Ben Foster interview: ‘Emancipation’

“I had just fairly recently completed a film called ‘The Survivor,’ and that follows a man who’s at a concentration camp and escapes. I’m finding myself on the other side of the wire in this one and what what struck me was how similar the plantations felt the way that Auschwitz felt when we visited to prep for ‘The Survivor,'” reveals Ben Foster about co-starring in the historical action drama “Emancipation” right after playing a Holocaust survivor in the HBO film for which he was nominated for an Emmy earlier this year. For our recent webchat he adds, “Those stark similarities, I still haven’t worked through that, but you hope that your life lived as you educate yourself, informs you and you keep growing.” Watch our exclusive video interview above.

SEE Oscars spotlight: Don’t overlook ‘Emancipation’ cinematographer Robert Richardson for 11th nomination

“Emancipation” is directed by Antoine Fuqua from a screenplay by William N. Collage, based on the real-life story of former enslaved man Gordon (named “Peter” in the film) who posed for confronting photographs of his bare back, heavily scarred from the whippings he endured during his time on a plantation in the South. The worldwide outrage that followed the publication of these now-iconic photos in 1863 gave the abolitionist movement proof of the cruelty of American slavery and a rallying cry to end it once and for all. The Apple Original Films drama stars Oscar winner Will Smith (“King Richard”) as Peter, who flees the plantation after being whipped to within an inch of his life. He has to outwit cold-blooded hunters on his torturous journey north before joining the fight to bring an end to the darkest chapter in American history. Foster portrays Jim Fassel, the nefarious and cruel overseer at the slave camp, who relentlessly hunts Peter through the swamps of Louisiana.

“We’ve seen the racist working on the plantation ruling over enslaved people in the canon of these films,” Foster explains when looking back at how he prepared to take on the role of the vicious and bloodthirsty Fassel. “My interest was not that. It was the brand of what took George Floyd‘s life. It’s matter of fact. And that became a door in for Antoine and I to share these very nervy conversations about race,” he explains. “I was able to ask a lot of hard questions and getting down to this one line that I think it was James Baldwin who talked about white fear and that can come from either a conscious guilt, or rather, being erased from their said position in society. Let’s get down to white fear as the firing point of where violence erupts.”

Smith has recently suggested in interviews that Foster did not acknowledge him during the film’s difficult six-month shoot. Asked about this and his process in general, the actor tells a different and perhaps less sensationalized story. “I did my homework, came to set ready to work, and he got to jam with people, like musicians. You gotta listen to each other. So, I came on set and he tells it one way where he’s doing his Will Smith thing and making everybody feel good. Apparently I breezed by him, but I didn’t see that. I just saw a man doing his work. I saw a man going deep and I just felt like, well, I don’t need to talk to him. And then the next day, and then the next day, and, and we just felt it out. I just realized, I just felt like we actually don’t need to communicate to do our job.”

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UPLOADED Dec 21, 2022 9:03 am