“It’s given me an insight that I didn’t have before,” explains actor Frankie Faison about how playing the title character in “The Killing of Kenneth Chamberlain” affected how he reacts to stories or footage of police brutality. “When I see him say, ‘I cannot breathe,’ or ‘Help me, mom,’ or anything, it registers in a way that it didn’t register before.” Watch our exclusive video interview with Faison above.
“The Killing of Kenneth Chamberlain” tells the true story of a 2011 incident in which Chamberlain, who suffered from mental illness and heart disease, accidentally activated his medical alert device, leading White Plains police to visit his apartment for a wellness check that resulted in those officers breaking into his apartment without cause and shooting him to death. None of the officers were charged with a crime, which is sadly a typical outcome.
The entire incident, from the moment of the medical alert to the moment of his murder, took place over a period of an hour and a half, and the film recounts those events more or less in real time. Thus, Faison spent most of the 12-day shoot isolated in that apartment set just as Chamberlain was alone while pleading for the police to leave. “I didn’t have a chance to get away from that character during that whole period,” Faison says. “I was locked into him, and I had to be in order to make this film successful … because in reality, this is what Kenneth Chamberlain was going through.”
Faison avoided learning too much about Chamberlain’s background before shooting because he didn’t want to reduce his performance to an impersonation. “I wanted to tell a story of a man in this situation,” reacting to the sounds of the angry officers, their pounding on his apartment door, and ultimately their violence in forcing their way inside. “I felt that if I could lock into those sounds, to hear them and then digest them as an actor and as a human being, that I would do an honest portrayal of who this man was.”
Faison won a Gotham Award for his performance, and he’s currently nominated for an Independent Spirit Award for Best Male Lead. But bringing attention to this film and the story it tells is “way more precious and meaningful to me than any award that I can ever receive … With all respect, I give it all to the film and to the family of Kenneth.”
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