*”Detroit,” tells the riveting true story of one of the most terrifying moments during the racially-charged civil uprising that choked the city of Detroit in the summer of ’67.
Directed by Academy Award®-winner Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker/Zero Dark Thirty) and written by Mark Boal, Detroit is in theaters nationwide on July 28, 2017.
The film is about the murder of three unarmed black men who were shot and killed at point blank range, and about several other men and women who were mentally tortured and brutally beaten by white members of the Detroit Police Department after they and the Michigan State Police, the Michigan Army National Guard and a local private security guard searched and then seized an annex of the Algiers Motel after reports of gunshots being fired.
In Detroit, Algee Smith plays Larry Cleveland Reed, the lead singer in a popular up-and-coming singing group called The Dramatics, who had booked a room for the night at the Algiers Motel for himself and his close friend, Fred Temple (Jacob Latimore), in order to get them off the streets during curfew.
I recently spoke to Smith at the Foundation Hotel in Detroit, to talk about his role in the film. Smith is best known for having played Ralph Tresvant in BET’s biopic New Edition. The singer, rapper and actor also recurred as Theo on USA’s Complications, appeared in Walt Disney’s Earth to Echo and played Sam on Lifetime’s hit series Army Wives.
DD: What drew you to this story?
AS: What drew me honestly was an audition I got in my email. I was filming The New Edition Story at the time. I got this audition and they said it was Kathryn Bigelow – so I knew it was going to be something big.
DD: So what did Kathryn say?
AS: When I got there she informed me what it was about. I thought it was very interesting. I wanted to be a part of this history that can educate people. I didn’t know anything about the Algiers Hotel. I didn’t know about a lot of the riots that took place. If I can be a part of something that gives people an inside view on this – I’m game.
DD: What kind of research did you do?
AS: I barely did research. Kathryn didn’t give me the full script until we were almost done shooting. I didn’t meet the character I was playing until the last week of shooting. She wanted us to be completely unprepared and not depend on the script. She wanted real reactions – not to come in and do a prepared act. She wanted real reactions.
DD: What was your impression of Larry Reed?
AS: I love Larry. I thought he was a real individual. When I first met him I went to his house. He opened up the door and he busted out laughing. He looked at me and said, “Oh, you are going to play me real good.”
DD: Were you able to spend quality time with him and get the real story?
AS: We had a three-hour conversation. He showed me the scars he had on his head, the cracks on his skull, the gashes on his body. He showed me everything. We had a really good heart to heart for about three hours.
DD: Did anything he told you – shock you?
AS: I already knew about the tragic things that happened to him. What really shocked me was how he talked about his and Fred’s relationship. He said Fred always had the nicest car and all the money. He was a hustler.
DD: Do you think uprisings are the most effective way for people to lift up their voices, or do you think it would be more effective to do it another way?
AS: I wouldn’t say it’s not effective, but it may not be the right thing to do. But, at the same time you can’t judge people who have done that because that’s how they feel at that moment. When you’re not being heard – I can’t tell you what to do when you’re not being heard. I do think there is a way to move in love and get things done, though. It’s so systematic – it’s hard to really say what’s the best way. It’s a good start, though, to move in love.
Detroit (Annapurna Pictures) stars John Boyega, Will Poulter, Algee Smith, Jacob Latimore, Jason Mitchell, Hannah Murray, Kaitlyn Dever, Jack Reynor, Ben O’Toole, Joseph David Jones, Ephraim Sykes, Leon Thomas III, Nathan Davis Jr., Peyton Alex Smith, Malcolm David Kelley, Gbenga Akinnabve, Chris Chalk, Jeremy Strong, Laz Alonzo, Austin Hebert, Miguel Pimentel, Kris Davis, with John Krasinski and Anthony Mackie.