What’s better than one beautiful Black man starring in a feature film? Two: Chadwick Boseman and Stephan James, to be exact. Fresh off of their game-changing and historic shining moments in two of the most buzzed about movies of 2018 (Black Panther and If Beale Street Could Talk), the two now star in the Brian Kirk-directed 21 Bridges.
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In 21 Bridges, Boseman and James join forces to explore what corruption in the police force looks like when the lines between right and wrong become blurred. When Michael (played by James) finds himself accused of killing several cops in a robbery gone wrong, he is forced to examine his life choices and decide what kind of person he wants to be in the world, as he fights for his life with Detective Andre Davis (played by Boseman) in hot pursuit.
The movie brings to light the parallel lives of these two brilliant Black men who are products of their individual life circumstances, but through a life-altering evening discover their commonalities and shared value system with regards to the sanctity of truth and life.
BET spoke to Chadwick and Stephan about their roles in this supercharged movie, which hits movies on Friday, November 22, and what the film revealed to them about who they are and where they come from.
BET: There are a few great one-liners in the movie. Detective Andre Davis has one early on when he says, “You better have perfect diction calling me a trigger,” and another comes from Michael’s partner in crime, Ray (played by Taylor Kitsch), who in describing Michael’s life circumstance says, “He could’ve been anything if he had just been born someplace else.” For those people seeing this movie and trying to figure out how to rise above their present circumstances and be or do more in life, what would you say to them?
Chadwick Boseman: Well, you know, it’s not always geography. It’s where you are in your mind, you know what I’m saying? Where you’re born, a lot of times in the greatest stories, the person is born in a place that’s not supposed to be the place where greatness comes from. That’s the biblical story—that’s the Egyptian mythology as well. So I think that’s the opportunity to show God’s greatness in the best way, because he can always bring light out of any situation.
Stephan James: I mean, I can’t really top that. What he said!
BET: There’s another great line in the movie when Detective Davis describes what it means for him to carry on the legacy of being a police officer, a tradition that he inherited from his slain father, and he says, ‘It’s in my DNA.’ This immediately conjures up thoughts of the Kendrick Lamar song “DNA” and begs the question: How would you describe your DNA?
James: My DNA? I mean, single mother, three boys, from poverty, homelessness. I’ve done seen it all—seen it all, done it all. So, I think to just be here at this moment in time [I am] forever present, forever grateful to be able to do the work that we do, and I’m just thankful, you know? You think about Thanksgiving, that’s one of the things I’m thankful for—the work that I get to do, and just life.
Boseman: I come from a big family, so everything’s in my family. Like, any issue that you see in life, conflicts you see, pretty much everything. Like, my grandmother when she passed had 115 grands and great-grands, so we got everything going on. All the conflicts, deaths, sickness, but all the joy as well, and camaraderie and celebration. There’s a wealth of all those things, so both perspectives are part of my DNA. They’re part of my blood and bloodline. Regardless of how bad it is or how high it is, I feel like I’m a base, and there’s a contentment there.
BET: What was it like for you while shooting this film, as cop and criminal, getting to be so intimate with firearms and shooting several scenes with something so powerfully capable of taking away a life? Did it alter your perspective on life and death in real life?
Boseman: I’m not a gun person, you know what I’m saying? We didn’t have guns in our home. Guns have been pulled on me in my teenage years, and I wasn’t cool with that. In the course of this movie, I can remember the first day when we started firearms training here in L.A. I wasn’t comfortable.
I had been to the firing range before, I’ve even done movies where I’ve held guns, but I knew it was going to be more in this movie, and I didn’t feel comfortable at all. It’s something I had to get over in order to do the role. We got to the point where we were firing 500 rounds a day, three to four times a week, and I was getting good at shooting stuff from a distance that was small, and at a certain point I had to check myself, like, whoa, how do you feel about it?
And I was like, I still don’t want any guns in my house. I still don’t want kids of mine with the opportunity to find them. So that hasn’t really changed. Even though I developed the skill set in the course of doing this movie, I still don’t feel comfortable.
James: For me I think you just take in the weight of this thing, literally. You talk about training, and going into the SWAT bases and walking into lockers with like a thousand guns and you have your pick at any one of these things, and I guess you realize the power that this thing can cause—the heartbreak, the trauma, the chaos—especially in a city like New York. I don’t know, it’s just this one piece of thing, but you can’t underestimate the effect it can have.
Photo Credit: Matt Kennedy/STX Films