Poul­ter keen to cause change

Known for ac­tion movies and come­dies, one Bri­tish ac­tor is a chill­ing rev­e­la­tion in his lat­est role, dis­cov­ers James Croot.

Sunday Star-Times - Escape - - FRONT PAGE -

Es­capism is fine, but Will Poul­ter wants to be in­volved in movies that can al­ter per­cep­tions. The 24-year-old Bri­tish star of The Voy­age of the Dawn Treader, We’re the Millers and The Maze Run­ner fran­chise says work­ing on his new movie Detroit has given him a taste of the power of cin­ema.

Set around the 12th Street Riots in the epony­mous city in 1967, The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty di­rec­tor Kathryn Bigelow’s film sees Poul­ter play Philip Krauss, a po­lice of­fi­cer pre­pared to go to ex­treme lengths to up­hold the law, as he per­ceives it.

Speak­ing from Syd­ney while on a whistlestop pro­mo­tional tour for the film, Poul­ter says ‘‘a tri­fecta of things’’ at­tracted him to the role.

‘‘First, all the cre­ative in­gre­di­ents were there. Just work­ing with Kathryn Bigelow was enough to ex­cite me. Se­condly, I think the role of­fered me the chance to show off a dif­fer­ent side of my­self. And, third and most im­por­tantly, it was an op­por­tu­nity to be a part of a story that I felt re­ally needed to be told.

‘‘It was a case of se­vere in­jus­tice that wasn’t well-known enough and that ac­tu­ally bears a re­ally un­for­tu­nate rel­e­vance to a lot of the is­sues we’re see­ing now, not just in Amer­ica, but the world over as far as race re­la­tions are con­cerned, as well as cases of po­lice bru­tal­ity that aren’t be­ing stamped out harshly enough.’’

Ad­mit­ting that he didn’t know much about the spe­cific events in the film, Poul­ter says he ap­proached his part by ed­u­cat­ing him­self about what it would be like to be a po­lice of­fi­cer at that time.

‘‘As part of the Detroit Po­lice Force, you would have been part of an or­gan­i­sa­tion that was 95 per cent white who was sup­pos­edly look­ing to serve and pro­tect a com­mu­nity that was 40 per cent African-Amer­i­can.

‘‘There was a wildly dis­pro­por­tion­ate amount of African Amer­i­cans and peo­ple of colour be­ing ar­rested and be­ing made the sub­ject of po­lice bru­tal­ity. That was heart­break­ing, be­cause a lot of African-Amer­i­can peo­ple came to Detroit, as they did to many other ci­ties, in search of the civil rights they were de­nied in the south, only to find them con­tin­u­ally de­nied.’’

Poul­ter adds that he be­lieves that while much has changed in the in­ter­ven­ing half-cen­tury, re­cent events have shown not enough has.

‘‘There’s still a great deal more pro­gres­sion to take place and we need to think very care­fully about how to make that a real­ity in the not-tood­is­tant fu­ture.’’

The life-long Ar­se­nal fan (who ad­mits to hav­ing his heart bro­ken by Arsene Wenger’s side too many times in the past decade) says he en­joyed work­ing with a cast (which also in­cludes John Boyega, An­thony Mackie and John Krasin­ski) from back­grounds very dif­fer­ent to his own, ad­mit­ting that he learned a lot from them.

‘‘As a straight, white male, I have vir­tu­ally no ex­pe­ri­ence of prej­u­dice. I heard sto­ries from peo­ple who have and learn­ing about their ex­pe­ri­ences was key in de­vel­op­ing my em­pa­thy and un­der­stand­ing. A lot of peo­ple will hold their hands up and con­fi­dently say they’re not racist, and I was one of those peo­ple, but I couldn’t con­fi­dently say that I’m ac­tu­ally tak­ing steps to­wards mak­ing the world fairer. I think it’s all very good stand­ing on top of a plat­form and point­ing down at atroc­i­ties be­low, but if you’re not con­tribut­ing to­wards lev­el­ling the play­ing field and mak­ing things fairer, then I don’t think we’re max­imis­ing our op­por­tu­ni­ties as hu­man be­ings.’’

Con­versely, Poul­ter says the tough­est chal­lenge of bring­ing this role to life was ‘‘hav­ing any sort of faith or con­fi­dence in such a flawed logic as racism’’.

‘‘When you look at the in­ti­mate de­tails of the racist rhetoric, it’s very hard to see any­thing that’s fac­tual or sound, or based in real­ity. What racists be­lieve is a sub­ver­sion of the truth. That was a dif­fi­cult thing to grap­ple with.’’

The tough­est scene for him was when he had to bru­tally ‘‘in­ter­ro­gate’’ young black man Fred Tem­ple (Ja­cob La­ti­more).

‘‘Ja­cob is a friend of mine and hav­ing to en­act that sort of bru­tal­ity against some­one I knew well and is just such a phe­nom­e­nal ac­tor was so af­fect­ing. I think part of why I found it so dif­fi­cult was that his per­for­mance just kind of splin­tered my char­ac­ter’s re­solve.’’

Poul­ter, who fell in love with New Zealand when he at­tended the 2011 Rugby World Cup with his dad, says di­rec­tor Bigelow played a big part in help­ing him meet the chal­lenges of the role.

‘‘In many ways, it’s what she didn’t do. She re­duced her di­rec­tion down to some­thing as sim­ple as ‘do what­ever feels nat­u­ral’. That’s like, ar­guably, a dan­ger­ous thing to tell an ac­tor.

‘‘I think what she does is she puts re­al­ism and ac­cu­racy at the top of her list of pri­or­i­ties. She is in­ter­ested in mak­ing some­thing that is as im­mer­sive for her ac­tors as it is for her au­di­ence. What that does is it makes for re­al­is­tic per­for­mances and hope­fully a re­al­is­tic im­pres­sion left on the au­di­ences that watch our films.

‘‘She’s also a rev­o­lu­tion­ist. With ev­ery piece of work she’s try­ing to cause change, try­ing to cre­ate art that re­ally does pal­pa­bly im­pact the world in a pos­i­tive way. That’s what I think more peo­ple in the cre­ative in­dus­try need to get in touch with.

‘‘Es­capism is fan­tas­tic and there’s room for ev­ery­thing on the en­ter­tain­ment spec­trum. But the stuff that ac­tu­ally causes change, that’s what I per­son­ally want to be a part of, and ob­vi­ously we need more of.’’ ❚

Detroit (R16) is now screen­ing.

In Detroit, Will Poul­ter plays Philip Krauss, a po­lice of­fi­cer pre­pared to go to ex­treme lengths to up­hold the law, as he per­ceives it.

Poul­ter says it was an hon­our to work with Detroit di­rec­tor Kathryn Bigelow.

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