The cast of Netflix’s much-anticipated original movie Bright gathered at the 2017 San Diego Comic Con to discuss the action thriller. Will Smith, Joel Edgerton, Noomi Rapace, Lucy Fry, and Edgar Ramirez joined director/producer David Ayer and producers Bryan Unkeless and Eric Newman for a spirited press conference to delve into the movie which puts a unique twist on cop films.
Will Smith plays Officer Ward, Joel Edgerton is his orc partner Office Jakoby, and Noomi Rapace stars as an Leila, a villainous elf, in Bright. Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency‘s Max Landis wrote the script and Netflix is set to premiere Bright on Friday, December 22, 2017.
Bright Press Conference:
At Cannes you said something really beautiful about how this generation watches movies both on Netflix and in theaters. How do you see watching movies on Netflix and theaters evolving side by side?
Will Smith: “Edgar and I were talking about it earlier. I have a 16-year-old, a 19-year-old, and a 25-year-old at home. So, their viewing habits are almost anthropological. There’s a great study to be able to see how they still go to the movies on Friday and Saturday night, and they watch Netflix all week. So, it’s two completely different experiences, but it’s definitely a different experience. I don’t think anyone’s trying to say that it’s an identical experience.
I was talking earlier, I was on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air so people would see me on the street and it was like, ‘Will! Will! Will!’ And then Independence Day came out. That Monday after Independence Day came out was the first time that anybody referred to me as Mr. Smith. So, there’s definitely something about that big screen that penetrates people in a very different kind of way. It’s a different medium.”
Noomi Rapace: “But it’s also, my son invites his friends over and they watch films on a projector on the wall, Netflix. He watches Netflix almost every day, but families that don’t have money to go to the cinema, it’s like, ‘Oh, what are we going to watch on Netflix?’ And he invites all his friends and then everyone can see it together. As you say, it opens up opportunities.”
Will Smith: “It’s very different. I’m sure it was the same kind of vibe when the transition happened from theater acting where you went to go see a play and then someone decided they were going to film it and put it together and move it to a movie theater. I’m sure the purists had that same kind of feeling, but it’s different. It’s not the same thing. It’s something different. It’s new, almost a new art form.”
David Ayer: “For me, it’s pretty simple. This movie I got to make in a way and on a level that otherwise I may not have been able to make. This was shot on an Alexa 65, the same large format camera they shoot the Star Wars movies with. It was shot with Lawrence of Arabia lens sets, Cinemascope lenses, just beautiful old school lens. Everything technological about this is as if we’d done a major feature.
For me, there was no difference. It was just a lot of freedom and creativity, and it’s less about how we’re going to see this and more about just how you’ve got another cool place to film when you’re going to go make movies.”
How do you make an orc realistic in a fantastical environment?
Joel Edgerton: “It was very interesting. A lot of movies that deal with fantasy or mashup of reality and fantasy, a lot of them deal with an alien invasion in a sense that the world of the film is there’s been a sudden change. What’s interesting about this, and I reference District 9 because it is a film that there was a dynamic society that had settled well before the first frame of the movie. That is something about this movie that is akin to that. It’s real world, L.A., and you imagine that extends to the rest of the world too and that all the characters are, or a lot of the characters in Lord of the Rings or the types of characters, the elves, the orcs, they’re all in society.
Society has settled just so and it’s settled with a lot of crass and the tectonic plates haven’t quite worked themselves out. There’s a lot of racism, there’s a lot of issues. Society isn’t exactly perfect. The orcs fall because they were servants of the Dark Lord 2000 years ago and they’re still paying for that. I’m the first orc that’s been let into the LAPD under a diversity program. I’m really paying for that.”
Noomi Rapace: “And the elves look down at the orcs.”
Joel Edgerton: “Obviously, leading into it, playing an orc I was like, ‘I don’t know. I’m going to look like this beast. I should play it in some animalistic way.’ Then reading the script that Max had written and David tricked up as well is that he desperately wanted to be a human being, spent his whole life going to a human school, cut his teeth so he could look more human. He was studying what it was like to be a human being. I thought I was going in this direction to play some animalistic version of an animal, but instead I look like an animal and I was desperately trying to be the most conservative human being that I could be. It’s a great challenge.”
