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This Friday, DEVIL, the Dowdle Brothers follow-up to QUARANTINE and THE POUGHKEEPSIE TAPES, will be unleashed in theaters under M. Night Shyamalan’s Night Chronicles banner. While relatively little is known, the plot revolves around five strangers caught in an elevator, with one of them not exactly who they say they are. Actor Bokeem Woodbine (BLACK DYNAMITE, THE BREED, DEAD PRESIDENTS) essays one such stranger and spoke to Fango about the film, his role and why people just may be wrong about Shyamalan.
FANGORIA: When you were first cast in DEVIL, were you told from the outset it would all be heavily kept underwraps? Is it hard containing all of that?
BOKEEM WOODBINE: I had to sign a non-disclosure for the first time in my career so that was an indicator that maybe this was something special and to this day my tongue is held. It’s not hard keeping the secret. The challenge is in wanting people to know. I want people to see what happens and I want people to be excited by the twists and turns. The challenging part is waiting to go into the theater with my baseball cap and sitting in the back and seeing how the fans react. That’s hard.
FANG: Do you think people will be genuinely surprised by the movie?
WOODBINE: People are going to be floored. I don’t think anybody’s gonna get it until it’s revealed. That’s one of the most exciting parts of the picture. It’s a total mystery and I’ve seen some cuts of it, and even though I know what’s going to happen, I’m still surprised.
FANG: This is the first film we’re seeing from the Dowdles that’s non-POV or first person. How do you think they handled themselves with a more traditional narrative? Were you comfortable in their hands?
WOODBINE: One of the many great things about working with the Dowdles is that they give you an indie feel. They give you a sense that you actually have a say in the production. They make you feel like you’re part of the moviemaking process and not just a prop to be put here and there like a lot of directors. They totally respect actors, they respect what we do and they definitely made us feel included. It was like a team effort, so it was almost like working on an indie picture but with money. It was amazing because they’re not going to take all your suggestions. Some stuff, they’ll shoot it right down, but some of my lines were completely ad-libbed and I didn’t think they would make the cut, and then I’m watching a cut and some of the things I said off the top of my head were in the movie. It made me feel part of the creative process, and I feel like I was part of the movie in the sense that I felt like I was part of DEAD PRESIDENTS or POKER HOUSE or some of the other more independent stuff that I’ve done where even after it’s shot, years later, I still feel like it’s my movie. I was part of that. And I don’t feel like that with everything, but I feel like that with DEVIL.
FANG: Are you a fan of horror and genre films?
WOODBINE: You know what, I’m not. I’m just going to be honest and put that on the table. I like to see the art of say, Sam Raimi. He’s an artist, but not everybody’s an artist. A lot of these cats get a little bit of change and they just want to chop off arms and legs. But there’s an art to that, and a cat like Sam Raimi is an artist. I’ll watch any movie he does. But a lot of the newer generation, they just don’t do it for me. Horror at its best is John Carpenter, Sam Raimi. Alfred Hitchcock did some horrifying shit, that’s horror, the fear of not necessarily the unknown, but the fear of the known. PSYCHO, you know what’s coming. That’s some scary shit. He’s stabbing you while you’re in the shower. That’s you at your most vulnerable; that, or using the restroom, or having sex. Nowadays, a lot of these cats don’t understand how to scare people. They think you throw a lot of blood around, you got a nice effect with somebody’s head coming off…it isn’t real horror to me. I defer to the old school.
FANG: So what was it about DEVIL that grabbed you?
WOODBINE: The psychology. The psychology behind the concept of five people who would never normally interact with each other, who are forced to not only interact but try to get through this harrowing experience. That blew me away, and that has to do in part with growing up in New York and then moving to Los Angeles and the juxtaposition between the two worlds and trying to make sense of Los Angeles. Everybody stays in their cars, it’s a very socially disparate place; this culture stays in this neighborhood, that culture stays in their neighborhood. That’s not how I grew up. I grew up in more of a mixture. So thinking about five people who wouldn’t necessarily interact under normal circumstances and are forced to, that really appealed to me because of my experiences living in LA where everything’s so separated.
FANG: The characters in the film are the opposite of separated. What was it like shooting in that tight of a space?
WOODBINE: It was challenging because the locale was the same everyday. I’m used to set changes and location moves and for this picture, I knew where I was going to be everyday. What made it easier was the cast. I would work with anybody in this cast again, in an instant. Be it Geoffrey [Arend], Bojana [Novakovic], Logan [Marshall-Green], Jenny [O’Hara]. I’d work with any of them in a heartbeat. Not only did they bring their A-game, but they’re very likeable people. And when you’re in a situation like that, a tight space, it pays to wear deodorant, no [laughs], it pays to be with people who are likeable and I like all of them. Even though it was challenging, it was a little bit easier because of who I was in the elevator with.
FANG: What was the technical setup of the elevator between you five, crew and camera?
