Keanu Reeves, John Corbett, Amaury Nolasco and Jay Mohr Talk 'Street Kings'
by Rebecca Murray
Keanu Reeves stars as an LA cop who’ll go to just about any lengths to take down a criminal in the gritty drama Street Kings. Directed by David Ayer (Harsh Times) and based on a story by James Ellroy, Street Kings focuses on veteran officer Tom Ludlow (Reeves) who is part of the Ad Vice, a specialized unit of the LAPD, overseen by Captain Wander (Forest Whitaker). The group doesn't necessarily play by the rules and when Ludlow’s old partner – a guy who’s been talking to Internal Affairs about the team’s activities – is murdered, he goes outside of the established channels to investigate the shooting.
Teaming up with the actors who play members of the Ad Vice unit – John Corbett, Jay Mohr, and Amaury Nolasco - Reeves talked about working with David Ayer and taking on Street Kings.
Street Kings Press Conference: Keanu Reeves, Jay Mohr, John Corbett, and Amaury Nolasco
You've done a lot of weapons training, but what did you learn this time around?
Keanu Reeves: “What did I learn? Practice, practice, practice. You have to practice. I needed a lot of practice. I wasn't very good. I just wanted to be able to look like I knew what I was doing, and so I had the benefit of working with Rick Lopez, who's here, and just practicing, learning great techniques, some footwork and entrances and different kinds of reloads. All that kind of stuff.”
Jay Mohr: “Is it true that you're going to be on Dancing with the Stars next year? Yes or no? Just say it now.”
Keanu Reeves: “No, but I really enjoyed the part. It was really fun.”
Were there any injuries during the filming of this?
Keanu Reeves: “When we’re going in that car there was a lot of kicking, wasn't there? I kicked you in the chest, didn't I?”
Amaury Nolasco: “There was me beating you with the rubber gun.”
Keanu Reeves: “Yeah, the hard rubber gun, and ripping his face off for a couple of days.”
John Corbett: “Yeah, they pulled this car up, I think it's called a Go Mobile and it's this car with a 500 horse power Cadillac engine in it. A guy sits outside of your car and a cameraman is in the backseat. Keanu is in the backseat and I'm driving. Amaury is in the passenger side. So we're actually driving through the streets of L.A. in a kind of choreographed stunt with the real cars coming at us. A couple of times we smacked off the side of a bus, and there's really no special FX. We're flying about 50 miles an hour for almost a mile and a half and Keanu has a handcuff in my mouth and I'm trying to drive. But, of course, the guy on the side is driving, though you never see him.”
“These two are going at it with full force and his fist is swinging by me and the wind is like a hurricane coming by as they go at it, kicking each other. There's no choreography to it. It was just on action that they started going at each other, hitting each other with everything. And then the director would yell, ‘Cut!’ and we'd have to go back again. They'd be sitting there rubbing their shoulders and wiping the blood off their lip. It was pretty intense, that scene there.”
How did you feel about the police before doing this film and did doing the film make you see them in a different light?
Amaury Nolasco: “I can speak for myself. I've always had a problem with authority, but I have to say that I the utmost respect for the guys in blue, putting themselves on the line all the time. I guess we don't realize it all the time either. We call 911 when we have petty little things. I guess we don't realize how they put themselves on the line for so much stuff that when we get a bad attitude coming from them, we were expecting them to be smiling and whatnot. That's not the case all the time.”
“For my character, one of the things that I wanted to do is get to the fact that every cop joins the force because they had a dream of becoming the good guy, solving crimes and getting the thieves. No one joins the force to become a corrupt cop. In order to become corrupt there has to be something that happens, some reason, whether it's one day you stopped a kid with $20 and some pot and you kept the $20 or you don't want to go through the whole paperwork thing. Or maybe you have a kid and you're not making enough money and you need to get the kid medicine. The point is that I wanted to justify why cops do become corrupted. Every cop has a reason, and I'm not saying that every cop is corrupt. Working with Rick and the real guys showed me a lot. We had Daryl Gates in the movie, too.”
