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Monster Star Kelvin Harrison Jr. Reveals What It's Like To Carry A Film - Exclusive Interview

"Monster" tells the story of Steve Harmon, a bright, clean-cut teenager whose life is upended after he's charged in connection with a murder. Part of the movie is about his trial, and how the prosecution is trying to paint — to a jury that's already against Steve — a well behaved-kid from a good family as a monster. The rest is about how Steve, as a curious kid just trying to make his way through life, met the people who put him in that courtroom.

Kelvin Harrison Jr. ("Waves," "Luce") stars as Steve — though "stars" is a bit of an understatement, considering that he's in almost every scene of the movie. He's surrounded by a star-studded cast, including A$AP Rocky, Jeffrey Wright, Jennifer Hudson, Tim Blake Nelson, and John David Washington. Harrison spoke with Looper about his work on "Monster," during which he compared his own life to Steve's and discussed what it's like working with big-name stars.


You have a couple of things in common with Steve, if I have your background correct. Steve has mentioned about attending a bougie school, as they say, and he wanted to be a filmmaker from a young age. And if I have your background correct, you also went to a private school and wanted to be a filmmaker from a young age. Am I right about this?

Yes. Yes. Yes. I went to a private school in New Orleans in high school, and I did. I wanted to be a musician first. I always wanted to be an artist, and then eventually I wanted to do movies, as we are here now doing movies. So yes, that research is correct.

Did you find any more similarities between yourself and Steve besides those two points?

Listen, we share the same skin color. [Laughs] So I think going through that process was very much eye-opening for me. I was figuring out in real time what my privilege looked like as a person of color, but also how much it didn't matter at the same time, how people still saw me the same way. And just because I went to a nice school and I had a very diverse group of friends didn't necessarily mean that I was exempt from being demonized or dehumanized in so many ways, just because of how the justice system works. And so I had to realize that. I was realizing that as we were shooting the movie, to be honest.

The movie is obviously about shades of gray, but did you personally see Steve as a monster?

No. I don't see Steve as a monster at all. I think Steve is being brainwashed and conditioned to believe that he should be questioning his humanity because it serves the system. And that's the process and the journey he's on. He's just a kid. He's a kid that is just curious about life and curious about the people in his community, and that's it. Yeah, he's just curious.

Big names and pacing for a long shoot

You've done a lot of movies around some big-name actors, including this. At this point, are you intimidated by being around big-name actors? Are you used to it, or are they just people to you?

Initially, you see them and you go, "Whoa, that's such and so." And then the job starts and you have to go, "All right. Cool. Cool. Cool. Well, now that we've gotten past that, now we have to do the job, because I can't let these people that I admire so much down."

So you have to get over it really fast and just get to the work again, because that's why you're there in the first place, because someone believes you can do the job. So yeah, it's ... Intimidated, no. Really grateful and excited that I get to meet them and watch them do what they do, yes.

You're in, I think, every single scene of this movie. How do you pace yourself for that?

I had no idea going into it what that would be like. But you prep as much as possible going into it. And then once you're there, I think I had a lot of great support. I had Tonya Lee Lewis, our producer, and Nicky Silvers and Mike Jackson and John Legend, and obviously Anthony Mandler, our director. And they really took care of me to make sure that I felt safe and to make sure I felt like I had the most support I could possibly get and getting the materials ahead of time. And then I had great players to play with. I had Jeffrey Wright and Jennifer Ehle and Jennifer Hudson, and just so many ... Tim Blake Nelson and Nas and Rocky, and they all offer so much to Steve's journey. So all I had to do was just be present. And yeah, that got me through.

"Monster" debuts on Netflix on May 7.