Kathryn Bigelow and the cast of Detroit discuss the process of making the film

Posted on 26 August 2017
By Roisin Gordon
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Oscar-winning director, Kathryn Bigelow has spoken about how she felt a huge responsibility to keep to the facts with her latest film Detroit, which speaks as much about contemporary events in America as it does about the heinous tragedy which happened 50 years ago.

The film centres around the intense racial tensions during the 1967 riots, which rocked the Motor City to its core.

Considered an important yet largely forgotten moment in American History, the main focus of this story looks at the horrifying true events of one incident taking place at The Algiers Motel, resulting in unwarranted deaths and the injustice that followed.

Purple Revolver were on hand to attend a press conference for the film, where Bigelow appeared alongside cast members: Will Poulter, John Boyega, Hannah Murray and Jack Reynor.

Bigelow said that she never viewed the film as entertainment but rather as a dramatisation of true events, but felt a huge responsibility to make sure that the film stayed faithful to the research uncovered and interviews from the recipients of the incident.

Speaking at Claridges Hotel, in Mayfair: “I suppose I never thought of it as entertainment, I thought of it as a dramatisation of true events and the script is for a large part completely reported and based on real research, court documents, testimonies.

“The character that John Boyega plays Melvin Dismukes, and the character Hannah Murray plays were actually people that we met with. And Julie for instance, she was on set with me every single day.

“So they were hugely responsible for how I think the story unfolded and I think we all felt a certain responsibility to be as faithful to the research and the facts as we could.”

Kathryn was unfamiliar with the events in the film when screenwriter Mark Boal pitched it to her, but it felt historical and contemporaneous which motivated her to make the film.

“When Mark [Boal] presented it to me, he obviously presented it against the landscape and backdrop of the 1967 rebellion in Detroit, but that this true crime event happened and within that canvas and actually that there was very little known about it, and it was almost as if it had been secretive, not within Detroit but certainly outside of Detroit.

“I had no knowledge of it whatsoever, and when he presented it to me it was somewhat concurrent with the Ferguson Missouri incident that was unfolding and so it felt historical and sadly contemporary and that’s what motivated my interest in making it.”

“I think the fact that it was not well known, but also that it felt contemporaneous, those are two elements that certainly motivated me.” Hannah Murray who played real life victim Julie, had high praise for Kathryn’s direction and performances from fellow cast members, which helped her to get lost in her performance.

“I think that Kathryn creates a really incredible energy on set and that she really encourages you to really constantly dive in and the material feels so alive and you’re really just reacting in the moment to what’s taking place. I also think we had such an incredible cast that I found myself getting so lost in the performances, that it was very easy to just respond to everything that was happening around you.”

John Boyega was fortunate to spend time with the man behind his character Melvin Dismukes, a security guard who gets caught up in the incident at the Algiers Motel, who shared his stories and experiences of the events, to help him prepare for the role.

“For me specifically the research was the most interesting with Melvin, I got a chance to speak to him and to him about his life, his perspective and then we got into the talks about obviously what he went through and that was for me, what I used as the blueprint for the character.”

On whether Melvin felt any anger or frustration towards the story not being told yet, Boyega said:

“I wouldn’t say anger or frustration, but I’d say a deep passion to want his side of the story to definitely be told. I think that’s something he’s said many times in interviews and he’s been super co operative and it’s hard having to go to a dark section of your life and having to say it again and again in front of interviews, and he’s done all of that so there’s nothing more he can ask for.”

Will Poulter plays Phillip Krauss a ruthless and brutal police officer, whose character reflected the behaviour of the police officers connected to the events and based on testimonies from eyewitnesses from the events.

In what was an emotionally demanding and intense role, he managed to maintain his energy levels through the bonds he formed with the cast and crew.

“I think that I relied heavily on Kathryn in that respect, someone who in the presence of chaotic, and for many people overwhelming action maintains a very calm, level-headed and inspiring composure. I think the fact that I was genuinely friends with everybody in the cast and we had those sort of prolifics and bonds of respect and trust helped massively, and again I think the sense of purpose that came with this film also motivates you through those harder moments.”

Poulter also kept in mind that whatever emotions he felt, was pale in comparison to what had actually gone in real life:

“The psychology of that character and inhabiting it was very uncomfortable, but I think something that I was constantly reminding myself of was, whatever I’m experiencing in the way of difficulty, any time I was feeling emotional, that would have paled in comparison to what the recipients of the abuse were experiencing and whatever we as actors are going through, doesn’t even measure up for a moment to what the real individuals that we were representing must have suffered. So that was something that we were constantly mindful of and kept in mind when we were shooting those scenes.”

Jack Reynor who plays fellow police officer Demens, also spoke about the friendship between all of them believing it was one of the main strengths during productions:

“I’d say one of the most important elements of production was that we all developed quite a strong bond with one another and trusting relationship with one another and it made us indelibly clear that we all wanted to be part of one kind of community making a statement on this issue. So I think that was really the key in the process, just a level of trust and understanding of one another where by we could allow ourselves to go to places and be brought to places where we would never normally go or want to go”

Detroit gets its theatrical release on 25th August.