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Interview: Nate Parker Talks 'Non-Stop,' Working with Lupita Nyong'o, and Being Versatile as an Actor

Interviews
by Jai Tiggett
February 27, 2014 5:03 PM
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'Non-Stop's' Nate Parker and director Jaume Collet-Serra

 In Universal's upcoming suspense thriller Non-Stop, Liam Neeson stars as Bill Marks, a federal air marshal whose motives and shady past are called into question when he begins receiving dangerous threats from an anonymous passenger on a transatlantic flight. As the unnamed terrorist promises to kill a passenger every 20 minutes if he doesn't receive $150 million, Marks is swept into a wild and implausibly daring fight where everyone aboard the plane is both a victim and a suspect.

Nate Parker and Julianne Moore co-star as flight passengers while Michelle Dockery and Oscar contender Lupita Nyong'o co-star as flight attendants caught in the crossfire.

At a recent preview screening of the film, Nate Parker and director Jaume Collet-Serra spoke about making the movie, and Parker gave insight into what else is on the horizon for his career.

On filming in the contained space of an airplane:  

NATE PARKER: I wore the same clothes every day for about a month. It was like Groundhog Day, where you wake up in the same clothes. And every shot needed everyone, so we'd have to just sit in the chair for days just hanging out until it was your turn. But we understood, when it's a confined space there's a lot of opportunity for action and heated moments and drama. You have nowhere to go, the camera can't go back into the terminal or go somewhere else. So it was exciting.

JAUME COLLET-SERRA: There was more closeness than in a normal movie because obviously you wouldn't want to put the camera anyplace where it feels like you're outside. So the actors know it’s always on them, and they have to be on all the time.

On using past training in the film:

NP: Liam was a boxer when he was younger and I was an athlete in college, so we traded a lot of stories and we had a guy come in and take us through the fight scenes. So it was a lot of fun. And to play a computer programmer, that's what I studied in college. So sitting with Jaume and talking about how I would say things, he was very open to what I brought to the table.

On playing a bad guy:

NP: I always say there are no villains. Everyone has their reasons. I think when you approach material from the standpoint of "bad guy," you start to play more of a caricature. Everyone has ideas and passions, so I think in a [villain's] mind, everything is justified. So I approach it from that standpoint.

One of my biggest passions is to play Nat Turner. That's a project that we're working to get done. A lot of people thought he was a bad guy, but it's perspective. I don't think he was a bad guy at all, but we all have our ideas of what we want and why we want it, and what we'll do to achieve those things.

On working with Liam Neeson:


NP: Something maybe you can't see on screen, Liam is like 6'4 and solid. So working on the scenes with him was great, it was like my speed against his power. And it was a great joust. But yeah, he's the nicest guy you'd ever want to meet.

I coach high school wrestling and I travel with the team when we compete. When I was filming this, I was missing tournaments. So Liam found out and said, "Hey, do you want me wish your guys luck? Why don't we make a video?"

So here we are in his dressing room making a video for my team. He comes in and puts his arm around my shoulder and says, "You guys better win, or else I'll find you and I'll kill you."

It was really cool. My team flipped out, they couldn't believe it. That's the kind of person he is. He's a human being first and he's a superstar second.

On working with Lupita Nyong'o:

JCS:  I love Lupita and I didn't even test her. I didn't know that she got another movie or anything. I just met her and she was cool and great, so I gave her the part. So she comes to set and some of the crew had also worked on 12 Years A Slave. They were like, "What is she doing here? This girl’s going to be nominated next year."

They knew. The crews know everything. So then we tried to give her a couple more lines [laughs]. But we had a great time.

NP: She's beautiful and she's humble. You'd never know [about 12 Years A Slave]. I spent time with her every single day, we had lunch almost every day, and she never really talked about it. She just treated everyone with respect, and here's a woman who was educated at Yale and takes her craft very seriously.

All I hope for her is that Hollywood recognizes her talent and that this doesn't become something where we see her three years from now and say, "Remember Lupita?" I want to see more darker skin, short hair, and thick lips. We exist. We're here. We are ingrained in the fabric of this country and we deserve to be represented in positive ways across the board. So let's see where she is next year after the Academy Awards, because I know the talent, and I know she deserves to be there.

On Nate Parker's upcoming film, Gina Prince Bythewood's Blackbird, and what's next for him:

NP: It's a love story about an LAPD cop and a pop star, and I really love that project. I try to do films that I feel represent us in a way that's positive on all fronts. The whole idea of Hollywood is that there can only be one. I feel like my job is to destroy that, whether it be by creating content or choosing roles that I believe are colorless, and then bringing the subtleties of my culture into it in a way that I choose rather than it being through some backwards way of writing.

So I want to do action, because we can do action. I want to do dramas, I want to play characters that are complex and people may consider villains, because we have opinions sometimes that others may not agree with. I want to do a lot of things. What I don't want to do is be put in a box.

On choosing versatile roles as an actor:

NP: Anything worth having takes hard work. When you say no to most things that don't represent you the way you want, you're not left with a lot of material. So out of 20 scripts, we may say no to 19, and then there's the 20th script and you're fighting with everyone that doesn’t look like you. That's the kind of situation it is, more often than not.

Our job is just to be excellent every time, so when the opportunity arises there's no mistake about what you want and your ability level. And I think that we have to continue to hold Hollywood accountable and push for the material. We need to push people that are in a position to greenlight projects to do more, and to play a more active role in making sure these projects happen. And for certain stories, it's up to us to look to each other if we think the stories are important. Because a lot of times the complaint is, "Oh well, the studios don't want to make this movie."

But there's a lot of movement in the independent world. A lot of films are being made independently. So we just have to find ways.

**


Non-Stop opens in theaters this Friday, February 28.


 

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