In this week’s Push, Djimon Hounsou strikes a menacing pose as Carver, the ominous head of a secret government agency working to cultivate an army of telekinetics, psychics, shape-shifters, and others endowed with unique powers. It’s a bit of a departure for Hounsou, who came to attention as the leader of a slave rebellion in the Oscar-nominated Amistad only a little over a decade ago, but achieving variety, it would seem, is Hounsou’s intent. Read on as Djimon Hounsou takes us through his favorite films — classics of their respective generations — and shares his thoughts on filmmaking, acting and creative versatility.
“I’d like to think that when a story changes, your vision changes.” — Djimon Hounsou
What a scope of a film for Martin Scorsese. To really dig into the humanity of that character, Jake La Motta. And what a portrayal by Robert De Niro! What an amazing talent. How he was able to really touch into this organic moment…it was just unbelievable.
Just the scope of the film. The journey the film takes, the journey the character takes. Doing that film today you couldn’t get your head around it — it was such a massive undertaking. It leaves so much room for imagination, to escape. I escaped with that film.
I think it was a beautiful, well-told story. If you’re learning to know how to direct a film, it’s a great subject film to study.
Obviously it has to do with the story and how complicated it was. [Bryan Singer] was an impressive young man, to be able to draw that.
I thought its arc of character was beautifully captured. [Martin Scorsese] has got so many dramatic views — men fed up with life, the situation, the system. These days people are more experienced [as filmmakers] but we’ve just been poorly making movies lately. We used to tell beautiful, humane stories. We used to care about characters instead of just blowing some f***ing building down.
Next: Hounsou talks about Push, as well as formenting a personal style in the movies.
Rotten Tomatoes: In Push, the government secretly trains people with a number of special powers, but the most dangerous ones are “pushers” — people who can make you believe lies are real. Are all the best actors really pushers of some sort?
Djimon Hounsou: I guess you could look at it that way. But at the end of the day, actors are “pushing” themselves, not you; that belief makes you [the audience] believe. They don’t alter your thinking; they alter their own beliefs, embodying the life condition that they’re playing. They are convincing themselves, not you.
And you, do you ever push yourself too far?
DH: [Smiling] No. I’m not an actor who takes his bulls*** home. There are limitations.
Hounsou in Push.
Your director, Paul McGuigan, was previously known for a few very striking movies, Gangster No. 1 and Lucky Number Slevin among them. Did you feel that Push would fit into Paul’s style, or do you resist the idea that filmmakers or artists can have a signature style?
DH: I don’t know if it’s such a nice thing [to be thought of as having a signature.] It’s like a painter — where one stroke of a brush can be read into. In that sense, maybe. I like to think that moving to a new project, your style should change to accommodate the story. If it’s the same, you become repetitive with your style. Paul [McGuigan] is known for his visual interpretations, but I’ve paid attention to his directorial visions. I think of Push as an entity unto itself, completely independent of all other films. I’d like to think that when a story changes, your vision changes.
When I spoke with Ed Zwick, who you worked with on Blood Diamond, he said he preferred to not be typed and to let a film speak for itself.
DH: I certainly don’t see Zwick other than his great storytelling; I don’t want to pigeonhole him by saying I see the “Zwick trait.” I don’t look at directors like that. Hopefully we don’t all.
You’ve done historical drama, action drama, and now, sci-fi action. How do you strike a balance between the projects you choose?
DH: I guess you could try to balance but at the end of the day you’re left to what’s available at the time. Some projects can be amazing, but they won’t happen until five years from now. You sort of have to surrender to the outcome of what’s present at the time, and hopefully choose one of the best and hope it creatively comes together.