I’ll bet there isn’t a soul alive who knows there are “21 Bridges” running in and out of Manhattan.
There’s just no way. Bill de Blasio? I think not.
These architectural marvels, however, play a pivotal role in the action-suspense thriller of the same name, a murder mystery that has more layers than a bodega onion.
Chadwick Boseman is scintillating in this taut and terse film, a longtime leading man bringing freshness to a tried-and-true genre. His character is tasked with the thankless job of chasing two cop-killers through Manhattan in the dead of night, the daylight his deadline.
I spoke with him about his shimmering and severe performance, politics, and finding peace in Machu Picchu.
The Knockturnal: Your character was really intense and I thought you brought a right-up-to-the-edgeness to the role.
Chadwick Boseman: Never heard that but okay.
The Knockturnal: Yeah. There were just some looks that seemed like you almost might snap, which I really loved. It was thrilling to watch. Is that something that you brought to the role or did you and [Director] Brian [Kirk] sort of collaborate on it?
Chadwick Boseman: I think that’s where you have to be at that time of night, you know what I’m saying? I’ve come off of a full shift which means I’ve been up for three days. I go home and I think I’m off and now they’re calling me to come out and deal with this thing overnight. So [my character] is just at that point, because at a certain at a certain point you don’t know who to trust. This is the way the character has progressed physically and emotionally by this time.
The Knockturnal: That’s what’s up. I’ve never had to stay up three days in a row.
Chadwick Boseman: Right.
The Knockturnal: This reminded me of a lot of classic police movies. Heat, Fugitive, things like that. What were some of your favorites growing up?
Chadwick Boseman: Those were definitely definitely some of mine. Ones that are not even like that. 48 Hrs., you know, Beverly Hills Cop. I love Eddie Murphy. Collateral is one of my favorites. French Connection, The Fugitive, Se7en. Love Se7en. And the funny thing is I didn’t start with those types of movies even though I felt like we were making one of those movies. I didn’t want to start from that place in terms of research. But in the course of making it, and you’re staying up all night to make it because we had to shoot at night, I’d pull out those movies in the trailer. I’d watch those movies because I want to stay in it. You want to stay in that sort of mode. Usually I’d listen to music more when I’m doing a movie. I still did that, but in this case, I probably watched movies in between in the trailer more than I normally would.
The Knockturnal: Yeah, now of course I’m like well what music?
Chadwick Boseman: Wu-Tang. Mobb Deep. Just stuff that puts you in a New York state of mind.
The Knockturnal: Do you see this movie as political?
Chadwick Boseman: It’s weird, because it’s not, but then it has its moments you know what I mean? It’s interesting because it’s racial, and it’s also [about] gun laws. All of that is part of what you get from a political standpoint. Because anytime you do a movie about cops and you have a black cop and one of the persons being chased is black, you have to think about how police have arisen and their history with us. That’s also part of the casting. We purposefully cast it that way. I called Stephan [James], I was like ‘I want you to do this movie.’ So that’s part of the storytelling. Logan, my producing partner and I, we didn’t feel comfortable doing this movie and not acknowledging that. So I have to say yeah, it’s there, but it’s not what the movie is about. It’s one of our questions: When should the cops pull out their guns and start using them? When is it okay? Can it ever become personal? Or do they have to keep a sense of objectivity? Initially this character wasn’t black. He was white, and he was a political arm that had to get this solved before morning. And I felt like it’s got to be in his hands. He can’t be a black dude who’s cleaning up things for the man. That’s what he can’t be, you know what I’m saying? So that didn’t feel right to us. It had to be in his hands. The ball has to be in his hands, and at the same time, he needed to have a code, [hence] the whole idea of his father being killed and him searching for justice. Him therefore needing to get closer to it; therefore he’s misunderstood. It puts him in a situation where he would have to use his gun because he wants to get closer to justice. So that was important and I think it does allow you to show some things that are political without this movie being about that.
The Knockturnal: There were two scenes that kind of made me nervous. When you’re running into danger, you haven’t held up your badge yet, I think a lot of black people just sort of tense up…
Chadwick Boseman: And I cover up…
The Knockturnal: I’m just immediately thinking that something bad is gonna happen.
Chadwick Boseman: That was an interesting moment, actually, because initially when we were doing the action it wasn’t thought of as, “Oh, I can also get shot.” I was like, nah, I said, “they can mistake me for him.” [laughs]. I gotta play that, I gotta play that, you know what I’m saying? Why is he covering up? Because they could shoot me. I gotta let them know, ‘I’m one of you.’
The Knockturnal: You have a degree in directing. Does that play a role in a movie like this? Do you sort of take a director’s eye to your character?
Chadwick Boseman: You gotta follow what the director’s vision is. Brian Kirk is very smart. He’s one of the reasons I wanted to do this. The Russo brothers came to me with the original script, and I was like, there’s some things we gotta fix. Like who is the director? So he brought a lot to the table where you don’t feel like you have to direct yourself. But I think anytime you’re playing the lead, you have to think about the audience following you through the story. So you have to put it together and track it in a way that the audience can follow. You have to be the steady hand so that the other characters can jump off of you. That’s important, you can’t play the lead unless you do that. So that is a director’s eye to a certain degree. I think all the actors that you watch play the lead in that way, they all do that in some sort of way. They have to. There’s no way their movies would work the way they do unless they did that. I think all lead actors have a director’s eye in a certain way.
The Knockturnal: Just as someone who’s not an actor, that seems really difficult with you shooting things in random order. I guess it’s just being a good actor.
Chadwick Boseman: Yeah it’s what you gotta do.
The Knockturnal: So I had no idea New York had 21 bridges going in and out of Manhattan.
Chadwick Boseman: Me neither!
The Knockturnal: No clue. [laughs] What’s one of your favorite architectural marvels? I think New York is such an incredible city in that way.
Chadwick Boseman: In New York?
The Knockturnal: Or anywhere.
Chadwick Boseman: Oh, anywhere. My favorite, that I’ve been to, and it’s weird because you don’t necessarily realize if you see pictures of it: Machu Picchu. It’s just this combination of how far it is up in the mountains, the structure and how old it is. You can feel its relation to nature and relation to the sky. The grassy plains. There’s like plains in the courtyard. You just feel this sense of peace. Soon as you get up there you’re like, ‘I could lay in this grass and sleep here.’ You feel like you can sleep there at night; you could sleep there right up under the stars. And the river beneath is beautiful. Beautiful, beautiful. Beautiful.
The Knockturnal: That’s gorgeous. But for real, 21 bridges, where are they?
Chadwick Boseman: [laughs] I can’t name them all, I can’t name them all.
The Knockturnal: So you’re from a small town in South Carolina.What’s your parents’ favorite role of yours?
Chadwick Boseman: You know, my parents are funny, cause they try to keep you even keeled. You go home, you ain’t famous. [laughs]. You’re just you. I know that my dad, one of the first times he’s turned to me and been like, ‘I’m proud of you,’ was when he watched Get On Up. He actually said ‘you shouldn’t play James Brown.’ He sort of said that. I think he was surprised like ‘I didn’t know you had that in you.’ I think it surprised him, I don’t know if it’s his favorite role, but I think it surprised him.
The Knockturnal: This might be a tough one, you’ve been in a few really epic biopics. Who would play you?
Chadwick Boseman: I don’t know man, I don’t know who would play me.
The Knockturnal: They haven’t been born yet probably?
Chadwick Boseman: They probably have been born, I just don’t know who it is.
21 Bridges hits theaters this Friday.