Eric Newman: “I think one thing the actors are talking about, which speaks to this whole commitment to the movie for authenticity, this is a drama that happens to be set in a world where there is a huge difference, but it is our world. It should feel like our world. David took great pains to make it look like our world. It was shot in Los Angeles, always at night, which was difficult for everyone involved, fun for some of us. When there were restaurants nearby… The commitment to this is real and it really shows in these unbelievable performances by our cast.”
Will Smith: “It was spectacular for me, an African-American, playing a police officer that was racist against the first orc on the force. It’s like the flip of those social concepts. As a black dude, you just don’t get a lot of movies where you’re the racist. It was great, man. ‘I don’t want no orc in my car.’ You just never get to say that.”
Had you made Bright at a studio, what would have been compromised?
David Ayer: “It’s hard to quantify because I think every movie is a journey. The movie always takes the form it’s going to take, ultimately. So, it’s a little hard to speak for what could’ve been. But I can say that this is a movie that should’ve been. I got all the resources I need. I got to shoot in Los Angeles. We weren’t chasing a rebate. We weren’t shooting anywhere for Los Angeles. We got the equipment. We were able to shoot practical stunts. We did do some complex shots. As a filmmaker, to spend more time working on the creative than working on the spreadsheet that supports the film is a true pleasure. I think that changes the movie’s energy and it also changes how the cast comes to the movie because they feel that freedom.”
Do you not have the same freedom on studio movies?
David Ayer: “It’s just in this case, I just had a real sense of making something different, something special. I got to make the movie I wanted to make. It’s nice to be, as a creative person, in a trusting environment. Bright really is, I think, a unique film that has such a specific voice and is done on such a large scale, I think people will really be surprised to see a film of this magnitude in this format.”
Will Smith: “I think what the major difference is is the Netflix business model is different, in a way. Because it’s subscription-based, what gets created is that their risk profile is different. Netflix can make a hard rated R film for $170 million. Studios can’t do that if the executive wants to be at work on Monday. The risk profile, if they’re going to spend $170 million – I’m not saying that’s what this one was, that number was just in my head. I think I’m suggesting the next will be – but when you make a movie that expensive, you have to broaden the audience which means that you have to be PG-13. It is a huge decision where you make a film of that magnitude based on the risk profile. So, at Netflix, based on the subscription, they can make anything for any number that they feel like their base is going to want to see.
As an artist, it is free in that way. It’s just a lot of little ways that you get to create in that get slightly just confined when everybody’s jobs are on the line for the success.”
Noomi Rapace: “With less middlemen as well. It feels like if Netflix says yes, it is yes, and you can have the space to create it.”
Bryan Unkeless: “It’s such a smart team, too. It’s Ted Sarandos, Scott Stuber…they’re really top notch and they’re supportive, competent and allow you to do your job.”
Will Smith: “And because they work off of specific data, they know ahead of time with the director of Suicide Squad and with me at this point in my career, they go through and they have numbers on everybody. They add your numbers up and they say, ‘Yes, it works.’ They go and they know who’s going to buy the movie even before you shoot it. So, it’s a completely different basis of how they work that the trickle-down is that between action and cut, we get to do whatever we want.”
Are there any parts of L.A. you finally got to explore in Bright and what do you want to say about L.A.?
David Ayer: “It’s interesting because the last time I shot in L.A. was eight years ago. But the city has changed so much. It has absolutely transformed. The warehouse district downtown, which used to be where you shoot machine guns and what have you, is now a very high-end arts loft district. Even skid row’s developing. Even classic South L.A. neighborhoods have evolved because there’s been so much invested and so much developed. So, the old L.A. is really disappearing.
My joke with the production designer is wow, this film is actually going to become an architectural reference on the city because there were locations where we were shooting, as we’re shooting, they’re pulling buildings down. They’re pulling things down when we’re on location. I’m like, ‘We’d better shoot this scene before that building’s gone.’ It’s sad as L.A.’s my city. I love L.A. I’m starting to have to rethink what is my city and what does it look like.”
What was the experience of working in David Ayer’s Los Angeles?
