Joe Anderson (The Grey, Across the Universe) tackles the role of Tully, a white supremacist who within hours of his release from jail kills a police officer and takes an African American family hostage, in the dramatic film Supremacy. Directed by Deon Taylor from a script by Eric J. Adams, Supremacy is based on a disturbing true story and features Danny Glover, Dawn Olivieri, Derek Luke, Evan Ross, Lela Rochon, and Anson Mount. The R-rated thriller is now available on VOD and in theaters and in support of Supremacy‘s release, I had the opportunity to talk to Joe Anderson about the appeal of the film and how he got both into and out of the character.
Joe Anderson Supremacy Interview:
How do you approach getting into this character? What was your entry point into connecting with him?
Joe Anderson: “My father was raised in Zimbabwe and he was raised as a second-generation white Zimbabwean and as good white Zimbabwean and not a racist white Zimbabwean, so we knew a lot of white racist people and there were always family discussions around the dinner table as to how those closed-minded these racists were. In terms of white supremacy in America, I don’t know as much. That’s definitely not a culture that I have anything to do with or condone. I highly disagree with any racism in any sense, but in terms of racism in itself, it is definitely something that I have been exposed to and has been a major part of my life growing up with a father who was raised in Africa and having been there a lot and seeing, too, the products of racism.
For me, it was really just about finding the moral of the story. What is the lesson that we’re trying to say here? Are we trying to say white supremacists are bad people or are they just people that have a completely flawed way of thinking, that their ideology is flawed? If we look at the world today, be it white supremacists or be it whatever it is, I think that having an issue with anybody due to culture, skin color, due to ethnic practices, due to cultural practices is completely ridiculous. I think that’s something that makes our world beautiful and wonderful. So I sort of approached it from the point of view that ultimately at the end of the movie this guy’s ideology is somewhat rocked and shaken, and he might see how his way of living and thinking has been flawed all these years. So, for me, it was about finding that there’s a human being within this, how generally the public would perceive a nasty psychotic idiot, really, and not a one-dimensional character. I think it’s a testament to Deon that he was brave enough to make a movie where his protagonist really was a white supremacist and that sort of bravery struck a chord with me and I wanted to jump on and support that bravery as much as possible.”
Did you pick that from the initial reading of the script?
Joe Anderson: “I thought that the challenge would be the movie, essentially, is a hostage movie and within films that deal with hostage situations the stakes are always very high and the pace usually is quite fast. I thought that the challenge really was to get…how do I say this?…allow people to see the flaws in certain ideologies, be it these white supremacist views, be it Mr. Walker’s fear of police, be it whatever it is, that the challenge being that within an entertaining backdrop and premise of a hostage situation that we are addressing things that would like to address in a calm environment. So that was something that drew me to the project.
Obviously, we watch movies for entertainment so the entertainment factor is really hostage element and the pace and what have you. But at the same time, to be able to create a really punchy, raw movie and address issues, that was something that was very, very challenging and fascinating to me just as a filmmaker and an actor.”
Was this a really emotionally draining project for you?
Joe Anderson: “Yes, it was. One other thing that was particularly hard is the translation between the screenplay and when you’re on-set actually filming it. Sometimes you can read things in a screenplay and it works, and then when you get on to set – especially when you’re shooting a low-budget, you can’t build and design the set exactly the way you want it so that it fits the words on the page so sometimes you have to adapt what’s going on the page to suit the physical environment that you’ve hired, eventually. You hire a house, you rent a house to shoot the movie, and things might not necessarily fit so there was a lot of improvisation going on.
One of the things that would leave a bad taste in my mouth at the end of the day was when I had to improvise racism and improvise stuff like that, especially to the little kid. I would stand in my kitchen and be slightly numb and my wife would talk to me, ‘How was your day at work?’ and I couldn’t quite communicate anything because I just felt shitty, basically. I felt like I’ve done something awful.
