A Maverick Underdog: A Few Minutes with Bokeem Woodbine, Diving Into The Experience That Is ‘Overlord’

Posted in Blu-Ray/DVD, Interviews, Movies by - February 21, 2019
A Maverick Underdog: A Few Minutes with Bokeem Woodbine, Diving Into The Experience That Is ‘Overlord’

It’s always fun to talk with a veteran and experienced performer…

In Overlord we’re on the eve of D-Day, American paratroopers are dropped behind enemy lines to carry out a mission crucial to the invasion’s success. But as they approach their target, they begin to realize there is more going on in this Nazi-occupied village than a simple military operation. They find themselves fighting against supernatural forces, part of a Nazi experiment.

Overlord (Which is now available via  Digital Download, On Demand, 4K, Blu-Ray and DVD) is just one of those movies that defy expectations and ends up being one hell of a fun and entertaining ride and in advance of its release we got the chance to spend a few minutes on the phone with veteran character actor Bokeem Woodbine about his experiences on set and so much more…

Dave Voigt: I’m kind of curious, throughout your career, no matter how big or small the part has been you’ve always found these very memorable roles and I’m curious was this something you were offered or did you have to audition and especially with it being a “JJ Abrams” project, how much did you know going into Overlord?

Bokeem Woodbine: I actually knew very little.  They called us; meaning my agent and I which was awesome because one random day I just got this phone call and he told me that I was being looked at for this JJ Abrams/Bad Robot project and of course I thought that was cool, but then my agent said was that the only caveat was that the director wanted to talk with me first.  So they set up a Skype between me and Julius and we had a really nice conversation because he told me flat out; “I love your work, and I really want you to be a part of this, but you need to know up front that this won’t be an easy shoot”  “It’ll be very demanding and I just want to be sure that your on board for something like that?”  I of course said “No problem, I’m really excited and I certainly hope we can figure something out to work together”.  Obviously we did, and when I finally got there, he really wasn’t playing around man! (Laughs)  It was tough picture to make, and even though I wasn’t in it for that long, it WASN’T an easy picture to make!  They really wanted to create the sensation of what it would be like in this tiny ass little plane, with all that gear on and the pressure of going into battle as well as the nature of what it means to WILLFULLY go to a place where people are going to being trying to kill you.  To willfully put yourself in harm’s way like that.  It was a wild experience, but one I was so happy to have been a part of.

I guess that dovetails right into my next question.  How long did you have to be in the plane as they shot that sequence because it’s just so intense and really so important in establishing the tone of the overall film?

I think it took about three, four weeks to do the whole thing.  I can’t even remember man (laughs) it all kind of blurred together after a while because when you’re on that plane they only give you a few opportunities to actually get off the plane on any given day.  It’s just too hard to take everybody off the plane and then put them all back on again, so when we were there…we were THERE! (Laughs)  Everyday when we got up, we knew that we were in that plane for hours at a time, and you know they weren’t exactly well ventilated either (Laughs) and I’m sure that they could have gotten you off the plane quickly enough in case of some kind of emergency…but no one really wanted to be that guy either and we all ended up toughing it out in these 4-5 hour stretches.  Sure we’d get 30 min for lunch and they’d change out some cameras or things like that but then it was right back on the mother fucker to keep shooting man… (Laughs)  It was brutal and not fun, but the group of guys I was acting with along with a great crew really made it pleasant.  If everyone involved in this wasn’t very cool, it just would have made it all very uncomfortable…but thankfully that didn’t happen!

It’s a very young ensemble as well and while you’re obviously playing this leader of men, you are also one of the more Veteran acting talents on this shoot.   Were you sort of thrust into the role of being a leader for everyone off screen as well to keep the team motivated and going?

No man, the entire ensemble and crew were just so motivated and dedicated to this picture and it was so fun to be a part of.  I’ll admit that I was the “old guy” on set (Laughs) and they all gave me that respect and that reverence.  Plus I was acutely aware that I was the dude on set who had been in a few more pictures then pretty much everybody else and I genuinely appreciated the respect that they gave me on set.  Everyone was cool, the young guys actually did call me “Sarge” even when we weren’t filming and it was just such a nice atmosphere to be around and I had a great time working with those cats and took my position as “Old Guy” pretty seriously.  I will say though that I had no complaints though as they all came ready to rock each and every day.  I was proud to be part of that cast and they really motivated through their sincerity and commitment to the work, take after take under those conditions, it was amazing to see.

That’s really the magic of the film as well because, and this is especially true if you saw it on the big screen because Overlord is really the kind of movie that just pummels itself into your brain for this truly unique experience and that leads to my next question because you’ve been in a Marvel movie, you’ve worked with the likes of Michael Bay who make these big intense action films.  How does the Overlord experience compare to some of those other films that you’ve worked on?

I definitely think that it’s the same kind of caliber of film, especially when it comes down to the overall scope of the project.  It’s a large, well funded major motion picture and it is definitely comparable to some of the other big budget stuff that I have been involved with.  However in Julius (Avery) our director it really had this maverick sensibility to it all because it almost felt like we were getting away with something when we were making it.  We felt like The Dirty Dozen!  You know what I mean?  We were this unpolished fighting force and it always kind of felt like we weren’t supposed to be able to pull it off.  That’s the kind of thing that always compels me because I always view myself as a bit of an underdog and I like working with other underdogs and in proving that we deserve as much recognition and airtime as anybody else and it’s kind of the way that approach my entire career, just that I have something that I need to prove every time I go out there.  I feel like that’s how we all felt when we were making this picture like we all did have something to prove and I really like that kind of energy.

And it’s interesting that you say that because when you really go through your CV, there are some truly interesting and unique projects on there and I have to ask because this fascinates me.  You worked on a show called Unsolved which was about the murders of Tupac and Biggie Smalls and you knew Tupac, you were friends and had worked together.  Was that another example of you wanting to find a unique working experience to give yourself a challenge that you could pull off, when I can imagine it being a bit of a head trip at the same time?

Yeah, and it was a hard one because every day I had to work at not thinking about it and my personal connection to it.  The material had so many eerie elements to it while we were filming it all that it quite often gave actual goose bumps going through it all.  I really had to detach myself from it emotionally and didn’t let myself really think about it until the shooting had wrapped.  If I had been thinking about it all the time it would have been so hard to do what I had to do and I forced myself to find ways to just not think about it.  Afterwards when it all settled it in, it actually hit me pretty hard and especially how fortunate I was to be a part of it and I gave it everything I had.  The character I played was a real human being, there was nothing fictional and it real life he’s not the type of guy who is prone to being overly emotional or anything like that and that really helped a lot to be able to play this very grounded and pragmatic guy.

Just to but a bow on this, if you meet someone who’s a fan of yours or even if not, give me your one line pitch on Overlord?

Wow… (thinks for a minute)…”Who doesn’t want to kill Nazi’s and zombie’s?”

I love it, thanks for the time today Bokeem, I really appreciate it.

Thank you man.

Overlord is now available via On Demand, Digital Download, 4K, Blu-Ray and DVD from all major retailers.

This post was written by
David Voigt is a Toronto based writer with a problem and a passion for the moving image and all things cinema. Having moved from production to the critical side of the aisle for well over 10 years now at outlets like Examiner.com, Criticize This, Dork Shelf (Now That Shelf), to.Night Newspaper he’s been all across his city, the country and the continent in search of all the news and reviews that are fit to print from the world of cinema.
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