Lucy Fry: “For me being from Australia, it was kind of the first time I’d explored L.A. and downtown L.A. It was so exciting because it was at nighttime. We did night shoots the whole way through. It would be like all the magical creatures would come out of the alleyways. There’d be lizard people going through the garbage bins with these big heads and these cloaks. He kind of turned downtown L.A. into this magical, gritty world.”
Noomi Rapace: “But also David, I don’t know how you found those locations. I’ve never seen places like that.”
Edgar Ramirez: “As any great artist, director and visionary, he knows his story very well. He knows his world very well. If I may say, David, you can be one of the great artists because it came from your obsessions. Clearly, that’s the world he knows very well. So, when I first heard David wants to tell a story that was based not in L.A. but East L.A., but in a parallel universe, in a world that was unique, I knew this guy’s going to pull it off because he knows that world very well.”
Noomi Rapace: “I grew up in Iceland and they believe in elves and fairies and all that. So, it’s kind of my world wedged into yours.”
Edgar Ramirez: “David understands that world very well. He speaks fluent Spanish. I told him that he needs to direct me in Spanish just to also make the audience uncomfortable. That’s the challenge we all absorbed to just pull something out of ourselves and that’s his race. It’s a huge movie. It’s a big movie, a big action film but honestly, the way we speak about it, it feels like an indie movie, a movie that would go to festivals. That’s how we shot it so it’s a great experiment. Netflix, as you said, the business model and also the vision they had, what we’ve been able to do, it’s great to be witness to such a profound shift in culture.”
Noomi Rapace: “But we were like searching for the whole movie; it felt like we found the movie as we were going. The way David works is exploring things every day, constantly open and finding solutions on the spot which becomes very creative, very fun and playful even if there’s this big massive sh*t behind us. It feels very intimate.”
What do you think about fans making connections between your current movies and The Fresh Prince?
Will Smith: “It is such a new world. I released my first record in ’86 so I’m over 30 years in the business. On my first album, there were no CDs. It wasn’t until my second album that they came out with these hot new discs called CDs. Seeing that transition, essentially the fans being more and more evolved in the creative process.
In terms of movie stardom, it’s a huge difference. You almost can’t make new movie stars anymore because there’s a certain amount of privacy and there was a certain amount of distance that you had from the audience, and only on July 4th did you have access. That amount of access created this bigger-than-life kind of thing. The shift into this new world, it’s almost like a friendship with the fans. The relationship is less like the time of Madonna and Michael Jackson where you could make Tom Cruise, these gigantic figures because you can’t create that anymore. The shift is to we’re best friends. That’s like the comments with those pictures. I love trying to make that shift and make that transition into the new demands of the fans in this business.”
Christopher Nolan said Netflix’s strategy is mindless and he refuses to work with them. What is your reaction?
Will Smith: “I think Mr. Nolan is a wonderful director and I will not say anything that will keep me from being in his next movie.”
Could Bright be a franchise?
David Ayer: “Movies are movies and this is a movie. If we do a sequel, we’re going to tell more of the story and then maybe we’ll tell more story after that. What’s so great about this universe that Max Landis created is it lends itself to so much. Our discovery with the film, with audiences out there is that they’re very hungry to know more. What’s the mythology? What’s the history? How do these different races interplay with each other? What’s the history of the orcs? It’s something that I think is amenably developable and I look forward to the opportunity.”
Will Smith: “Developable is a good word. I don’t want to ignore your question. I think that there are certain things that you want to see on a big screen. I remember the Christmas that Avatar came out and our entire family rushed out on Christmas Day to go with the glasses and all of that. So, there’s an experience and specifically the type of films that Chris makes, you want to see them in that space. It’s like the venue is a part of the experience.”
Does Bright portray the kind of police violence of the real world?
Will Smith: “Yeah, for sure. David is, let’s say, he doesn’t find the necessity to be delicate with those issues. This is a film that is about enjoyment and entertainment. Those undercurrents and undertones of the film are specifically for people to be able to think about it, not to make a judgement about it. It’s like we’re displaying the look and the feel. There’s a great scene where we’re sitting and looking at the police car coming. Something has happened with an orc and the police are trying to subdue the orc. My character is sitting specifically with Joel’s character while the police are subduing that orc and I ask him, ‘I need to know. Are you a cop first or an orc first?’ The backdrop of the scene is the cops taking down this orc, so it’s rugged and it’s powerful. It’s really bizarre for me to be on the other side of that.
