Tyrese Gibson, the "Fast & Furious" actor and sexy R&B singer, could easily be the lead in a fast-paced thriller about cops called "Black and Blue."
But not this "Black and Blue," which comes out October 25. The lead is Naomie Harris, who plays a wary Army veteran Alicia West who returns to her poverty-stricken neighborhood in New Orleans as a rookie cop.
So it’s not Tyrese but Harris who ends up doing most of the running, the fighting and the shooting after she accidentally sees dirty cops killing two drug dealers in cold blood. She catches it all on her body cam and flees after one of the cops shoots her - not fatally.
Alicia runs into a convenience store where Tyrese’s character Mouse, an employee beaten down by life’s travails, helps her. Why? He knew her when they were younger and realizes she’s doesn’t necessarily bleed blue if she sees injustice. (How she closes her own gunshot wound impresses him, too.)
Tyrese, at a press junket at the Gathering Spot in Atlanta Thursday, said his characters are often seen as the hero, the man with the plan. But Deon Taylor, the director, told him to restrain himself as Mouse. Rather than Alicia's Jason Bourne-feel, he said in "Black and Blue" he's more like "Jason Scorn."
“I stand behind Naomie and I stand with Naomie,” he said. “She is Mouse’s safety net with her experience from Afghanistan while I try to keep her safe on my level, knowing the hood.”
Tapping Mouse’s character’s motivations, he said, was easy.
“I lot of my boys I grew up went to jail. You go for a little while, you come home and it’s cool, homies,” said Tyrese, who grew up in Compton. “You then go in for something big, 10-15 years. You come back and it’s like you fell completely off the radar. In that capacity, jail does its job. My character has seen death and came too close himself too many times. The last thing he would ever assume on a Wednesday morning is a police officer crashing in the back of my store and dragging me into this police-police battle.”
Harris said to this point she had shied away from being the lead in a film: too much pressure. “Being No. 2 or 3 on the call sheet was stressful enough,” she said. “But I’m so grateful for this experience with Deon. He is such a phenomenal director, so collaborative. I felt so empowered by the process. I loved it.” Then she joked: “Now: leads only!”
Nafessa Williams,who works nearby on the CW's "Black Lightning," plays Missy, a resentful former best friend of Alicia's. She stayed behind in the hood and thinks Alicia not only abandoned her but now works for the "enemy."
Taylor said Missy in the screenplay had only two notable scenes. He decided to flesh her out with a scene in a bathroom partway through the film where she and Alicia hash out their differences. Alicia asked why Missy didn’t leave New Orleans with her? “Seeing me, doesn’t that make you mad because you knew you had a choice?” Alicia said. Of course, Missy did not.
Williams said she was raised in a rough part of West Philadelphia so she related to the Missy character and her sense of hopelessness. “Circumstances crushed my character,” she said.
Alicia’s decision to seek new opportunities as a teenager spoke to Taylor. “This movie is really written for my culture,” he said. “Written for people who live these lives. When I left Gary, Indiana, I was being highly recruited by the army. My cousin was sleeping on the floor with us. One morning, he just got up and left to join the army. It’s a way of escape.”
While the movie touches upon the issues of race, identity and class as well as the controversial use of body cams, it is not preachy about those subjects. It’s a popcorn film, first and foremost.
If you want deeper discussions about race and cops, check out Netflix's "American Son" starring Kerry Washington instead, which is out November 1. (I interviewed Atlanta-based director Kenny Leon and will post a story about that soon.)
Rodney Ho writes about entertainment for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution including TV, radio, film, comedy and all things in between. A native New Yorker, he has covered education at The Virginian-Pilot, small business for The Wall Street Journal and a host of beats at the AJC over 20-plus years. He loves tennis, pop culture & seeing live events.