Talking BlacKkKlansman With Spike Lee, Laura Harrier, Topher Grace, and Corey HawkinsPosted by Annabel Iwegbu
August 6, 2018
Hitting theaters Friday August 10 is Spike Lee’s high anticipated biographical crime movie “BlacKkKlansman.” Based on the memoir by Ron Stallworth, the film was written and directed by Lee and produced by Jordan Peele (Get Out.) In “BlacKkKlansman” we follow a black detective apart of the Colorado Springs police department, who heads a sting operation infiltrating the Ku Klux Klan in the 1970’s. Posing under the guise of a white supremacist over the phone, and through his white co-worker Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver) Stallworth bravely aims to take down the hateful organization from the inside out.
The fascinating feature is led by John David Washington, (“Ballers”) in the role of detective Ron Stallworth, and the supporting cast also includes Laura Harrier as local BSU leader Patrice, Topher Grace as infamous KKK leader David Duke, and Corey Hawkins the late civil rights activist Kwame Ture.
Recently, Blackfilm.com caught up with director Spike Lee along with actors Laura Harrier, Topher Grace, and Corey Hawkins to discuss their experience working on the film and the story’s greater impact.
Filming these uncomfortable and outright offensive scenes, what was the energy like on set?
Spike Lee: People understood what it was. They still understood that they’re being hired to play a role. Like for [Topher Grace] it was not easy playing a hateful person like David Duke, but sometimes actors have to play roles that are evil, that’s part of the job!
What was the moment like to know that John David would be the the best person for the lead role?
Spike Lee: I just knew. Intuition, experience, being a very good- I know talent when I see it, and it was evident. Many people got their first roles in my films over the last 30 years. Halle Berry, Rosie Perez I could go on and on so I just knew he could do it. I just offered him the part. He didn’t have to read for it, didn’t have to go on tape, didn’t have to audition. I said ‘I want you to do this!”
A lot your movies have a strong undercurrent, a strong social message. Do you feel that despite the fact you’ve been pushing this strong social message through the movies and though the film that you make is it really making an impact if progress is going the other way?
Spike Lee: I think my films made an impact, I think that many people of color have wanted to become filmmakers, go in the film industry in front or behind the camera, because of films I’ve done, so that’s impact there. But artists I feel, especially when we live in times like this, we try to put a spotlight or a mirror on what’s happening in the world. For example my most famous refrain for all my films is ‘Wake up!’ “School Daze,” that film came out in 1988, “School Daze” ends with Laurence Fishburne saying “wake up!’ “Do the Right Thing,” 1989 begins with Samuel L. Jackson is Mister Senor Love Daddy saying ‘wake up!’ So I think people say wake up 3 times in this film, so we were waking up before people were woke! ‘Woke’ thats the new shi-! We were saying ‘wake up’ in 88!
Do you take it as a compliment for someone to say, ‘Wow you played David Duke really well?’
Topher Grace: Yes thank you, yes I do but because I signed to do the movie with Spike Lee. I didn’t want to play David Duke in like a movie of the week on TV or something I mean like that doesn’t have any purpose. When I was rehearsing to do it I went in and read for Spike, even my agents and stuff were like ‘huh?’ when I said I wanted to play this role. I just read the script I thought it was amazing so when I went i to read for him I said, ‘I don’t know how everyone’s doing this I don’t know if this is annoying but I have to tell you how uncomfortable I am and what I’m about to do.’ I thought maybe he’d roll his eyes or something but he went right to work like making me feel comfortable and that’s why you such a great director. I felt so comfortable saying those things in front of him, and I had just met him like and I go ‘that’s a great director.’ He said look this is my message, like this is a bad scene but it’s in something that’s something I want to say, and so I felt comfortable doing it and I feel comfortable with people seeing that as long as they know it’s in the context of the film.
Your performance seemed almost gentle and approachable, and I was wondering if that was conscious decision?
Topher Grace: This is the most evil part, this is what I was noticing when I was doing the research is the most evil thing about him is how he put a new face on racism. In the beginning of the film there’s a lot more how the idea of racist in 1970, which is kind of a beer belly redneck or whatever. What David did sadly, is that he’s a really smart really intelligent guy, he figured out a way, a lot of it has its roots in what’s going on today, how to put different face on it. So I thought that’s the most evil part. But as long as you see some of the cracks, which you do later in the film, then it’s okay.
So obviously Kwame (Ture) wasn’t here to guide you or help you in your portrayal, what type of research did you have to do to develop this character?
Corey Hawkins: It’s always nerve wracking when you start, starting is the hardest thing. We did the work session with me and Spike and we were trying different things in the speeches. I tried to think back to other characters I played and how I prepped for that, but its always different, it’s always something new. Kwame has this huge legacy, but he’s also not here to speak to that, so that’s an experience I haven’t had. [Lee] would send me books.
The passion I think that Spike had for it, he was literally on me about ‘What do you need so that when you get here you can hit it?’ That’s great but it’s also a lot of pressure for you to show up on the day and deliver that. But for me it was listening to Kwame’s voice. I’m not a great mimic, I dont’ always think I look like the people I play. But it’s about the essence of the people I play. When I played Dre (Straight Outta Compton) I damn sure didn’t look like him, people wouldn’t confuse me for Dre before, but now thats it. Its behind the eyes, it’s what makes them think, its how they work.
What do you want viewers to take away from your character Patrice specifically, but as the film as a body of work?
Laura Harrier: I think that everyone’s take away will be different, I hope that everyone has a different experience, because I think that’s why Spike is such a brilliant filmmaker. He doesn’t tell people what to think, he doesn’t shove these things down your throat, he takes a mirror and holds it up to society and creates the conversations we should have, and creates different ways of looking at the world and looking at society. Even though this is period piece, it brings up so many things relevant to us right now. I just hope that people start to look at how we treat each other and where we’re at in society right now. What is this administration that we’re under doing to foster animosity?
Did your views shift or amplify in any way while filming this?
Laura Harrier: If anything maybe I was just angrier. I don’t think they shifted, I’ve always been very liberal, very much against our current president. Obviously I’m trying to remain positive and optimistic or the future and stuff but it just made me angry because it made me feel like we’re taking so many steps backwards. It also made me inspired because I could see how people like Patrice and figures of that time really used their voice and weren’t afraid to use it for change, even though it would’ve been a lot easier to stay at home and not do anything. They really put themselves out there and used their voice to create change.
Clip – The President
Clip – Undercover
Clip – America First