Sundance 2018 Exclusive: Kelvin Harrison Jr. Talks Anthony Mandler’s Monster

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Sundance 2018 Exclusive: Kelvin Harrison Jr. Talks Anthony Mandler’s Monster
Posted by Wilson Morales

January 28, 2018

Recently making its World Premiere at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival was “Monster,” which marks the feature debut of acclaimed commercial/music video director Anthony Mandler, who received worldwide notoriety for his work with some of the music industry’s most influential artists.

Written by Radha Blank, Cole Wiley, and Janece Shaffer, and based on the award winning novel by Walter Dean Myers, “Monster” is what the prosecutor calls 17 year old honors student and aspiring filmmaker Steve Harmon. Charged with felony murder for a crime he says he did not commit, the film follows his dramatic journey through a complex legal battle that could leave him spending the rest of his life in prison.

The cast includes Kelvin Harrison Jr. in the role of Steve Harmon; Academy Award winner Jennifer Hudson, Jennifer Ehle, A$AP RockyNasTim Blake Nelson, John David Washington and Jeffrey Wright.

For Harrison Jr,, this is one of three films (Assassination Nation, Monsters and Men) that the New Orleans native has playing at the festival. After last year’s breakout role in It Comes at Night, followed by roles in the TV series Shots Fired and StartUp and the acclaimed film, Mudbound, Harrison Jr. is certainly on the rise as one of the most promising actors under 25.

In speaking exclusively with Blackfilm.com, Harrison Jr. talks about his role in Monster and working with Mandler.

How does it feel to have three films at this year’s Sundance?
Kelvin Harrison Jr.: It’s insane. I’m so grateful and overwhelmed by the response each film has had. I’m so grateful to be here.
How did Monster come to you?
Kelvin Harrison Jr.: I got the script in February and I remember just reading it and being floored by the complexes of this 17-year old black boy in New York. The fact is that he was sensitive, and intellectual and introverted and an artist. I was like, “This feels like something I would watch.” This is something I can identify with. This is something that I wanted to be a part of. I taped the audition and it was terrible. I didn’t hear anything. Fast forward to ‘It Comes At Night’ and the casting director for that film also did Monster.
While I was filming It Comes At Night, I was asked again about Monster and I remembered the script and how beautiful it was, but I didn’t feel I was ready to tackle that story or capable of portraying the kid honestly. I thought someone else could do it better and passed on it. They came back a couple of times and asked me to Skype Anthony Mandler the director to talk to him. Of course, I would refuse that. So, I skyped Anthony and he really just allowed me to understand my contribution to this was the fact that I did feel insecure and vulnerable and uncertain about so many aspects of the script and the story and who this kid was; and who I was was very similar and that allowed me to dive in and trust him.
Can you talk about working with Anthony?
 Kelvin Harrison Jr.: Anthony is amazing and talented. He’s a brilliant visual director and I remember seeing his music videos and loving those artist. What an eye he has for the storytelling and the creativity in which he chooses to tell those stories. I was just captivated and just so much fun working with him on that and collaborating with him through this story. Also him being a photographer and a filmmaker, it was interesting learning all these stories from him as I was preparing to play Steve because Anthony has that background. It was really cool and it brought us together in making this movie.
How was working with this stellar cast?
Kelvin Harrison Jr.: Amazing! Jennifer Hudson, Jeffrey Wright, Jennifer Ehle has my heart. They are just so talented and the nicest people. That’s the biggest gift for any actor, especially a younger actor, when older actors want to give you everything they have and support you and empower you and allow you to know that you have this role and you have this opportunity. You’re the person and you’re the guy and trust your instinct. I learned so much from watching them and to this day they are all so sweet. We were recently in a group message and texting each other. It’s become a family affair. I’m so grateful to have them all in my life.
 How different is this film and story from other similar projects about the innocent?
Kelvin Harrison Jr.: I think what Monster does is really examines who this kid is and the complexities and things that we don’t want to see. We see a kid who was looking for purpose, who is coming of age looking to find his power; and it’s not as black and white as it seems. This kid just happens to be caught up in the wrong situation. Steve wanted it. Steve was curious. He shouldn’t be reprimanded for a curiosity. That’s the beauty of Monster. It’s understanding the power in a kid’s life at that age and what it means to come of age as a black man in America.
With the other projects you have lined up, what makes you say to these films in general?
Kelvin Harrison Jr.:  For me, it’s always asking myself if the work will educate me and allow me to learn something new if I do this project. What am I able to get this from this and is the conversation will continue afterwards. A lot of it is discovering who I am as a person and what do I have to contribute to the world in the end.

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