February 21 2019
Netflix original film 'Bright': When humans and orcs join forces
19 December 2017

Will Smith and Joel Edgerton, the cop duo of the new Netflix film, Bright, talk racism, diversity, arts and politics while sparring with each other

As if the hoardings of Bright at every major traffic signal in Mumbai were not enough, practically the entire community of film journalists of the city gathered at the sprawling Imperial Room of the St Regis hotel on Monday for their date(s) with Will Smith, Joel Edgerton and Noomi Rapace, the stars of the Netflix film, reportedly picked up for a whopping $90 million deal.

After a short wait over a sandwich, Danish and masala chai, I am whisked into a quiet, almost bare room but for a few chairs and a poster of the film in a corner. The calm makes way for a sudden burst of energy as Smith and Edgerton enter with a whole entourage behind them. They are in a lively frame, in a friendly joust with each other, a carry-forward of their roles as the two LAPD (Los Angeles Police Department) cops in Bright that releases this Friday. Directed by David Ayer and written by Max Landis, it is set in an alternate reality, in a world peopled with humans as well as fantasy creatures like orcs, fairies and elves. Smith plays Ward, a human, and Edgerton is Jakoby, an orc; both battling their personal differences while taking on the enemies together to save America and the world at large.

Smith orders a black coffee with honey on the side and asks Edgerton what he would want. “Ferrari, midnight blue,” comes the prompt answer, but he eventually decides to settle for a glass of water. The voice recorder app on my mobile catches Smith’s fancy. “Wow, that’s cool, very cool. That’s fantastic. I need that app,” he picks up the mobile to show around. Edgerton is taken in by the back cover of the phone I acquired at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year where Smith also happened to be present, as a member of the jury. A few minutes of curiosity over my phone later we finally settle down to a short interview with the duo. Excerpts:

Brightis a buddy cop film set in alternate reality. How much were your performances dependent on the constant playing off each other and on improvisation?

Smith: That’s the way [director] David Ayer works, which I find very interesting. I’d say that [for] probably 80% of the dialogue, he gives us the shape but we go on the scenes and just talk. The shape is developed from the first ten or 12 takes when we sort of find the things that work and David would midway through, completely change it…

Edgerton: Yeah [he’d be like] now let’s talk about this and let’s talk about that… He has a template for who the characters are basically. There is his imagination and the screenplay he originally got from Max Landis and then in terms of the dynamic between us, [there is] the inability to understand each other because [Smith’s character] is human. I am an orc and I can’t understand how humans make up things. From there, it became like a fertile ground to have fun. It was kind of awesome.

You brought up this bit about humans versus orcs. There is a whole diversity angle to the film, which makes it contemporary. Did it strike you when you read the script? What was the one key thing that made you pick up the film?

S: For me the racial elements. It’s an action movie, a fantasy, a buddy cop film, but the central thematic spine is racism and just how we treat one another. I loved the boldness of that, to be able to squeeze all of that into a movie. At the centre is a guy who is an African-American policeman who is racist against the orc… I was struck by the irony of it…

E: I really responded to the grand scale of [how] the white cultures bully each other. And to play a character at the centre of the movie who is bullied by everybody, not given the chance to earn respect based on action but to be prejudged based on his culture. What’s cool about it is the way it talks of very important things in an unimportant way. Making this action, buddy cop movie and sliding this very important message in a kind of nicely obvious way. As Will said, sometimes it allows you to talk about things that otherwise you can’t talk about.

There is a dystopic vision, a darkness… Do you believe in that or do you hope that ultimately [to borrow the film’s metaphor] humans and orcs will get together?

S: I grew up in a very religious household. I live by faith in the ultimate, final good. However dark things get, I believe that there is an ultimate, final good that can only be reached through this darkness. We will only learn to love the light through the experience of darkness. I don’t mind when things get dark, I actually appreciate the learning and the darkness in anticipation of the inevitable light.

E: Ooohhh (Sighs)… Look I had a pretty privileged life growing up. I was always encouraged just by the nature of my surroundings to see the world as a very positive place — to be very ‘glass half full’ about things. Then when I stepped into life as a young adult, I started to get exposed to things I hadn’t as a child, the darker things. I get pessimistic about the world and life sometimes, get sad about things I see and read about but I still remain very optimistic. I think that the optimism I have is about empathy.

I love when I hear stories or watch fictional stories or read books where people experience other people’s way of life, or get to walk in somebody else’s shoes as a way to understand how not to prejudge. Living in America right now is [about] a lot of people missing each other, not understanding each other or not choosing to experience each other’s lives. And therefore a lot of dark things happen and are allowed to grow. But you also see the opposite in equal measure. That’s where we need to live.

There are two schools of thought when it comes to artistes. That your duty is just to perform and give all that you have to the character. Essentially,keeping art away from politics. There is the other thought that says artistes can’t not be political. Where do you stand on it?

E: I think when you choose a project you are essentially signing on to the point of view of that movie. You can show your point of view in the world by the projects you choose. Beyond that, I think actors are more increasingly using their followers on Instagram and Twitter and realising that they actually have a volume of people interested to hear what they have to say. And, if you choose to sign up for that and be political then I think you need to have a very careful responsibility about how you use that platform. You can choose to stay in the shadows or choose to step out on to the podium and make your opinions known. It’s valid to do both things. But I think when you sign on to a project, you sign on to [its ideology]. I stand for diversity and equality.

S: I am currently 90% through the Bhagavad Gita. There is a principle [in it] that ‘renunciates’ and ‘householders’ are both doing their part. So I think,in the same way, the artistes who decide that for them their art is not a political platform are just as right as the artistes who decide that it’s the only thing they are going to do with their art. As individuals, our job is to become ourselves fully and to play our role fully. [But] I don’t think there is one answer about [what] our role should be…

E: The other thing I’d say… What I am seeing more and more, also through social media, is the artistes’ ability to help people less fortunate. It is different from politics… To lend their names to charities and organisations that stand for children’s rights or women’s rights and to get behind causes. That in itself is political, I think. That’s like a nice responsibility or potential that we all have.



Related Stories