Acting requires performers to step outside themselves and embody someone else entirely, and sometimes the people they are asked to embody are downright despicable. That kind of performance can be difficult for even the most talented actors. Luckily for us, these performers opened up and shared what it was like stepping into the minds of their most racist characters.
- Photo: Django Unchained / The Weinstein Company
“He was one of the most deplorable, indulgent, horrendous characters I’ve ever read in my life. ... This man’s code of ethics was so beyond, or below, anything that I could ever imagine. But it was a delicious character nonetheless. ... I look at him like some great Roman emperor who, as Rome is crumbling around him, indulges in the finest delicacies of life. So it seemed only fitting that he’d be rotting from the inside as well.”
- Age: 41
- Birthplace: Los Angeles, California, USA
- Photo: Schindler's List / Universal Pictures
"I'm not a psychologist, but I'm convinced the brutality he became addicted to was related to his obesity. He also became an alcoholic and an insomniac. My own pet theory is that he was so steeped in this brutality that unconsciously, as a kind of remedy or palliative, he had to stuff himself with food and drink to numb his sensibilities. I felt a kind of sympathy for him. In a way, if you are involved in dehumanizing other people, you yourself become dehumanized. Everything that is unique about a human being's capacity to create and love and construct is destroyed and negated. ... I think there was a price to pay for this one. When you're investigating behavior that is that negative so intensely for three months, then you feel sort of peculiar because you might have at moments enjoyed it and at the same time you feel slightly soiled by it. It just throws up all kinds of question marks -- about acting, about human behavior, about how all of that is probably a lot closer to the surface than we like to think."
- Age: 57
- Birthplace: England, Ipswich
- Photo: American History X / New Line Cinema
"The capacity to hit vulnerable moments defines really good actors, for me. Some parts you do from the outside in. ... But sometimes you have to go more in the other direction. Get inside someone's head. That's the challenge of a role like that, or the appeal of it for me, is not even so much just the one very extreme manifestation of this guy, but more the emotional distance that he travels. In this film, you're forced to confront the complexity of the character and his tragedy. An all-too-common reaction to something like racism is to hate the act so much you dismiss the person. People don't want to recognize that someone like him can come out of a normal middle-class home."
- Age: 51
- Birthplace: Boston, Massachusetts, United States of America
- Photo: BlacKkKlansman / Focus Features
"I’m not method. ... I shudder to think anyone playing David Duke would be method. That would be terrible. ... But that said, this was the first time that I got affected by it. I’ve been working for about 20 years. They inter-cut scenes where we were at the Klan induction rally, or when we were watching The Birth of a Nation. We just did a couple of days in a row of all Klan rally stuff where I’m leading people in that hate, and I don’t have much of a process to point out how affecting it must have been that I was doing that, but that’s where you gotta be with a great director like Spike. First of all, I felt safe under him. I believe he is the greatest Black director of all time, so working on this kind of stuff with him, I felt safe, anyway. But then, on top of that, I’d be in the corner bummed out and he’d come over and say, 'Hey, man, what you’re doing is really important. You’re servicing me and my message, and I know what I’m saying here. I know what I’m doing. So sorry this is a really overwhelmingly negative day, but when it’s all cut together, you’re gonna understand this and love it.' And he was absolutely right. We were just so lucky to have had him, as a leader."
- Age: 42
- Birthplace: New York City, New York, United States of America