There are some jobs that just don’t come around every day.
BlacKKKlansman is available on DVD, Blu-Ray and Digital at all major retailers and this true story of one Ron Stallworth (played by John David Washington) a man who became the first African-American Detective in the Colorado Springs Police Department is one that simply has to be seen to be believed. Why you ask? It’s because in the 1970’s a black man spearheading an investigation into the criminal activities of the Ku Klux Klan simply didn’t happen every day.
It’s a story that still has resonance today in our current political climate and will easily be considered as one of the best of the calendar year that 2018 had to offer. In advance of the DVD/Blu-Ray release we had the unique please to sit down with Paul Walter Hauser who plays Klan member “Ivanhoe” in the film. We talked about auditioning for Spike Lee and what a big moment that was for him in his career, being able to find that spot where he can push boundaries as an actor, the well placed moments of levity in the film and the genuine learning experience of doing work with people you genuinely admire and appreciate.
Dave Voigt: Walk me through you’re initial experience of finding out about and auditioning for BlacKKKlansman because I’ve got to imagine that auditioning for Spike Lee as an actor just has to be an experience in and of itself.
Paul Walter Hauser: It was man, it really was. That minute that I saw that announcement in Deadline that Jordan Peele and Spike Lee were working together on a true story, I immediately wanted in, even without knowing if there might be a part for me, but that fact that this actually happened and that it’s this story that blends humor with drama combined with the fact that I’m just a huge fan of Spike’s work and I’ve been buddy’s with Jordan Peele for quite some time really drove me to be involved with this in any way that I could.
However, as far as the actual audition was concerned, I really didn’t know what to think because Spike really has an intimidating aura about him. He may not be a big man in stature but as far as this business goes the man is just monumental so I was a little scared going in but I managed to push that aside and I had a lot of fun in the audition as I just tried to improvise with it a little to make the character my own and take some chances with it.
Spike ended up liking my choices and not hating my improve because I tend to improve quite a bit and it’s help me learn when it’s working or not because I’ll either get the evil eye telling me to “Stick to the script, you idiot!” (Laughs) or one where I can see that I’ve gotten the tone of the material right and I’m playing on the right set of monkey bars so just keep doing it!
That’s awesome, because especially with this character I’ve got to imagine it created some difficult moments because this guy that you’re playing does say; to put it bluntly, some fairly heinous things. How do sort of come to that safe place as an actor where you (and your co-stars) are comfortable in the moment while still pushing those uncomfortable boundaries?
Let me put it this way, if I get scared by the things that I am saying or the thoughts that I am inhabiting at the time while I’m playing a character like this then it won’t be believable and I’m not honoring the job in front of me, so I really did dive into this one. There was never a false note between any of us as actors because we always felt like we were honoring the motivations of the characters and how they fought and felt so it was never that difficult for me; but there were a handful of moments like when we’re all watch The Birth of a Nation and we’re basically shouting racist shit at the screen throughout, that wasn’t a fun day at all and we all felt a little icky after that day. Then there was another day when I was looking at John David Washington and I just make this scowling face at him and walk away but we did a few takes of it and on some of them I just said some things to him that I was so turned off by, and when you’re trying to improvise and that kind of stuff it gives you pause and makes you wonder where it came from inside of you. Obviously it all comes from creativity and I love John David to death but it really does suck having to look a friend in the eye and do something like that which you know is blatenly hurtful, it was a weird moment to be sure.
How did Spike maintain a level of levity on set, because even though all these serious things and issues are going on, this is still a film that has some genuinely funny moments in it?
Yeah, I really think the ingredient that kept the onset vibe positive in spite of some of the more serious underpinnings in the story is that Spike always works with the same people on every shoot. Everyone is always telling stories and reminiscing like “Remember back at the wrap party on Mo Better Blues…” or “Remember that time John Turturro got so upset about…” It was that family vibe of being around these people telling all these stories like we were just all around a dinner table really sweetened the deal on this shoot and makes it all that much more fun and entertaining for anyone and everyone who was in ear shot. It allowed everyone to love on each other a little more freely in the ensemble because when you have an ensemble cast like this one you tend to find some actors who are a little more introverted, which is fine but personally I will always be more of a fan of the actors and directors who want to an encourage not only having deep discussion with one another but also cracking jokes as well.
Is that the ultimate pay off on a job like this, to be able to hear those kinds of industry stories because I can imagine those opportunities just don’t come around every day.
Oh, it’s the BEST! I love meeting older actors and just listening to them tell stories for hours. I’m really good buddies with M.C. Gainey from things like Lost & Con Air and I really only ever get to see the guy a couple of times a year but whenever we get to grab breakfast or brunch together I just get to hear all these stories about working with the likes of Kurt Russell or Nicolas Cage…it’s like sitting at the foot of Santa Claus for me. Not that M.C. Gainey looks like Santa Claus…to be honest he probably looks a little more like Krampus; or if Santa Claus had just gotten out of jail or something. (Loud Laughter)
What do you feel like you’ve learned about yourself as an actor and performer in working on shoots like this and I, Tonya where the roles you have still have a comedic edge to them but inside this more high profile dramatic structure that films like this work in.
Personally, that I am pretty sure that I have to stay in that kind of range, being either the menace or the jester depending on what the script calls for. Not that I don’t have the range to do anything else that I might want, but I never want to be on a sitcom with a laugh track where I’m making $500K a year…don’t get me wrong though either, I’d love the money…but I just don’t want to be “that” kind of guy when it comes to my career. I would be rather be the guy who doesn’t own a home till his mid-40’s and getting paid scale to work on a Jeff Nichols movie and work with Michael Shannon.
That really is the dream to keep on playing these hilarious and bothersome people in these really cool movies, and I really feel (or at least hope) that I bring a sense of specificity and commitment to these types of roles, and even when I’m not necessarily acting I’ve learned to be a positive influence and someone people can talk to because sometimes the days aren’t easy and it’s important to me to be a role model in that regard.
BlacKKKlansman is now available on DVD, Blu-Ray and Digital from all major retailers.