Earlier this year, Chadwick Boseman’s name was enshrined in Oscar history as the titular star of the first comic-book movie ever to receive a Best Picture nomination. Next February, he could be part of the second. Having already won the title of “Highest-Grossing Movie of All-Time,” Walt Disney and Marvel Studios are now mounting a serious awards campaign for Avengers: Endgame. Boseman only appears in a small portion of that Infinity Saga-capping adventure as Wakanda’s champion, T’Challa, a.k.a. Black Panther, but he’s fully invested in the outcome of the Oscar race. “I’m in it, so I’ve got a right to show up and get up on stage,” the actor tells Yahoo Entertainment, with a laugh.
That said, Boseman — who joined the Motion Picture Academy in 2016, the same year he made his first Marvel Cinematic Universe appearance in Captain America: Civil War — admits that Endgame doesn’t necessarily have his vote… yet. “I haven’t seen everything this year, you know? I have to see everything to be a responsible voter, and until I do that, I can’t judge [Endgame] with everything else.” The same goes for Robert Downey Jr.’s final performance as Tony Stark, which fans would love to see score a Best Supporting Actor nod, even though Downey himself has publicly declined to campaign. “Robert’s performances always live up to the best of what’s going on, and when you see how he is on set, you appreciate him all the more,” Boseman says. “I’ve got to see everybody’s performance [before I vote], but he’s always amazing.”
Boseman works alongside some pretty amazing actors — including J.K. Simmons, Keith David and Stephen James — in 21 Bridges, a new New York City-set thriller executive produced by Endgame directors, Joe and Anthony Russo. Set over the course of one long night, the film finds Boseman’s NYPD detective, Andre Davis, pursuing a pair of gunmen (James and Taylor Kitsch) through the streets of Manhattan. To keep them contained, Davis convinces the city’s higher-ups to shut down all of the bridges leading in and out of the borough, hence the film’s title.
It’s exactly the kind of high-concept premise that would have made 21 Bridges a staple of cable television in the 1990s, when cop movies like Ricochet and Deep Cover were in regular rotation. “It’s a new take on that type of film,” the star confirms. “It felt like the movies I grew up watching … but you have the pressure of shutting the city down, and the technology of the city surveillance cameras. That was one of the things I found in my research: the homicide detectives that we were around definitely use them as a tool.”
Besides discussing 21st century technology with those real-life detectives, Boseman also wanted to know how they felt about one of the larger conversations swirling around policing right now: what it means for an officer to discharge a weapon, perhaps before they know whether they’ve found the right suspect. “The movie definitely raises that question,” he says, noting that his character begins the movie under investigation by Internal Affairs for relying on his gun too much in the field — the result of lingering childhood trauma stemming from the death of his father, who was also a cop, at the hands of a criminal. Since joining the force himself, Andre has shown little restraint in shooting those who shoot his fellow officers.
“Andre is always searching for justice … so he’s willing to get closer to the danger,” Boseman notes. “He’s used his weapon more because he’s putting himself in that situation. He’s misunderstood as this person that’s just going to end [cases] in the street, so that becomes the debate: If one of their brothers die, is it justice or vengeance they should be after? If it’s justice, the [suspect] should be brought to trial. If it’s vengeance, it should be an attempt to bring them to trial. If in the course of action, they don’t want to be brought to trail or they resist, then when is it OK to use a weapon? It shouldn’t just outright be vengeance, should it?”
Asked whether any of the detectives he spoke to ever referenced a situation where they felt another officer acted rashly in pursuit of justice or vengeance, Boseman says that they kept those opinions private. “I don’t think they would ever say that an officer acted too rashly. ... Most police officers are not pulling their weapons out. Most of policing is about stopping things from happening, and stopping peoples’ habits from getting the better of them. I think what’s interesting is, when that thing occurs, do they feel like they lived up to their training in that moment. Did they feel like they responded in the right way?”
Boseman remembers talking to one detective who was confident that he had responded in the right way when staring down the barrel of a gun. “He was negotiating a hostage situation, and because he had been in those situations before, he was used to having conversation with a gun aimed at him. So he knew what tone you have to use to talk to that man, when you have to be a little more stern in the conversation even knowing they’re dangerous. It was interesting to see the difference between that type of cop and the other types of cops who were a little bit more hostile, and weren’t the kind of people to have a conversation with that guy.”
Even as Boseman sought to honor the complexities of being a modern-day police officer, 21 Bridges has already been taken to task by some critics for painting the NYPD in a negative light. As far as the actor is concerned, though, few contemporary movies have the luxury of treating police officers as unvarnished heroes. “You can still do Beverly Hills Cop or 48 Hrs. and find a way to be funny, and be a cop. But if you’re telling a certain type of serious story, why wouldn’t you show the shades of grey? With the cops that we were around, a lot of their conversations were about corruption, and cops that were dirty and doing a little something on the side. They were willing to tell those stories more than, say, a cop that used their weapon when they shouldn’t.”
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