It’s easy to tell if you’re watching a Bokeem Woodbine movie: you’re instantly drawn from whatever he’s been up to by what he’s doing when he’s on screen. Consider it a trace of his astonishing presence, The quiet mystery or seemingly effortless ability to illuminate the humanity of even the most morally drained characters.
Joshua Alexander in “Jason Lyric.” Fathead Newman in “Ray”. Officer Jones is in the Southland. These are just a few of the onscreen characters we’ve been lucky enough to get to see.
But his latest work as a hardened drill sergeant in the military drama “Inspection,” inspired by director Elegance Bratton’s deeply personal experience as a black queer man who joins the Marines, has people turning their heads this time around.
Part of that comes down to the fact that Woodbine is, once again, stealing low-key scenes from an already impressive lead actor (in this case, Jeremy Pope). It’s another example of how, whether others realize it or not, Woodbine is one of the greatest under-the-radar actors of his generation.
He’s not unlike the actors he admired when he was coming up: Sidney Poitier, Humphrey Bogart, Forest Whitaker, Robert Duvall and Bob Hoskins, to name a few.
Bratton sure sees it at Woodbine. “I felt like I had a chance to do something with him that should have been done a long time ago and will remind people that this man is an American institution,” the director wrote in the film’s production diary. “He is literally one of the best living, breathing actors on the planet right now.”
When speaking to Woodbine on a recent call, he’s as cool as the option about this kind of compliment. Despite his constant presence on the screen, he does not give the main character energy at all. Obviously, being in the game for three decades now has endowed him with a humility and clarity of mind unmatched by his peers.
“I think I’ve softened my ambition over the years and just focused on trying to be as honest and thorough as possible in my preparations,” Woodbine said.
“Much of this is beyond my control. I don’t have the aesthetic generally associated with a leading man, and just being at peace with that took me a while.”
This “aesthetic,” the actor explains, isn’t just a nod to being a black man in Hollywood and transcending the racism we’re all familiar with. As Woodbine said, “There are a lot of leading men out there who are black actors.”
For him, it goes deeper than that. He continued, “I don’t have the physical characteristics that most people associate with the man leading the movie.”
He feels that other people’s perception of him, in an industry that can make or break you, is just “what he is”. “It didn’t stop me from creating these characters that I’m incredibly proud of,” he said.
“It hasn’t stopped me from being able to put food on the table and travel the world and have all these wonderful experiences. It’s just an observation that I think one needs to make in order to eliminate any misunderstandings about what’s going on in their career.”
Woodbine says those words so clearly that they immediately remind me of the fact that he practices martial arts, something I only discovered when he appeared on a recent episode of “United Shades of America” and shared how he came up with it. or, really, World Health Organization I brought the Harlem native to it.
“My kung fu master is Shifu Shi Yanming, the abbot of the USA Shaolin Temple,” said Woodbine. “He is a 34th generation warrior monk of Shaolin Temple who withdrew to the United States in 1994 and has gone on to teach many celebrities the beauty of Shaolin Kung Fu.”
He has named a few fellow stars, including Rosie Perez, “My Big Brother” RZA, Wesley Snipes (fellow alum TheaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts in New York) and John Leguizamo.
Countless talented people have trained with him and found inspiration in his teachings – Not just physical but mental.”
It makes you wonder if we’ll ever see Woodbine’s martial arts training mirrored on the big screen. Not surprisingly, he’s already written a script that he hopes will take off one day.
It’s not that we haven’t seen him in certain business roles. The actor is clearly no stranger to “playing with guns,” as he puts it. He can undoubtedly play a gangster like few others, as evidenced in part by his 2015 Emmy-nominated portrayal of Mike Milligan in “Fargo.”
“Usually, when I’m doing something, I’m like a gun, and I like that,” Woodbine said. “Because even though I hate firearms in real life—I mean, I own several of them—but it’s a weird dichotomy because I hate them. I have them, I know how to use them, but I have an aversion to them. It’s very strange.”
tries to explain it. “It’s like having a painting in your house that you don’t like, but it’s worth the money or something,” he said. “But I hope one day I can do some kicks and punches and show some kung fu on screen.”
