A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of attending the Just Mercy press junket in New York City. For those unfamiliar with the film, Just Mercy is an American legal drama which depicts the true story of Walter McMillian, who with the help of young criminal justice attorney Bryan Stevenson, appeals his murder conviction. The film is directed by Destin Daniel Cretton and stars Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Foxx, Rob Morgan, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Tim Blake Nelson, Rafe Spall, Brie Larson and Karan Kendrick.
In our first roundtable interview we had the pleasure of sitting down with Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Foxx. In this interview, we were able to sit down with Brie Larson and Karan Kendrick. Read the entire interview with the pair below.
Q: How have movies and TV shows impacted your life?
Brie Larson: So, that’s something that’s always been so exciting to me about my job because it’s part of my way in. I mean, the movie that really changed me – that made me want to be an actor was Selena. That was a world that was so different from mine, and I got to learn about issues that I didn’t know about previously. So that just became embedded in part of me. And then the first film I did with Destin was Short Term 12. You know, we made that movie for [you know, I’m exaggerating], but basically $2 and that film took me and him all over the world. And we got to see the impact at the end of every screening of people going, I didn’t know that this was happening, and now I have to do something. And it’s like getting a bug, you know? Where you go, ‘Wait, what? I do can do that.’ That’s what I want. And so that has been embedded in my work since then. So, to team up with Destin again, along with, with Michael, and Jamie, and all of these new family members right here – these are incredible opportunities for us to share the intimacy of these people in a way that is hopefully just the first step of many of getting closer to these issues. That’s something that we’ve learned from Brian. So Bryan, without even realizing it, is actually like the perfect partner for this type of work.
Karan Kendrick: In the south, we have a term called Terry, and it means just to stay a little while longer with someone. I think that film does gives us the opportunity to stay a little while longer, but it does it in a way that is very non threatening, right? You can come and you sit in a dark space [either by yourself or with someone that you know], and you can watch an expensive area that may not be your own, and you can learn from it. And you can sit in the silence and you can sit in the darkness you can feel, maybe you want to cry like I did throughout this movie, you can cry. And if you want to laugh, you can let it out and if you want to remember, you can remember it. Hopefully, that remembrance takes you into action. Bryan Stevenson is doing incredible work and this gives us all a way into the work. A way into understanding people whose experiences may not be our own; choices that may not be our own, and an opportunity to say, ‘Okay, now that we’re in this thing together, it really is about all of us.’
Q: Can you talk about what it was like going from The Hate U Give to this movie?
Kendrick: For sure! Look, you know, I had the incredible opportunity once to work with Ruby Dee and what she shared with me I keep with me to this day. She said, ‘It’s all inside of all of us, the sinner and the saint.’ And so going into any role, I tried to understand that person’s why. People can embrace Minnie McMillian in a way that they can’t embrace Aisha, but I love them both the same because each person has a trajectory. Each person has a story, each person has a lie. And so for me, it was really just about finding that individual’s why, and helping to tell the story from there – and then the bigger story, of course, is very serious matter. It’s very serious information that we’re kind of working through.
Q: What does Eva mean to you?
Larson: For me, she represents people that may see this movie, people that will come out of the film and feel something. And maybe that doesn’t mean that their path is going to law school and becoming a lawyer and working for Bryan. There’s so many other avenues. And what Eva inspired in me, is the curiosity to get very close and aware to the people that I am around, and to bring dignity and care to every interaction that I have throughout my day. And I’ve been surprised to learn how many interactions I have in a day. Whether it’s handing my keys to somebody, or receiving a meal, or bumping into someone on the street. There are ways that we are forced into proximity with one another and we miss it. We can know each other. I mean, how rare is that, to know someone? So, Eva to me, is a representation of an opportunity for us to take moving forward to look at ourselves, look at what our biases are, look at where our judgments lay, because we all have them. We’re all judging all throughout the day. I’m sorry. It’s so hard. But we have the opportunity to question them, and understand where they come from because those stories happen before we even were beginning to tell them to ourselves. They’re inherited, but we can end them and we can do it with ourselves and with our families, with our friends, and with our community, and that can grow out.
Q: Can you talk about shooting the family scenes and bringing those lighter moments to the movie?
Kendrick: The moment that sticks out to me is the woman who continued to refill the tea. That was funny even as we were filming it. But I think you know, I have to give give a lot of credit to Destin. You know, Destin is Hawaiian, so he doesn’t have a southern background, but he is very much about family and he’s very much about people. I think you see it in Short Term 12 and I think you see it in this work as well. Destin has a way of sharing the human experience with such honor and such dignity in such reality, and the reality is [in my experience anyway], in my understanding of Southern life – in southern Black life, is that it’s very communal. You do not walk alone, there is no way in the world her family or her community will let this lawyer come into her house, and talk to him by herself.
And so, Minnie has the part of her journey that we share [or that we see], that she has the opportunity to both hurt and be healing – at the same time. She has the opportunity to support her family and support her community, and be supported and embraced by them at the same time. We get a chance to see that, and there’s something to me that is so honoring about being able to share that slice of life; to be able to share that narrative because then I’m sure its other experiences are also communal. And so, if you can see in Minnie, what you see in yourself – what you experienced for yourself, we’ve just bridged the gap. And now we’re connected in that way. Now let’s see what else we have in common. Let’s see how else we understand each other.
Just Mercy had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, had its limited theatrical release on December 25 and is in theaters everywhere nationwide on January 10th.