But then that in itself was a good lesson in terms of just sheer professionalism, being able to hang your work up on the clothes peg along with your costume and go home and leave that at the front door so you’re not carrying this burden with you. I think people sometimes think it’s very…the method way of acting or what have you. You stay in the character, you become the character and what have you. I think that can seem quite impressive to people that don’t necessarily work in the business or are around actors. I think that that, for me, is not a very healthy thing personally because there’s a slight psychosomatic thing that goes on and if you’re draining yourself, if you continue to drain yourself on your few hours off between each day, then you can get sick. So it was a good exercise to hang that character up every night and go home and try and shake him off.”
Have you ever felt anything similar to that before on any other films?
Joe Anderson: “Yes. Yes, I have but in a different way. This one had a very negative residual effect, and I’ve done stuff where there’s been a very positive residual effect. Both ones have their pitfalls that you don’t get carried away and just feeling great about the whole thing and it’s fantastic and you forget about what you’re actually trying to do. With this one, equally not leaving the energy and not losing the sense of the story because you’re too caught up in how you feel about it but being able to give yourself enough downtime, enough rest where you hang the character up so when you put the clothes and the costume and what have you back on, essentially, the mask back on, that you can approach it with a fresh, clear head and be aware of some of the pitfalls that there are when you’re making a movie that is intense like this, but deals with a subject matter that it does.”
Can you talk about working with Danny Glover? You two shared some very powerful scenes and I would image those would be long-lasting in your memory.
Joe Anderson: “Yeah. As long as any other actors that I’ve worked with, to be honest. Danny, I’m a very collaborative person. I like to discuss stuff and maybe rehearse some stuff every now and then and maybe just sit around and talk about stuff a little bit. But I think Danny must have said two or three words to me out of the whole time of filming, so for me I just felt like… I’m happy to be collaborative and I’m happy to just go my own way so a lot of the time I was just doing my thing and having to deal with, like I said, the waiting, sitting, the environment and then just trying to make sure that we don’t go off on a rant for the entire movie. That was the biggest challenge was to not make it into one big rant all the time and add moments of levity and time for the audience to breathe and soak in what’s going on.
To be honest, it’s like working with any other actor: Ed Harris or Hilary Swank or Richard Gere or the amount of people that I’ve worked with. Everybody has their own process as an actor and you, as a generous human being, have to be respectful to that process. So if that was his process and I respect it 100% and I will work in the way that I work. It was neither one thing nor the other. I just enjoy making films.”
Supremacy is loosely based on a true story. Were you given any material on the true story that inspired the film?
Joe Anderson: “No, not really. No, not at all. It was just a script that I had and I didn’t really get a chance to speak to anybody who was actually involved in the situation like the Walker family. Also, unless it’s somebody who is very well known, if you’re portraying somebody that is incredibly well known and is a public figure, aka Joaquin Phoenix playing Johnny Cash, I think that as an actor there’s two things that you can slip into. One is you could just do an impersonation and the other one is you can take the quintessential elements of that person and then make it your own. And there’s a fine line with what you choose to pull. But because these people weren’t necessarily public figures, they’re not known … These people that walk down the street they’re not necessarily going to get stopped and say, ‘Oh, you were those guys and that happened to you,’ you wouldn’t necessarily know that. So that allows me some artistic license and freedom to create something that is mine and is part of the movie so, no, I didn’t really get a chance to have access to any of that source material.”
What conversations do you think will be sparked by the film?
Joe Anderson: “I think that if there’s a conversation of any type, that’s a good thing. First and foremost movies are for entertainment purposes and I feel that so long as they are entertained primarily, number one, that’s the most important thing. Secondly, that the movie that deals with the subject matter such as this film will inevitably spark conversations. As to what those conversations are and what they should or should not be, I probably shouldn’t comment on that. People are going to say one thing about it and people are going to say another thing about it, and there are definitely going to be debates going on. I hope that it does spark debate and I hope that it does spark some sort of intellectual dialogue between, hopefully, two sides, two different viewpoints. And if it does that, then that is something I hope for.”
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