Jay Mohr: “I've always been pro police.”
Keanu Reeves: “I just had a different sense of the man, the person in the uniform. I have a deeper appreciation for them. They didn't just become a cop and a man in a uniform. It's a deeper appreciation for the person in the uniform. Some of the things and the stories that I've heard, with that appreciation, I guess have a real deep respect for them. It's not only the life in the job. It's the life outside of the job. I think that with the experience of this film I got to have a greater knowledge of what it is to live outside of the job. It's not an easy job. It's not an easy job to just ‘live with’. It comes home with you.”
John Corbett: “Believe it not, in 1982 I went through the LA County Sheriff's program and it took about a year. I was working in a steel factory. I was a boiler maker. My dad tried to become a Deputy Sheriff in the late '60s and he didn't make it, so I tried. It took about a year. Every three months or so, you go in and you do your physical agility. You pass that and move on to interviews and orals and stuff like that. Ultimately I didn't make it. I wasn't Deputy Sheriff material, but I wanted to do it.”
“I'll tell you a funny story. When we were doing that scene at the funeral, I was talking to a street cop and he told me a cool thing. He said that whenever he pulls over a car, if it's got kids in it he never gives a ticket because what happens is that he gives that dad a ticket and that dad drives away going, 'Damn cops…,' and the kids pick that up. But now the dad drives away and says, 'Cops are pretty cool,’ and the kids grow up with a whole different idea of cops. I like that philosophy.”
Can you talk about working with Forest Whitaker?
Jay Mohr: [Doing an impersonation of Whitaker] “Working with Forest…is…pretty amazing. Notice…when Forest acts…none of it comes out….all at once. That's the only time that I've been taken out of my game in rehearsals, when Forest was yelling at Keanu. I thought, 'Oh, my God!' Then I went, 'Oh, my God, the next line!' Then I thought, 'Say something!' I blurted out what I thought the line was and it wasn't even close. He can be very intimidating and scary, but I don't know. I mean, come on, we all watched the Oscars last year. You watch the Oscars and then you're in a back room in Korea Town with the guy. That sounds a little odd, but you understand.”
Keanu Reeves: “Yes. The guy is amazing. He's absolutely amazing. I think that I had the same experience as Jay, because when you're working with him there's such a non-actor type of thing. He's just really present and real, and it's just action and you're in there. You don't see his craft at all. It's a different kind of pretend with him because he's not really pretending. It's pretty intense.”
Jay Mohr: “I'll tell you something that happened. We did that scene where [Keanu] and him get into that argument in that back room. He wasn't sure if he should shove you or not.”
Keanu Reeves: “Oh, really?”
Jay Mohr: “He pulled me aside on like my second day on the film and he goes, 'In your opinion, do you think I should, you know, really push Keanu?' I said, 'You just won an Oscar and you're asking the club comic how to act? I'm at The Brea Improv. Let me make 300 people laugh and I'll get back to you on that, Oscar. I talked to my opening act. He thinks you should layoff.' So he didn't shove you.”
Keanu Reeves: “No. Thanks.”
Can you each talk about working with David Ayer as a director?
Amaury Nolasco: “I have to say that it was definitely a great experience working with David. I don't know if you saw Harsh Times, but he's raw and he tells it like it is. He's not afraid of showing what people might not like. I saw Harsh Times and I remember saying, 'I would love to work with this director.' Six months later I get a call for this movie. I think that I was a little star struck when I walked in to the audition and saw him. I don't know if you know it or not, but David is fluent in Spanish which is my first language and we just went off. He gave me a lot and let me play a lot, and he gave me a lot of great light. He just let us play. That's why he was bruised and I was bruised.”
What do you think about the idea of doing whatever it takes to get the job done, that the ends justify the means with the behavior on the job as police officers?