WOODBINE: It was a lot of moving walls, it was a lot of no ceilings and we had a great DP in Tak Fujimoto. He is way ahead of his time. He found ways to get the camera in there. There were certain setups where I’d come to set and be like, “That’s where you’re putting the camera, Tak?!” When you see it, you’ll see. He got some crazy angles out of that. They made it work.
FANG: You’ve likened some of the film to your experience moving across the country and the idea of unexpected interactions. Does some of the film have to do with getting five people who wouldn’t normally interact, and this Devil turning them on each other through their differences?
WOODBINE: What’s so interesting about this picture is that they showed in reality when there’s a crisis situation, a lot of that shit goes out the window. They never dwell too much on the fact that they have a young woman, a white man, a cat of mixed origin, a black man and an older woman. They never really emphasize it because if something were to happen right now and the ground were to fall out, if I could help you out, I’d help you out and I’d like to think the same of you. I would never stop to think, “Oh, this cat is from wherever.” I would just be, “Oh, he needs a helping hand.” It’s only the most ignorant that cling to their brainwashed ways, or their racism, or sexism, or whatever their –ism is. I’ve been in situations with strangers where they don’t care what color you are, they just try to help you out. So the movie actually highlighted that the problems never really come from that, they come from whatever’s going on.
FANG: That’s nice to hear because often those things can feel lazy because it’s just an easy point of conflict.
WOODBINE: Absolutely, I think the Dowdles and M. Night had a lot to do with that.
FANG: Can you talk a bit about Shyamalan’s involvement on the film and the interactions you had with him?
WOODBINE: M. Night was one of those producers who was a gracious host. A lot of times, a producer comes on set, you’ll see actors like roaches scurrying back to their trailers. Nobody wants to hang out with the producer. You never know what they’re going to say or what’s going to happen when they come on the set. It was the opposite with M. Night. He set the tone early on because not only did he get everybody together and hang out on a social level, but he also took the time to talk to each one of us individually and say, “This is what I’m looking for.” In my experience, because I don’t know what anybody else’s was, in the conversation we had he said, “Look, you could fake this, you’re a charming guy, you’ve got charisma, you could pretty much walk through this if you want to but if you try that, I’m gonna know and I’m gonna call you on it and that’s not a good thing. I need you to bring your A-game.” I was planning on bringing my A-game anyway, but when you get in a room and it’s just you and M. Night and he tells you to bring your A-game, you’re gonna do it. So that was my interaction with him and it wasn’t out of the ordinary for him to give a call a couple of times throughout the shooting and just be like, “Hey, I’ve been watching the dailies, you’re not being lazy, keep it up.” He was a benevolent dictator.
FANG: Do you feel you’re prone to laziness if not pushed?
WOODBINE: Never, the thing is, only certain directors care enough. You can fool anybody. I’ve worked on some pictures where I didn’t necessarily love the character, I didn’t necessarily love the project as a whole but I had to pay bills and those are the kind of pictures that ultimately, you’re not that crazy about. But when you have a good director who cares about his project, he cares about his project even more than you care about your role, and those are the directors that’ll push you to find those things that you normally wouldn’t. I don’t consider myself lazy. I consider myself very hard working but sometimes a little under challenged. So it takes your Forest Whitaker, or the Hughes Brothers or the Dowdles, or M. Night, or a David Mamet script, or a Taylor Hackford, or the late Ted Demme. Even Michael Bay will bring some stuff out of you if you listen to him. It takes a certain director to pay enough attention because sometimes you don’t even know that you’re taking it easy on yourself. You might think that you’re bringing 100 percent but it takes a director who really cares about his project to look at you and look at his vision and say, “You know what, you’ve got to go deeper.” And I imagine it’s a hard thing for them to do because they’re chasing the light, they’ve got a certain amount of film they can and can’t shoot, but the ones who really care will find a way to get the best performance out of you.
FANG: Did the tension of the film and the tight space ever spill over into real life between you and your co-stars?
WOODBINE: Man, we all dug each other so much it was disgusting, and they’re going to tell you the same thing. We got along too well. It was gross. There was never any tension, it was more like, I got your back, you got my back and even if there are times when we might be at odds with each other, it never comes into real life. It’s so corny, but we were very caring of one another. Whatever tension exists on screen, as soon as they said cut, it was gone.
FANG: Currently, Shyamalan’s reputation kind of precedes himself. Are you worried about that hurting the film in any way?
WOODBINE: I never thought about that to tell you the truth. When you make a picture, it’s going to be what it is. It’s out of my hands at this point. I don’t think it will affect this film negatively because—and I’m not saying this because I’m in it—this is a really dynamite picture. I’ve been in a couple of pictures and this one is really, really good. If anything, anyone who might have something negative to say about Night, they’re going to have to eat their words. I hate to say it, but there’s going to be a lot of people who have to swallow their pride and just give it up because we brought the business with this one.
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