It’s too ridiculous to be true. Alas, it was true.
In the 1970s, African-American Officer Ron Stallworth managed to infiltrate and went undercover to investigate the Ku Klux Klan on their local activities. Not only he managed to pull this off, he also tricked it’s most famous leader David Duke for a signed membership card.
This magnificent and unbelievable story is on the big screen in BlacKkKlansman with director Spike Lee. It stars John David Washington, Adam Driver, Laura Harrier and Topher Grace.
LRM Online spoke over the phone with actor John David Washington on his portrayal as officer Ron Stallworth in this time period piece.
BlacKkKlansman is expanding nationwide today.
LRM: Tell me on why were you initially attracted to this project? It seems unbelievable.
John David Washington: Right? Right. For that reason, the unbelievable factor. Really, there’s a number of reasons. Chief of them being Spike Lee, Jordan Peele and true story. It’s a true American history. It’s a subject matter dealing with an African-American cop. It’s a period piece in the seventies with this sort of social commentary attached to it. It was a no brainer. I mean we don’t really get to see in cinema a lot of times the perspective of the minority cop. They have to choose between their neighborhood black or brown or blue. I really appreciate a story like that, but it could only be a story. This specific can only be told by Spike Lee. I don’t think this could be pulled off by anybody else.
LRM: Did you have a chance to read the book and meet the author, yourself?
John David Washington: Yes, I did. I read the book months before meeting him. I did read the book. I did some research to look at some of his interviews. I was gathering as much information as I could prior to the inaugural meeting. Once that happened, at the table read months later before we started production that kind of kicked off the rehearsal periods which last about two weeks, I got to talk to him. He passed around his membership card, the Ku Klux Klan card signed by David Duke. That all brought it home to me when I held that card. Everything you read about it, he was almost like an Avenger character. He was sort of like a myth. In meeting him and having that card in my hand, it just brought it all home.
Once I got to meet him, we talked weekly. He gave me a lot of insight on what it was like. The usual parts of the job and sort of the tactical approaches different things. He often talked about having to be an actor mindset except they don’t yell, “cut!” They’ll cut in his life. He could be cut off like that or compromise the mission. I would say there’s a lot more pressure for him in his job of acting, if you will.
LRM: I’ve seen the film. It’s more of like a comedy.. Was he a funny person? Or was he more like a serious a character, himself, in real life?
John David Washington: It’s interesting people saying comedy. I, most certainly, didn’t think it was. I think this had to be handled with truth now. Because of it’s sort of ridiculous nature of these scenarios ever happened, what makes the story so unbelievable and it almost feel like it’s fiction. There’s humor in that. You find what you got to populate it. like how he lived it. I sort of had to live o how he lived. He often found it funny too, which you see in the film. He’s a very serious individual who took his job. He did his job the best he could and serve this community the best he could.
LRM: This being a period piece on the 1970s. Could you talk more about the look, the feel, the hair, everything. [Laughs]
John David Washington: It was an intense radical time–the seventies. It’s coming off of Vietnam War. Martin Luther King being murdered. JFK. Malcolm X. People were angry! This country was literally burning. Instead of responding, there’s a lot of reactionary activity going on in the brown and black communities and in the urban communities. It was reflecting in the clothes and the music. would. Papa Was A Rolling Stone was like a hit to be played the club. You’ll hear the real pain and those lyrics. It was a time of lyrics. It was a time of appreciation. The appreciation of craft and process.
I had posted the same way my way into this character. It was by understanding that time and that period. Once I did that, it gave me a more, grounding insight on how to build Ron [Stallworth], because of those times. Yes, it’s a period piece. However, it has got a contemporary feel and language to it. That’s what’s scary. The language of this lexicon of hate. It’s generational. You can see now that people were using these words back then and the same trigger words are being used today.
LRM: I was going to ask you about the relevance to today. Do you find that the situation in the 1970s a whole lot different or similar to what it is today?
John David Washington: Besides the clothes and the technology, it’s not that much different. People are still upset. People are still angry. Hate is still organized. It might come in different a package delivery now. This film is a story about good old fashioned American hate. I think those roots that David Duke were gardening with the Ku Klux Klan Garden are growing and coming up. From watching this film, hopefully people will see and hear on what hate sounds like it. It sounded like for years. We need to find a way to change the narrative and that can bridge the gap.
LRM: Absolutely. How was it like to work with Spike Lee on this project? This is a dream come true for many people. Probably, yours too, right?
John David Washington: Yeah. I’m no different. It was a dream come true. I’m pinching myself every day on set. He yells action and cut as this legend. One of the biggest encouragements was not only did this legendary man trust me with the material, he endorsed me to trust my instincts. He chose me as he thought I was the one for this. It’s how exuberant. He is excited with this sort of youthful energy that he had on set about filming and about the process. Even about being in the rehearsal process. He is a serious man and he will chew your head off like a head coach would if you’re not on it. But, if you’re on it and in the space of creativity, want to collaborate, want to be there–it’s such a joyous and unique experience. One that I can, I can’t compare it to. He just forces you to bring out your best. It was encouraging. Everything that he’s accomplished at the age that he is–he approaches it like it’s his first movie. And I really appreciate that.
Source: LRM Online Exclusive