Amaury Nolasco: “In my book, and I think I'm the wrong person to ask, but I think yes. If you put yourself in that situation and those are your kids, you'll do whatever it takes. I think that's why Ludlow is a hero in my eyes, whether he's going through all those problems, alcoholism, whatever his wife went through. He's not the typical hero that we're used to seeing in Hollywood movies, which goes back to what I was saying about David. He loves to put it out there. We're not perfect. Nobody is. The thing I love about him is that he's got some imperfections, but it balances out.”
What did you learn from working and interacting with cops?
John Corbett: “What did I learn? I've always had respect for cops, as I said earlier. I just want to talk about David for one more second. I live in Santa Barbara and the only time that I'd ever been to East L.A., and I've lived here for 20 years, was on this movie. So I get down there and this guy has a shaved head and he's covered in tattoos and he doesn't just talk it. He still lives there. His building gets graffiti'd every night. Every night there's more graffiti, and every day they clean it off and the next day it's back on. They have this whole system down there. David knows everything about every weapon. He lived on submarines. He was in the military. He'll stop a take if your finger isn't in the right place because he wants it to be so real. That's my David story.”
Was it important to you for you to make this guy likable?
Keanu Reeves: “I think that I wanted to have him, hopefully, have some things that we could recognize, not necessarily in ourselves, but in the world. It wasn't specific like that, like, 'What can we do to make him more likable?' But hopefully he's sympathetic, or maybe there's something in his vulnerability that makes him kind of understandable in some sense.”
What do you see as his inner dilemma? What's wrong with him?
Keanu Reeves: “Well, he's got a lot of things. He's got grief. He's got the question of why. He has the pressures of his job. I think that he's in conflict with what he's good at in his work, but he doesn't know how to be good at that in life. There's a scene that we're all in where we're at Forest's house for a kind of get-together, and Tom Ludlow looks like he doesn't know how to talk to people. He doesn't know how to be. These guys all have a connection and an ease about them. But then when you look at Ludlow when he's in his job fighting, killing and punching, he's most alive and comfortable. I think that he knows that about himself, that he's in a dilemma and the consequences of the job that he's deciding to do, to be the point of the spear has some living consequences for him because he's all soft and vulnerable on the inside, but he's got to be something else on the outside.”
This was a serious subject matter you were all dealing with while shooting, but was there an light moments on the set?
Keanu Reeves: “It's interesting. When you're dealing with a violent environment the jokes get pretty dark and the humor gets pretty – what – loose, sardonic. It's pretty black humor, but it would make us laugh.”
Jay Mohr: “I usually horse around all the time, but Keanu's work that he had to do was so, so dark that you don't want to come in and go, 'Hey, you hear the one about the farmer who shot the dog and then kicked the guy in the balls?' You don't want to be cracking jokes when the guy has to have like a nine minute fight scene in about 30 seconds. So just out of respect to Keanu you pull back on it, which is frightening if you're on set.”
Common said that a lot of the actors on the set where asking you questions about The Matrix. Do you feel that will always be a part of your life and career and that sci-fi will be a parallel career to your other movies? You just did The Day the Earth Stood Still remake, which is kind of sci-fi…
Keanu Reeves: “No, it's not. I guess, hopefully. Maybe, yeah.”
Do you feel like you have two separate careers though?
Keanu Reeves: “I'm the ambassador for The Matrix trilogy. My operating hours are…[laughing].”
Can you talk about The Day The Earth Stood Still? Was the original important to you and what were your thoughts on updating it?
Keanu Reeves: “It's a classic film. Hopefully we have a shot at making it a good film. I just finished it last week and they're still filming. It's got Kathy Bates, Jennifer Connelly, John Cleese, Jaden Smith… It's got a great cast. Scott Derrickson directed it. Hopefully we'll do the original right. It's more of a reinvention, a kind of extension of that and sort of appropriated to our time, just as that felt right for then.”