MY SOUL TO TAKEAn Interview with Denzel Whitaker
By Wilson Morales
October 7, 2010
Coming out this week is the horror film, ‘My Soul To Keep,’ which is presented in 3D format and directed by the horror genius Wes Craven. Starring in the film are Max Thieriot, John Magaro, Emily Meade, Nick Lashaway, Denzel Whitaker, Shareeka Epps, Paulina Olszyinski, and Raul Esparza.
For Whitaker, it’s his first foray in the horror genre and first big screen role since appearing with Deenzel Washington in the 2007 film, ‘The Great Debaters.’
Things seems to be looking bright for the 20 year old as the California native just completed his next role, ‘Abduction,’ which is directed by John Singleton and starring ‘Twilight’s Taylor Lautner.
Blackfilm.com caught up with Whitaker as he spoke about working on a Wes Craven film and working with Lautner on his next film.
What was the attraction in doing a Wes Craven film?
Denzel Whitaker: I’m really excited about that, something new. Something different. It’s a horror film which I’ve never done before, a genre which I didn’t usually used to watch but am now getting into. It’s all sort of new to me, the horror genre, and the film, and with Wes Craven, when you put the film in his hands and he’s sort of a genius at that genre. So I’m glad that if I’m starting off in horror film genre it’s with Wes Craven.
As a black actor did you look through the pages of the script, thinking, “At what point am I going to die?”
DW: That’s interesting and keeping up with the stereotype, yeah, it’s true. We usually do get killed off in, what, the first five or six pages. That being said though I’m actually surprised and thankful that my character has a healthy amount through this script, particularly because he’s blind. You’re wondering, “Well, how is a blind kid running away from the so called villain or the evil that’s out there?” You’re wondering, “Well, how is he surviving? Is he really blind?” So you’re expecting him to be killed off but surprisingly he has a lot of screen time. I was shocked and thankful and glad that I could bring my presence to the screen without getting killed off.
Even though this is a genre film, a horror film, did you do research to play a blind character?
DW: Yeah, I did actually. When I first got the role I felt that immediately it was going to be a challenge and that’s what I was looking for. Like, don’t get me wrong, I was excited to work with Wes and I was excited to be doing the film but more so than anything this was going to be something that was going to test my acting skills which pretty much was everything that I was going to be doing for the film. So I instantly started doing research. Watching ‘At First Sight’ with Val Kilmer. I was watching ‘Ray’ of course and just seeing how different actors that I admired were portraying their blind roles, these handicapped roles and figuring out what worked and what didn’t. I was experimenting around the house with my five different senses and really trying to live that part and see what it would be like to be put in a position like that.
There are a lot of newcomers in the cast. So what was it like working with Max Thieriot and the rest of the cast?
DW: The cast was great. I thought that we got along really well. The way that you see us onscreen was the way we sort of were in life. It’s not like our personalities directly reflected our characters but we each have something, a piece of us individually in all of our characters. For some reason we just gelled the same way that we do onscreen. I even brought my Playstation down and they’d come over and hangout and we’d go go-cart racing on the weekends, bowling, fun activities to do because we were not all comfortable in that environment yet. We were all brought to Connecticut and none of us live there and so it was kind of like this adventure, like, “What can we do next?” I had a great time hanging out with the cast. It was me and Max, Paulina (Olszynski); we’d watch movies all the time and hangout, go to the gym and workout. It was an experience working with an all star young cast that was up and coming. I’ve never done that before prior to that.
You’ve got another film coming out next year, ‘Abduction’ with John Singleton. What was it like working on that movie?
DW: ‘Abduction’ was crazy. It was a wild ride. It was fun. It’s unbelievable seeing the amount of hysteria that can go down surrounding Taylor Lautner and his fans in that town or in any town. Literally, they come out in hoards with posters and signs and support, always trying to find out what the next location is. It was like a wild goose chase trying to get the film down because we always had fans interrupting the shots. Other than that I had a wild time. It was great working with John. We had some high action scenes. A lot of material that he gave me and cast members, a lot of room to play around and just really express ourselves on film, not only as characters but as actors. I enjoyed that a lot.
What’s your role in that movie?
DW: I play Taylor Lautner’s best friend, pretty much the go to guy. Pretty much, his character ends up on a wild, wild chase to figure out who his parents are and he’s also running from immediate danger. So with that being said he needs all the information that he can get and I’m his go to guy in the film, whether it’s fake ID’s or just figuring out the best route to get out of the city or just helping him along the way in trying to trace down his parents. He comes to me and confides in me because I’ve been his best friend for so long and I also have access to all this technology.
What’s it like working with someone who has that kind of fan base where, like, on ‘My Soul To Keep’ there’s not quite the same fan base there for the actors?
DW: Right. I mean, other than it literally being an interruption on set maybe here or there, the security levels having to be heightened I don’t find it any different. As a person Taylor was no different than me working with Max or me working with a newcomer because he was just genuine, which is interesting to find. He was a very genuine person. He was very charismatic. It’s like fame hadn’t really affected him as the person I had know and so he treated me and every other actor the same way that he’s been treating us throughout the whole year. So it was never something uncomfortable or a situation that was anything different or out of the ordinary. It was just like working with a fellow coworker.
What’s next for you?
DW: Right now I’m looking into a TV pilot which would be something along the lines of the new ‘Fresh Prince’. It’s like a camp setting which is interesting. It’s in development now and we’re talking it over, just trying to put real family values into the script and then I’m taking general meetings and seeing what’s out there and trying to stay busy in this business, going to the next move, where can I place myself strategically on the chessboard and move forward.
How has life changed since you did ‘The Great Debaters?’
DW: Life has been good. I can honestly say that life was great before. No complaints now. It’s was pretty much a gateway for my career as an actor, putting me on the forefront because roles did start coming after I did ‘The Great Debaters’ and a lot of offers started coming and things that weren’t available to me before my career finally started opening up. It’s like literally that one level in the videogame where you have to beat the boss before you can unlock all these new items that you can play with which is a really random metaphor but that’s how I felt. I felt like I had beat this level and now I got to move on and experience something new and then move onto something greater and challenge that next thing and get back out there. It’s not just because I made one challenge and then I’m done. No. I want to keep continually going and keeping it up so that it can be.
Why do you think people should go see ‘My Soul To Take’ this weekend?
DW: ‘My Soul To Take’ is fun. That’s all I can say about it. It’s a wonderful ride. It’s a horror film, a thriller. If you’ve seen Wes Craven’s movies before you know what to expect. You’re going to have some fun in the film. There are going to be some quirky comebacks but you also might get scared and you might have to grip onto your feet. I think it’s a wild ride with an interesting twist with our lead character having schizophrenia and with an all star young, teenage cast. I think it’ll be interesting for the audience to see how the teenagers deal with this sort of situation and if they were put in this same exact predicament what would they do.