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By Meredith Alloway · July 20, 2013
The indie film has only been out for a week in limited release, and it is already gaining buzz. Fruitvale Station opens this weekend in wider release, and it couldn’t be more perfect timing given the Zimmerman case and the turmoil it’s caused in the country. Ryan Coogler, with this feature debut, explores the same issues. But instead of forcing his audience to pick a side, he instead brings us into the life of Oscar Grant, a young man who was shot by a cop at the BART Fruitvale Station back in 2008.
Michael B. Jordan plays Oscar, who’s struggling to provide for his girlfriend Sophina (Melonie Diaz), daughter Tatiana and make his mother Wanda (Octavia Spencer) proud. Coogler allows us an intimate look inside the day of Oscar’s death and an introduction to those closest to him.
Stars Jordan and Diaz sat down with a few others and I in LA. Honestly, I’ve never seen anyone so excited about being at a press day. But I wasn’t surprised. Being involved in a film as powerful as this, the passion to promote is inevitable.
Are you guys exhausted? These past few months have been a whirlwind.
D: It's been pockets of concentrated hanging out time. It's exciting; every time we get together, we get to celebrate this movie. We made this movie for a penny.
J: And some duck tape.
D: And some duck tape and some passion. The fact that we're here talking to you fancy people makes me feel good.
J: It’s been a cool journey since January, since Sundance.
The film received a standing ovation at Sundance! What was that like?
J: I didn't expect to get into Sundance! The standing ovation was overwhelming, at Cannes as well.
D: This movie creates a universal feeling of something.
J: It's bigger than the Bay. It's not just a community film. One thing I was concerned about, it was that people would look at the cast and think it was an ethnic film, but Cannes was a testament of it translating outside of the US. They were able to relate to it.
At what point did you talk to members of Oscar’s family?
D: We sat down with Sophina first.
J: I had the opportunity to talk to Oscar’s friends and Wanda as well.
D: We were driving to meet her, and we were like ok we're not going to ask her all these questions. It was more important for her to get to know us and know we have the best intentions and that we care about the story and Oscar as much as she does. I think Ryan, and Octavia included, were all really sensitive to that.
How did you capture [Oscar's] mannerisms?
J: I relied so much on talking to his friends and family. Ryan did a lot of the legwork too. He gave us a lot of information up front. Then it was understanding who he was, I couldn't imitate him. One day his daughter's going to watch this movie. It was added pressure.
D: Extreme added pressure. Sophina's still here. I was trying to get at the heart of the dynamic of their relationship. She knew him the best. When you love someone that deeply, you'll do anything for them. It was clear to me after speaking with her, the amount of love she had for Oscar was everything.
What does it mean to you creatively and professionally to be involved in something even though financially the awards aren't giant?
D: I've been doing independent films all my life. It's more about the work. If you do good work, those things will come. I'm just happy people are actually liking the movie! I can't believe we got bought!
J: I feel the same way. You're not going to get a payday. That's when you start making movies for the wrong reasons. You do things you care about and things you can speak passionately about and then all the other stuff will come down the line.
You all only shot for 20 days. Did you have prep time?
J: We had a lot of rehearsal. We had time to work on the script. After that, we tried to use every spare moment.
D: We cooked together!
J: I cooked!
D: I sat there drinking wine! I was chopping….barely. We went to a basketball game together!
J: We hung out! It was fun.
What was the hardest scene to shoot?
D: All the stuff in the BART Fruitvale station. It was by far the hardest thing I've ever done. I was crying from 6pm to 6am. It's heavy stuff.
J: I would have to agree. The dog was probably the second. It's tied for most emotionally stressful for me. People see the dog, and they automatically assume Ryan's trying to use this guy to save an animal to play on people's emotions. But it's not that at all. What a lot of people don't know about that scene is that when Oscar was locked up in jail, one of his friends died. Oscar finally had a chance to grieve. Why am I crying right now? It's just a dog. Sometimes when you grieve, it's when you least expect it.
How did the movie change you?
D: For me, I've been acting for a while and being in this movie itself it's like wow this is why we do what we do.
J: Being part of a bigger picture that will hopefully spark conversations and how we treat one another. If we can have people start questioning themselves and not be so quick to judge. I'm living with Oscar now. It takes some time to shake it off. It's one of the sacrifices actors make. Some of them stick with you more than others, and Oscar's someone I'm probably going to live with the rest of my life. Sometimes when I speak, I say things like I would, but kind of like he would too.