We did ride-alongs with LAPD and with the sheriffs. As an African-American, it was really a different perspective for me to be in the back of cars riding around with police officers in Los Angeles in predominantly black and Hispanic neighborhoods and seeing the complexities from the other side.”
David Ayer: “For me, it’s a movie and it’s a great story. It’s supposed to entertain. There’s people out there whose minds are closed. They don’t want to hear or see certain things. My hope is that through the allegories and using these sort of metaphors about life that maybe somebody would be receptive or understand what’s going on in somebody else’s heart, they’d open their eyes a little bit. I think that’s the best we can hope.”
Was there a delicate balance between bringing awareness and not overdoing it to distract the audience?
David Ayer: “I think every filmmaker needs a compass. I grew up in South L.A. I saw violence on both sides. I’ve lived it. It’s still out there. Children are still being beaten. We only have one heart. How do you live in this world with two hearts where on one side, you want people to get along? You have people that you want to and you want to join society. How do you change your heart to join a society that doesn’t want you to join? I’ve seen all these things.”
Noomi Rapace: “But it also feels like, David, it feels like your view of the world is it’s not so black and white. What is good? What is bad? What is evil? What is bright and what is dark? It feels like you have a very open and to me, your view on people and the world is very wide and wise. We would talk about I’m the villain and you could say that my actions are very cruel and violent, but in my head and my heart, I’m doing something that I want to create a better space, a better world. He’s on the other side; he’s a good elf but not so good. We all have a lot of layers.”
Edgar Ramirez: “I’m very wicked.”
Noomi Rapace: “That’s something in all your films. Good and bad doesn’t really exist. It’s way more complicated.”
Edgar Ramirez: “They’re too extreme to be true.”
David Ayer: “It’s very complex. It’s issues of child-rearing and substance abuse and family with histories of violence. We’re complex but at the end of the day, we’re the same so let’s just live together.”
Noomi Rapace: “And one day we can do something really f***ing bad. The next day do something good.”
Will Smith: “Exactly.”
What is the one thing we should know about an orc?
Noomi Rapace: “He’s sexy as f***.”
Joel Edgerton: “If you’re willing to sit around doing three hours of makeup, I could give you the look. There’s a couple beautiful things about orcs. They don’t understand sarcasm or irony or humor. My orc is very honest. Also, if you lie, I might not understand it in your inflection but I’ll smell it on you. That’s what makes me qualified to be a cop. If I can’t take you into an interrogation room, you can be like, ‘I didn’t do it, I didn’t do it.’ I’ll be like, ‘He’s lying. I smell it on you.’ But I’m also a lovely, honest person that you can trust even though I don’t look so cool.”
And an elf?
Lucy Fry: “One of my favorite things was when we were in rehearsals and we were sitting at the back of the dojo and David was talking us through what it was like to be an elf. He was like, ‘It’s kind of like you’re in a different state of mind. You’re in a different realm to everyone else.’ He was like, ‘Look at that sword. What’s that sword telling you? If the sword was talking to you right now, what’s it saying?’ They’re taking in the objects. They see through things and into things and things that people can’t normally see.”
Noomi Rapace: “But they’re also wide awake. It’s like they have six sense wide awake at the same time. So, taking in everything, smell, the eyes, the ears, they have everything. It’s hard to escape. It’s hard to hide from them.”
Edgar Ramirez: “We’re on a never-ending trip. We’re tripping all the time. Our senses are completely heightened all the time.”
Noomi Rapace: “We couldn’t hear, we couldn’t see in elf ears, these teeth, high heels, a suit I couldn’t move in.”
Joel Edgerton: “But from an orc’s perspective, the elves are very attractive, very, very well dressed. They’re the ones living in Beverly Hills.”
Will Smith: “My character had a thing with an elf once and it did not work out. It’s like I will never forget Fluffy.”