Finding John and Lee
When it came time to find an actor to play the complex John Muhammad, Moors truly had only one name in mind. "From the beginning, I knew ISAIAH WASHINGTON was the only person who could play him," the director states. "John is a bad guy -- a scary guy -- but, somehow, you have to be able to see the mountain of pain in his heart. And I knew Isaiah was the only person who could portray that kind of menace and still have you feel something for him."
Moors was a fan of Washington's, particularly from such works as Clint Eastwood's "True Crime," in which the actor played a death row inmate whose guilt comes into question. "Isaiah's not afraid to play a character with ambiguity. I've seen that movie many times, and I still don't know if the guy is guilty. He never plays it just black and white -- with Isaiah, there's always a little bit of yin and yang. You never truly know what's going on in his characters, and those are tough waters to navigate. And that's exactly what we needed for John."
For his part, Washington had taken some time away from Hollywood to travel and explore his African heritage. "I had walked away from everything," the actor recalls. Not to say he wasn't still plenty in demand. Unable to contact him through traditional means, producers and filmmakers, such as Dick Wolf, were making attempts to reach him via Facebook. "I happened to check my Facebook e-mail one day and spotted this last gasp letter from Alex Moors and from [producer] Isen Robbins. I didn't realize they'd been trying to find me for a couple of months. Lucky for me, I saw that and picked up the phone and called Isen, because they were just about to give up and move on!"
The actor spoke with Moors, who informed him what the film was about and the character he wished him to play. "I said, 'I don't know, man, I didn't care for that guy too much.' I had a lot of bias towards the character -- I'm a father, and he's a father of three. And I remember when it happened I was embarrassed when I found out he was African-American."
Before sending Washington the script, Moors first recommended the actor read Fyodor Dostoyevsky's 1864 Russian novel, "Notes From the Underground," about an embittered and isolated former civil servant. "I wanted him to understand the mountain of anger and bitterness, because this was going to be a study of a ravaged soul," the director explains. "It was pretty dark and pretty heavy," Washington says. "But reading that, as well as 'Scared Silent,' pulled my spirit, my soul, in a different direction. It made me begin to think about the kind of psychosis, the lowly mentality where you never know what such a person will do. Violence doesn't just happen. And when it does, it doesn't ring a bell. It happens, and it's profound, and it's horrible."
The challenge, he says, was finding a way to put some humanity into the character. "I read the script, and I said, 'Okay, this scared the bejesus out of me -- how can I achieve some humanity in this thing?'" The way in for the actor was through John's ambiguous character, as Moors had hoped. "I enjoy that kind of ambiguity - You never really know what's going on in his head -- and that's what's chilling. I never play it black or white -- I think the world is very gray. I liked the challenge, so I told Alex 'yes.'"
He also studied Moors' previous films and music videos. "I was really taken with his film language and his artistry. I knew if we could get the narrative right, we'd have something pretty special. And it wasn't until we were 3/4 through shooting this film that I learned that BLUE CAPRICE was Alex's first feature! You'd never know it."
To play the lonely -- and equally perplexing -- Lee, Moors at first hoped to find an unknown or non-actor, but soon realized the skill that would be required to portray such a difficult personality as Lee's. Casting director Eve Battaglia, having gone through countless other candidates, was fortunate to spot 19-year-old Tequan Richmond, who, early in his career portrayed a young Ray Charles in Taylor Hackford's "Ray" in 2004, as well as spent four years in the cast of "Everybody Hates Chris" (and is now featured on "General Hospital").
The role appealed to the young actor, who was eager to take on an indie film role. "I was just finishing up another project in New York, and Alex Skyped me and we talked," Richmond recalls. "We ran through some lines, and then he sent me the script the following day, and I signed on." Says Moors, "He was far and away above anyone else we had seen."
Key to the performance is Richmond's ability to portray a character with but a handful of lines, as Lee has. "Tequan looks good, but he also has a presence and quality in his features," Moors notes, "that the way light bounces off him just gives his look an intensity that I can't explain. I could spend an hour and a half just looking at him, trying to figure out what's happening in that brain," something that was imperative for an actor portraying the near-silent killer.
"It was very different from the kind of acting he was used to doing on television, where an actor can go through a whole range. That wasn't what was needed here, and it was something Tequan understood pretty quickly." Adds Richmond, "It was a pretty new thing for me. I had to really work off other people's reactions a lot, which was interesting. I really had to think. Alex was constantly interrupting takes, shouting, 'What are you thinking right now?'"
Richmond had to constantly portray the deep loneliness that Lee has felt for most of his life, which were familiar feelings for the actor. "I'm an only child from a single mother, so I had maybe some sense of what he lived with, which I simply exaggerated onscreen to try to fill his shoes. I had to constantly keep myself in a dark, weird zone the whole time. It was difficult."
His co-star was equally taken with his partner's silent acting prowess. "I began seeing it in our rehearsals, his ability to play so much without saying anything," says Washington. "I just loved it. If this guy doesn't get nominated for something, then there's definitely something wrong."
Filming took place, with producer and longtime Moors associate Brian O'Carroll behind the camera. Producers are Stephen Tedeschi a filmmaker and long time friend ofBrian's. Sundance regulars, Intrinsic Value film's, Isen Robbins and Aimee Schoof, Ron Simons of Simon Says who has two films in this years festival, Will Rowbothem of Prolific entertainment, Alex's manager and Kim Jackson. Executive producer Jonathen Gray and Hilary Stabb also long time fans of Alex'swork came on board. They shot from mid-September to mid-October 2011 on Staten Island (sitting in for Tacoma), and a three-day shoot just after in Puerto Rico (for Antigua). Nassau County Correctional Center on Long Island was used for the film's closing sequence, where Lee is interviewed by a public defender.
Washington and Richmond spent time off set bonding, something that clearly helped their onscreen connection. "There was a lot of mentoring going on -- because Isaiah's an amazing professional. But we also hung out a lot in New York -- we even got lost, and that was kind of interesting." Adds Washington, "We stayed in the same apartment building, we laughed, we cried, we ate together. We even shared the same trailer -- which was probably the worst trailer in history. I think James Cagney must have used it back in 1935 or something! We were in there, as was wardrobe and makeup. We were on a low budget."
Richmond notes that, even with such dark subject matter, Washington was helpful in keeping the set light. In one scene, for instance, when John and Lee are staying with John's girlfriend, Angela, Lee is asked to step outside, which he does -- and has to listen to the two have sex. "They were right there standing by the camera doing that," Richmond laughs. "That was uncomfortable."
The bonding time paid off, Richmond says. "By the time we got to rehearsals and on set, Isaiah and I were right there. We had a trust. We just went, 'We got it' and could just roll." Washington agrees. "We trusted each other through some tough feelings and circumstances. And we were able to do that and get out of our own way."
Rounding out the cast was a collection of fine character actors, among them TIM BLAKE NELSON and JOEY LAUREN ADAMS, playing John's old army buddy, Ray and his wife, Jamie. "They're like a little American family cell," Moors notes of the two actors' portrayal of the couple. "You can tell that they're friends, and they provide a nice break from the intense scenes of just John and Lee."
Nelson has an uncanny ability to portray an immediately recognizable history Ray has with John. "Tim was great," Washington says. "He came in and visited in my trailer, and we talked about our kids. When we got to do scenes together, it felt like two jazz artists playing together," particularly visible in a scene where Ray finds a disturbed John shooting a rifle down in his basement, unable to determine what has changed in his friend. "That kind of performance, locking in Tim's eyes -- that's an actor supporting telling a story. We nailed it, and it felt good."
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