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September 2006
FLYBOYS: An Interview with Abdul Salis

FLYBOYS: An Interview with Abdul Salis
By Wilson Morales

September 21

Born in Shepherd's Bush London, Salis has been acting for 4 years. He names his career highlights as working on an American TV show called the Hidden City with Paul Barber (Only Fools and Horses) and Ashley Walters (So Solid Crew). He is popular for his role as Barry in the BBC comedy Trevor's World of Sport. He has also appeared in Casualty and starred along with Martin Freeman and Hugh Grant in Love Actually. His next role will be in the film “Flyboys”. Salis plays the role of Eugene Skinner, a composite character partially based on the real-life Eugene Bullard, who made aviation history as the first black military pilot. In speaking with blackfilm.com, Salis talks about his character and learning about some forgotten history.

Can you talk about the character you play, Eugene Skinner, and how did you go about in getting the role?

Abdul Salis: I just auditioned, really. My agent called me about the script called Flyboys that was being shot in England and if I would be available for a couple of weeks to be in it. I assumed the film had something to do with flying or something like that. It turned out to be am aerial combat film, and I went up for it and auditioned and got the part.

Did you have to do any physical change for the part? Skinner was a boxer, so did you have to get in shape?

AS: Well, in the original script, the character was a 6 foot heavyweight black boxer, and since I’m not that tall, me and my agent figured I can be good with my American accent and that would be alright, but then low and behold, I got the callback, and the whole thing about being a heavyweight wasn’t included. I did have a test with my top off so that it could look right and be done correctly.

How much did you about the time period and about blacks in that time period?

AS: I knew very little. Of course, with the time period, I knew there was a state of depression and slavery was coming to an end, but was still around. I knew maybe of that much, but that was it. As for their involvement in the war, I thought it was very minimal. I thought there could be something with the British Army, like some kind of African troops or Indian troops, but as far knowing, I knew nothing.

Now your character is a composite of the real person Eugene Bullard, so how much of Bullard do we see and know?

AS: Most of it is Bullard. I did my whole research on him for the character and no one else. It wasn’t like you could do research on blacks in the First World War. For me, it was about trying to find out what kind of man he would have been from the script and from reading about him, and they were just so similar, it was literally sort of a name change and some directional changes for the film in terms of him actually flying with the French squadron while the Americans were there, rather than actually with the Americans, but nevertheless, knowing them and being part of the drill because he was an American. It was all him. I didn’t feel like I was playing a composite.

Did you get to fly a plane?

AS: We got to up where there is a stunt pilot in front and you’re in the back with cameras. We got to spin, dive, all of it. It was fun. The rest was on blue screen, which was just as fun. With your imagination, you just fire enough blanks and machine guns.

How was shooting the film with the rest of the guys?

AS: It was great. Everyone has a real sense of humor in that we could all appreciate any kind of comedy and the most was “South Park”. Everyone had something they could mention from “South Park” and that was absolutely funny. I remember pretty much joking about that everyday. It’s a good film that when you are actually involved, you can bond with them and there no big segregation going on. It was big open set and we had trailers, but they were like 400-500 yards away from the open set, which was in the middle of a farm.

What was the best scene you shot?

AS: The scene with me and Tyler Labine, who plays Briggs Lowry. The moment I met him, he was so good and nice and from the scene we did, it just felt good. It helped me develop the action in the character on my second day of shooting. We spent the whole day shooting that scene or at least most of it, at least 8 hrs. I got to know him and gradually on that day, I met the rest of the Flyboys. It was my first time using the American accent.

What’s next for you?

AS: I’m going back to England to do a play in Ireland that I was doing earlier this year. I’m just going to do that for a few weeks and then when I get from Ireland to London, I get back into the TV show I do, Channel 4's Dubplate Drama. After that, I do a play with Patrick Marber, who did “Closer”, the film that starred Julia Roberts and Jude Law.

Why should anyone see “Flyboys”?

AS: It’s a story of unsung heroes; a part of history that America forgot, but if you go and learn, you’ll find a lot there. It’s a story of unsung heroes of American guys who did a voluntary thing. They stepped up to fight oppression in the country on the other side of the world. Part of them wanted to help out and another part went for the action and adventure, but the whole endeavor and want to go was there. They had it and they showed it.

FLYBOYS opens on September 22, 2006




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