Back in March, I tackled a role in my seventh collaboration with filmmaker Justin Robinson (J-Rob Productions). It was dark–there’s not really any other way to say it. My work with Justin has spanned quite a few different characters (I talk about it here in an earlier blog post). It’s been a rocky journey of growth and one where both Justin and I have learned a lot about ourselves (as a bonus, check out Justin’s post about his struggle going into the filming of RIFFRAFF).
I’ve had to work through my own reservations, fears, and beliefs as an actor. Each artist comes to their own understanding of what they’ll tackle and how far they’ll go. I believe this is healthy and necessary because none of us are the same. But I believe that too many Christian artists tend to shy away from dark roles or roles that require an exposure to things that make us uncomfortable or to feel unsafe. If I believe in God and His power in my life, then I should be most willing to lean into the darkness because I know what I’m anchored too. It’s more dangerous for an artist who doesn’t hold to any particular belief, because they don’t have the direction in place to reel themselves back in once the role is passed. I’m not espousing working on roles that serve no long-standing purpose and throw gratuitous nonsense in the audience’s face for shock value. I want to work on roles that convey a necessary message–even if that message is a dark one. David Oyelowo said it well when he stated that he wants to play roles that he can defend to his children when they are the appropriate age to watch them.
I learned from Coen. I learned a lot. I don’t believe that people are inherently good, but people are very good at hiding it. I needed to get outside of my comfort zone. I listened to music I wouldn’t normally go to. I watched dark films.
“The hate was all we had
Who needs another mess?
We could start over
Just look me in the eyes and say I’m wrong
Now there’s only emptiness.”
It was tough, but it was necessary. I read once that the best villains think they’re heroes. They’re so committed to their belief that they follow through with a devotion that puts most of your “everyman” characters to shame. As Coen says, “I know what I am.”
Andrew Bradford grabbed this picture to incorporate into the film’s poster.
I keep this picture as my laptop wallpaper and my phone’s lockscreen so that I am reminded constantly of Coen’s 100% commitment to who he is. I haven’t “made it” yet as an actor. There are still days when I look at my bank account and wonder how I’m going to make it. There are days (and nights) when I wonder if I’m where I’m supposed to be. There are times when I wonder if I’m making a difference. And it’s in those moments when I look at that picture and hear Coen’s gravelly voice in my head telling me there is no other option–“this is what you’re meant to do, so suck it up, and figure it out.”
And so I do.