Blood Diamond: David Harewood interview
LOVEFiLM: How did you get involved in the production?
David Harewood: Well, I auditioned for Edward Zwick [the director] in London, he didn't tell me then that he has seen me on stage at the National Theatre, and had requested me. The part of Captain Poison was originally supposed to be a boy solider, but they couldn't find anyone with the weight they needed, and as the script kept changing, so did the part. I think eventually he wanted someone who could create a character and in the audition that was what I was able to do: make him laugh, but also chilled him to the bone.
LF: Were you surprised by the success of the film, or were you always expecting it to reach the dizzy heights that it has?
DH: I wasn't surprised by it at all, it's a complex film. what I was surprised at was how in some circles it was so easily dismissed. It's a complex film that is able to tell very varied and difficult stories compact into a very physical, emotional and powerful film. I think were some people snooty about it but I thought it was really very strong and very powerful. I think I was surprised that it wasn't more successful.
LF: What was it about the character that got you hooked?
DH: Well you know Ed [Zwick] made the part for me. He really allowed me to develop the character, about fifty percent of the things I did were either improvised or made up, and he ended up writing two extra scenes for me…
LF: That must have felt like a bit of a compliment…
DH: Well I was very cheeky! I said to him once I'd read the script: "look there's a section of the film that my character is not in and he really should be in it", he laughed and said, "well, what do you mean?" And I said, "Well there's this whole initiation of the boy and I think Captain Poison should be in that whole section." So basically at the end of my first day of filming he said: "you know you're absolutely right" so I was quite pleased that he agreed with me!
He's [Captain Poison] quite a powerful character and that's what attracted me to him - he's very very dark. People talk about him being really evil, but he's possibly the most damaged character in the whole film.
LF: Was it your first time to Africa? You filmed on location in South Africa and Mozambique is that correct?
DH: Yes it was. I had an absolute ball, and I think that every black man at some point thinks that they'll go back there. I was just really happy to be working there, but working on a project that was so special.
LF: What did you think you took away from you after coming back from Africa?
DH: A sense of self, a sense of strength and a sense of new beginnings really - because it inspired me to strive. They look at us as the same really, but as people with opportunities and am determined to make the most of the opportunities that I've got.
LF: Blood Diamond obviously sparked off a huge debate about conflict diamonds - especially around the time of the Oscars. What are you feelings towards it?
DH: Well I think it certainly brought the whole issue of diamonds and where they come from to the table. I don't think that a lot of people had any idea about conflict diamonds, at least now you'll have people saying: "well, I want to know where that diamond has come from." That kind of ostentatious 'bling' culture of American celebrity lifestyle has had to think about where the diamonds have come from, and the consequences of that.
Many Africans see diamonds as worthless, or look at them as pure trouble. Just as oil as bought much misery to parts of the Middle East, it's brought misery to parts of Africa. I think certain organizations, like De Beers and the like, have done a lot of work to clear up their act, so they should, because I think through the 90s the industry was really appalling.
LF: Were you aware yourself of the severity of the situation of conflict diamonds?
DH: No, I had no idea. I can remember watching and reading about the conflicts in Sierra Leone but not really understanding what it was about. It's only when things are explained cinematically or through story that we actually get to understand a real grasp of what is going on. It was doing the research on Captain Poison that I began to understand what that conflict was really about.
LF: It sounds like you really immersed yourself in the part?
DH: Totally. Sorious Samura, who was the advisor on the film, actually showed me some of the footage that he had collected - for which he won a BAFTA for - and it's really quite shocking. I watched that from start to finish when I was in Africa, and all you have to do is watch that to get an idea of the people you are actually dealing with. It put you in a very dark space.
The scary thing is that those characters are really good fun to play, I've been thinking about why that is, and it's interesting to think about - obviously we can't be that evil in real life - and its some form of escapism to play someone who is completely amoral, completely evil, that to some extent it becomes fun.
DH:Most of my work was with Djimon, and he was fantastic. But just knowing that they were around and you were making the same movie was great. Particularly on set, knowing that Leonardo was inches away from me, receiving the same inspiring words that I was from Ed Zwick was great. We hardly ever spoke to each other, you know, I'm some one who stays in character as is he, but whenever we'd pass each other on the back set we nod and as soon as the day was over we'd high five each other. It was great and I feel blessed to have worked with the likes of DiCaprio and Hounsou and Connelly.
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