If you saw The Purge: Anarchy this weekend, you probably would agree that it was bigger, bloodier, and all around better than the first installment.
At the heart of that movie was Carmen Ejogo’s (Away We Go, Selma) performance as Eva Sanchez, a single mother who works long hours to support her family. But that’s nothing compared to what she’ll have to do to get them through the night. The Purge Night.
A movie that thinly veils its sociopolitical concepts of class warfare, it’s a popcorn horror movie that bites off more than just the kernels. And teasing a revolutionary third act to this Purge universe to come is Michael K. Williams (The Wire, Boardwalk Empire) as Carmelo, a YouTube revolutionary that wants to change the system—and promise a different type of purging to come.
We sat down with both actors last month to discuss the movie and what it means in today’s political climate. The final season of Boardwalk Empire of course also came up…
Given what’s going on in America, did you consider that this escapist movie would ever be considered hard to watch or that it had a certain level of responsibility?
Carmen Ejogo: I don’t perceive it as escapist at all [Laughs]. I absolutely came into this with the intention of making a film that had a sociopolitical—that would resonate, that wouldn’t just be what you sometimes come out of the cinema with. I hope people come out [of the movie] recognizing all of the things we were trying to comment on, whether it be gun violence, whether it be the futility of violence, whether it be really exploring human nature and the gray area of what it is to be moral or not. I hope all of those kinds of things come through, because that’s the only way I had given myself permission to make a film with this level of violence in it.
You said human nature. Do you believe it is more of a political allegory about the way humans act in general or America in particular?
CE: I think it’s both. But I think maybe more so American than certainly where I come from. I think what makes it resonate and seem more of an American story is the gun aspect of it. But I think as a purge theme, it goes beyond just the gun notion. I think violence generally, as a society-accepted approach to problem solving and operating, is beyond America. So, as a concept, it will resonate to more people than just Americans, but I do think the gun aspect of it specifically feels very American.
Michael K. Williams: I agree. It speaks to the gun violence in this country; it also speaks to the haves and have nots, the social breakdown of this country—how the middleclass is just evaporating right before our eyes…It’s slow motion what’s happening right now in a sense, and I think it really speaks to that.
You say have and have nots: I thought your character had a very revolutionary image to him. Did that attract you to this part?
MKW: Absolutely. I saw elements of Malcolm X and elements of Huey P. Newton and the Panthers, a little Tupac. He was smart, he was outspoken, he was brave, he is. And that definitely attracted me to the character.
Have you talked to James [DeMonaco] about coming back for another one?
MKW: Yeah, there’s been talk, and the rumor mill’s been buzzing, so we’ll see.
Do you view this as a more positive or optimistic film than the first one?
MKW: I think my character brings an optimistic view. You know just in the word “anarchy,” which is in the title of the film, anarchy to my belief means there can’t be progress without anarchy. You have to shake things up for there to be progress. And that is what this movie is doing is shaking up the system, forcing it to change, and forcing people to question the government, and to question what is really happening, and to be informed.
Out of that, history has shown us, from that has always come positiveness. If you look at the Civil War or Martin Luther King, that Carmen is playing [a part in the movie] Selma. Those rights weren’t easy, getting Voters Rights and Civil Rights, that was anarchy in a sense. It was raised in bucking the system, and out of it came something beautiful. So, I definitely think this movie has an optimistic outlook at how things can be.
This movie is lower budge that most [Hollywood] movies. Was that approach different or something you weren’t used to?
MKW: I’m used to it. [Laughs]
CE: Yeah, you were in it for three days. We were out there for five weeks in some lame-o trailer. [Laughs] It was way low budget, but there was something about that that added to the edge of the whole experience. We weren’t really, really frantic and then chilling in our triple-hangar or something. It was constantly stressful on like every level. But I think the low budget nature, sometimes when you know you don’t have the luxury of time, you have to be even more economical with your choices and even more on point when stepping out. You may only get one take. And as actors, we all felt that obligation to be on point every time we were out there. Sometimes, you can work on a film and you feel like you have the space to indulge yourself a little bit. [But this] became a collective. We had to keep each other going, and there were so many corners being cut, and we had to keep things tight. But would I do it again though?
MKW: Sure. [Laughs]
Did you improvise any of the lines or [actions] of your character?
MKW: If you saw the film, my scenes are very isolated, and I’m pretty much in front of my computer making videos for the Internet. And the writing for me was spot on. There was nothing I needed to add or take away. All I wanted to do was make sure that they didn’t just seem like a bunch of words I was saying. I wanted it to resonate with me, so it would resonate with the audience. Because I felt in a lot of ways that Carmello was talking to me and my real life, and taking the veil off my eyes as I was playing him. And I wanted that to ring true for the audience.
Could you tell us a little bit about Chalky’s direction for the last season [of Boardwalk Empire] because it did not go well for Chalky in the last finale.
MKW: No, it ended very badly for Chalky last year. The storyline has jumped seven years [into the future], which is why I have the beard now. The Depression has set in. The days of shiny shoes and fancy suits are long gone. His family life is no more. And he is desperately seeking Doctor Narcisse to settle old scores.
So then you will have more scenes this season with Jeffrey Wright?
MKW: I hope so. I’m a huge fan of Jeffrey, and I really enjoy working with him. [Laughs]
As the protagonist of this story, how did you approach the evolution of the character?
CE: I mean, what had to happen to Eva, in particular because this is somebody who represents the voiceless, and who has a certain degree of fear of authority, for her to find her voice by the end, to find our empowerment, in 12 hours—it had to feel authentic enough! So, that was my challenge: how to make that shift in a way that felt real. And I think we achieved it, because I think there were moments where clearly pennies were dropping for her for what’s really at stake in terms of her daughter’s safety and in terms of her having to step up. I think what is sort of is the unknown quality in all of this scenario is how one would really react, no matter who you think you are, in this given situation.
We may think we know where our strengths lie or our weaknesses lie, but you hear of remarkable situations. You hear of people you thought were heroes cowering under stress, and you hear of people who were really the wallflower in the room finding their most heroic selves in this kind of situation. Particularly when you’re trying to take care of your family or you’re trying to save your daughter from being attacked. Although, it’s a very short span of time, given the extraordinary circumstances, I think it’s completely plausible that she’d have the arc that she has. That’s how I justified it for myself anyway as an actress. [Laughs]
The Purge: Anarchy is now playing theaters everywhere.