life at all. I just had to make a solid opinion on how Ronsel felt about everything; and I had to prepare my mind for what I knew I would up against. I never forget when my manager said, “I think this would be a great role for you.” He also asked if I read the book, and I said I loved it. Then he asked, “Did you read the end?” I said I was cool with it, then he said we could move on. Just reading the book and knowing the battles that I will have to have mentally, I knew I was already prepared.

How would you best describe Ronsel?

Jason Mitchell: Fearless and Militant. He has a heart the size of Texas but he’s also family oriented. He’s someone who sees the best in the worst situation. He’s just solid and an all-around good person.

Ronsel and Jamie, played by Garrett Hedlund, developed a bond as two soldiers coming back with demons from the war. How did the two of you work to establish a chemistry that exists on screen?

Jason Mitchell: Well, I’ll tell you one of my secrets. I don’t run lines. I just don’t. I run lines before we’re about to do the scene but I’m not one of those guys who studies his lines the night before because I can’t stop thinking about it. I get stuck to it. in the process of me and Garrett getting to know each other, we acted like Ronsel and Jamie. We went and got drinks, chilled and the whole deal. Garrett was the first person to ever get me to run lines. Ever. We would sit up and get this whole situation memorized. By the time we had to take direction from Dee, it was on a whole different level. It was really cool.

What did you pick up from Dee’s direction that you can take with you as you continue in this business?

Jason Mitchell: Dee is the most surest Black woman I ever met. She knows that if you know what you want, that’s the only way that you can get it. That’s something that rubbed off on me. I was really impressed with the way that she moved. She also big-upped all the women around her. She made as many women department heads as possible. To watch someone who’s so young and in touch with themselves. She’s Black. She’s gay. She’s a young director and she’s just killing it. She has no fear in her heart whatsoever. She knows what she wants and she goes and gets it.

Can you talk about working with Rob Morgan and Mary J. Blige?

Jason Mitchell: Working with Rob (Morgan) was a privilege as much as it was a task. He’s a juggernaut. Looking in his eyes is like staring at the barrel of a gun. Some of my favorite scenes are with him. With Mary, I never when we did an acting workshop when we first started preproduction and she and I were put together and Dee would ask a bunch of random questions like, “What happened when you were six years old?” Just random things to really create this strong backstory.

Mudbound

I challenged myself to say that if I could look at her and not see Mary J. Blige and see her as my mom, then I’m going to do good. It was a thing that mirrored off her. It was like, “He didn’t take the easy route, so I’m not going to take the easy route.” If I bring up a voice one time, then I’m wrong. Her character Florence is not a singer, so let’s not talk about that. I just took my mind to a different place when it came to her. I think we just meshed so well. We really worked well together.

So far, from Compton to Detroit to this film, all your roles have been tortured in one form or another. What gives?

Jason Mitchell: One thing we can’t help is what movies are being made. If there are just coming down the pipeline like that, it is what it is. I’m at the point right now where I sort of solidified myself in drama. I don’t want to be the dead horse. I don’t want to become an actor activist, but I do want to take these chances at these great roles and really make great films and not try to make it about race. These are really great films and they just happened to resonate very well, especially in our country. I think I could move on to a romantic comedy right now. I don’t see anything wrong with that.

What do you want audiences to walk away with after seeing this film?

Jason Mitchell: I think both the white and black families in the film get the same amount of air time so that it doesn’t become biased and you get to hear each side’s opinion. You get to see each side struggle. I think that both sides could go home empathetic and with the film ending with love, everyone can take a deep breath beforehand. You don’t have to leave the film holding your breath. You can take a deep breath and end with love. Hopefully people can have this dialogue and not be a rowdy thing. We can have a discussion about anything.

What’s next?

Jason Mitchell: I have The Chi coming up on Showtime. It’s my first TV lead. I’m super excited about that. It’s going to be dope.


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