It’s interesting that Woodbine mentioned this aversion to guns because the “inspection” character, Laws, is the guy who boasts of his “four kills sure” in Iraq and constantly scares recruits like French (the Pope), often while carrying a fully loaded weapon. But Woodbine was convinced the role was meant for him. He contacted his agent immediately after reading the script.
“I told him, ‘I don’t want anyone else to play Laws,’” he recalled. “My agent is a monster, but he’s very realistic. I call him mr. Spock. He was like, ‘Well, we’ll see what they’re talking about as far as what they have in mind and blah blah blah blah’ – basically, who your competitors are.”
“And I was like, No, I don’t think you understand. Nobody can play this but me.”
Fortunately, time, as well as his undeniable talent, was on Woodbine’s side. While Bratton was looking for his leading man, Woodbine managed to finish the project he was working on and go into “inspection” right after. But what made Woodbine so self-assured he could play his in-laws?
“I just knew this guy,” he said plainly. “I knew who the law was under the surface and what was pushing it. And I had to try to bring some honesty to the character.”
“Because there’s someone who’s been in the field at some point and knew the fight and understood what it was like to be in that situation,” he added, “and how do you go from being in that situation to being someone who’s trying to prepare other people for it?”
Woodbine’s curiosity led to many conversations with Bratton about the insider personality. “How do you turn it off? Can you come to terms with the fact that you just don’t do it anymore — either because doing it may have affected you mentally, or maybe you’re getting old and can’t or…how can you keep it up?”
The actor likened it to the guy in the gym who, in his words, “would have been a competitor” or a champion boxer and is now training others. “How can you not feel, if not resentful, perhaps a little envious of the fact that here now is this young man who will create their glory, and you are not the man who does it?”
These questions really help put the laws into perspective. While the character might say he “tightens” his young recruits – to the point where he actively antagonizes them and pits them against each other – he has an ancient understanding of how to do this. There is bitterness about it that points to something else.
“He thinks maybe for whatever reason, they’re getting softer as a generation,” Woodbine said. And now he feels a responsibility to try to remind them of some of the things he thinks are important. I think that applies to a lot of generations over time.”
“People tend to think they were being tougher or they were being tougher, or this, this and the other. How much of that is true — I mean, I guess it’s up to the person who feels that way.”
Sure, Woodbine can offer some of his own perspective here as an actor who came through a very different, but in some ways obvious, Hollywood where there was a clearer path to success, even if it wasn’t for everyone. Today, particularly with social media, those lines are blurring. So are the motives of the young actors.
“When I was first doing my work in the ’90s, and I first had the opportunity to try to get on screen and bring to life characters and things like that, [there] It’s such a difference between just 1992 and, say, 2006,” “It’s a whole different world.”
He recalls feeling completely “alien” in the then-new era of filmmaking. “Fourteen years isn’t an incredibly long time,” he said. “It’s a snap of a finger in the annals of history. But from ’92 when I first started making movies to 2006, it’s all these new faces, new talent, new energy, new disparate ideas that made me feel like, ‘What the hell is going on? ?
And this is no less disturbing in 2022, 16 years later.
So, how do you launch a character like Laws — one Woodbine perfectly embodied in “The Inspection” — who shares your way of thinking in one way, but in other, more subtle ways is a departure from your identity?
Typically, Woodbine takes off at least two months after finishing a project — perhaps retreating to his adoptive home in Hawaii. But about six months later, after completing another project entirely, he realized he’d been sticking to the in-laws for much longer.
“I don’t remember what the catalyst was, but I just remember thinking, ‘I’m done,'” Woodbine said.
He added, “I hadn’t had an experience like this since working on a film so many years before that, ironically, it also had a military basis.” A movie called “Dead Presidents”. It wasn’t easy to get out of that for some reason.”
thats understood. A 1995 drama about a young black man (Larenz Tate) who returns from Vietnam and his crew (among them Woodbine Cleon) is drawn into a life of murder and other crime when faced with few other options. And it’s quite a deep watch.
As far as Woodbine benefits from his downtime, one look his IMDB page He reveals that he has at least two more projects coming up. So, relaxation, even with the best of intentions, can never come easily.
But—and you can almost hear Woodbine grinning on the other line as he says this—”Hawaii has a way of cooling you down.”
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