VIDEO EXCLUSIVE: Kelvin Harrison Jr. & Julius Onah On ‘Luce,’ Refugees & Working With Octavia Spencer
If there’s one relevant film out right now, it’s Luce.
The dark drama film stars Naomi Watts, Tim Roth and Octavia Spencer and is about a liberal-minded white couple who adopts a teenager named Luce from Eritrea. Luce is an extremely bright student who is also a talented high school athlete. However, tensions begin to build after the young African boy’s teacher discovers a disturbing essay he wrote, and his model child’s reputation and motives are questioned. Oscar-winner Spencer plays Luce’s teacher.
Kelvin Harrison Jr. plays the protagonist, Luce. Harrison and the film’s director and co-writer Julius Onah explained to uInterview exclusively the film’s story, their experiences and how they grappled with intense scenes and subject matter.
“I play Luce, a 17-year-old kid who is from Eritrea, a war-torn country who comes to America because he’s been adopted by this suburban white couple,” said Harrison. “He’s very intelligent, he’s the captain of the track team and captain of the debate team and he writes this challenging paper because of an assignment he gets from his teacher to write about a political figure and he writes about Frantz Fanon,” he added, referring to the mid-20th century French West Indian philosopher, psychiatrist and revolutionary who argued that violence is a necessary cleansing method for civilizations and activists seeking to attain decolonization.
“This paper kind of challenges [Spencer’s character Ms. Wilson] in ways that she doesn’t expect and chaos ensues from there,” Harrison continued, laughing.
“He turns everybody’s lives upside down,” Onah said of Harrison’s character.
Luce is based on a play of the same name by JC Lee, who co-wrote the film with Onah. The director discussed how he and Lee collaborated to tackle the highly sensitive topic of refugees given today’s socio-political climate. Many right-wing governments and administrations around the world, like President Donald Trump‘s, have demonized and refused entry to such foreigners. Onah revealed the story of Luce spoke to him personally, as he is also an immigrant.
“The sensitivity started just from personal experience,” said Onah. “I’m an immigrant to this country, I was born in Nigeria and came here when I was 10 years old. I’ve met many people who have either immigrated from a more conventional process, whether through jobs or [who] immigrated from refugee status. So those are experiences that either I’ve had on some levels or been around people or talked to people who’ve dealt with that.”
Onah added he and his crew performed substantial research on refugees and immigrants in preparation for making Luce, including watching documentaries, examining case studies and analyzing documents from the United Nations and other humanitarian organizations.
“When it comes to issues like this, if you’re not doing your homework, you’re not respecting the authenticity of people’s experiences,” the director added.
Harrison also reveled in working with talented veteran actors like Watts, Spencer and Roth. The young actor said he admired how his co-stars prepared for their roles with their incredible “work ethic” and helped him feel at ease.
“Octavia shows up 15 minutes before her call time to make sure she has time to settle in and to get to know everyone,” said Harrison. “I see Naomi knows everyone’s name on the set and it’s just all these little things about creating a space for us to play and feel safe because filmmaking is such a team sport.”
Harrison also praised the film’s script as “beautiful” and added be believed his co-stars truly helped “set the tone” for its themes and messages.
“That’s what I learned as a young actor, is to just watch and be as ready and professional to play as them,” Harrison added.
Luce, which boasts a 93% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, was released on August 2.
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