Jason Mitchell finds creativity in his craft and clothing in ‘SUPERFLY’
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
Jason Mitchell hit the ground running back in 2015, giving a masterful performance playing “Eazy-E” in STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON. He’s been on a role since, turning in acclaimed work in films like DETROIT and MUDBOUND, and on the small screen, in TV shows like THE CHI.
He was able to get a little scrappy, mixing things up, having fun in the role of “Eddie,” in Director X’s remake of the 70’s classic, SUPERFLY. Mitchell brings depth, humor and honesty to a typically thankless role of “protagonist’s best friend,” carving out moments to genuinely shine.
At the film’s recent press day, I spoke with the affable actor about everything from coveting his character’s wardrobe, to whether or not he’s method, to if he makes it a point to work with visionary directors.
I watched the original yesterday for the first time to prepare for this. But I’m curious if you watched the original?
I did. I definitely did.
What sort of qualities from Carl Lee’s ‘Eddie’ did you want to sort of carry over into yours, or did you not really – and just want to shove that aside?
They clearly have the difference – Right? When you put me and Trevor together, we complement each other. I was like ‘I don’t know if that’s actually gonna work for me.’ We have too much chemistry to seem like I’m jealous of him. So I was like, “I gotta find somethin’. It needs somethin’.” When I really looked into it, it was always this idea of Eddie just being jealous of him. I had to put that on the surface. It was a big thing to sort of always underline it with jealousy.
When this script first came across your table, what made you say ‘yes?’
Who doesn’t wanna be a part of a movie that’s fun to make, but a movie that also helps people dream big?! Because I love my craft so much, I like to do movies that speak. I also realize that I can get labeled an ‘actor activist,’ as well, you know what I mean?! [Laughs] Like, I did DETROIT and it was like “What do you – what’s this gonna be?” I was like, no more of these roles.
You mentioned earlier auditioning – you still audition on tape and stuff?
Had you originally auditioned for “Eddie,” or did you try for “Priest?”
I went for Priest because they were like “Here, take this,” and I was like “Um, this is a lot! But I got y’all.” [Laughs] I guess they can appreciate the fact that I went through so much of it. I was like “Is it still gonna be sort of the same?”- because they didn’t give me the script yet. I was like “Is it gonna be the same?” And he was like “Yeah.” So I’m thinkin’ to myself, like, “Man this is – this is gonna be crazy, like…” I know I’m SuperFly but I’m not that guy, you know?
[Laughs] I was like, very confused at what was happening at the time because like, Joel Silver, he really wanted me to be a part of it, and – but it was happening so fast. We knew when the movie was gonna come out before we shot it, which is – just – it’s weird! It’s something that I’ve – I’ve never dealt with.
Director X was saying that there were so many changes along the way. And you were probably like, “Where am I fitting in this piece?”
Exactly. So like, if, in my mind I’m like “All right, cool, don’t get the lead role as Priest, ‘cause I really want somebody like, tall and beautiful to get it.”
You two have a fight scene in the furniture shop. Walk me through a day on set. Did you and Trevor Jackson stay away from each other?
Me and Trevor have such big personalities, that, between takes, we’re like, makin’ up songs, and doin’ all this other kinda stuff. You have to have something to keep the energy flowing. Otherwise you’re gonna drink like 30 Cokes, 30 cups of coffee… [Laughs] You’ll be just burnt out. Trevor definitely is somebody who can turn it on and off. And that just goes to speak to how his craft works. You can’t knock nobody for their process, but – I’m sort of the same way. I got the on-and-off switch.
Let’s talk about the wardrobe because it’s part of the culture of this movie. I saw some of your Instagram stories, and I know you appreciate designer fashion. What was it like melding your vision of “Eddie” with the costume designs that they had?
Yo, that shit’s dope.
Even the all-white Snow Patrol outfit – I was like, “I would spill salsa on that in a minute.”
[Laughs] Right! The wardrobe was a big thing. It was funny because when they did my fitting, I was like, “You think maybe I can get some of this Snow Patrol stuff before we leave?” [Laughs] “Y’all wanna give me somethin’, you can just give me a couple of these white things.” For me, I felt like it was important to be effortlessly fly.
Obviously, all director are auteurs in their own way. But you’ve worked with a few who have a very well-defined vision.
How important is that for you to have a director that’s self-assured in your collaboration process?
I look at it like – Dee Rees and Kathryn Bigelow told me this. Like, “You are the actor. I’m respecting that. I hired because you knew what to do.” But my job is really to make your vision come to life. It’s my job. So whatever you say goes. I’m gonna try to find a way to figure it out. I still do my thing, I just stay in this mind frame of – I don’t know how to do what you know how to do. I can’t make the movie as beautiful as X can make it. But I get it. To have that sort of freedom was really dope. It was really, really dope.
How did this creatively satisfy you?
I think it’s very important right now that we’re on this sort of wave. Because everybody’s like screaming black excellence and doin’ all these type of things, but I’m thinkin’ – you know, like, doing movies like this lets people know, like, “Yo, it’s not just about, like – ” The word ‘black movie’ is very offensive to me. It’s like “What are you, what are you guys talking about?”
Movies are movies. It’s universal.
Right. Exactly. We just care about the craft. We care about hitting the mark. And – I don’t know, so many people dropped the ball on with like, egos, and all these other things that gotta get in the way. But it’s “One band, one time.” So you have to give the director what he want. Because you’re never gonna see his vision. He’s got this down pat, trust me.
SUPERFLY opens on June 13.