to Essandoh is quickly becoming a household name when it comes to rising black stars in Hollywood. Essandoh is building quite the resume currently starring in HBO’s new hit show Vinyl and past roles on Girls, Elementary, Blue Bloods, Copper on BBC, Django Unchained and Blood Diamond just to name a few. Now he can add Jason Bourne to that growing list of films.
SFPL’s own Bernard Beanz Smalls caught up with the actor to discuss his upcoming role in film based off the popular Robert Ludlum books. He also touched on the government watching us through various forms of technology (cellphones, computers), diversity in Hollywood, working with Tommy Lee Jones and Matt Damon and more. Step into our exclusive interview with the amazing actor below.
First of all I loved the movie. Great performance. Tell me about your character in Jason Bourne.
Thanks man. I play Craig Jeffers, he is the right hand man of Tommie Lee Jones’ who plays the director of the C.I.A.. I’m basically a company man, a patriot, and I’m a true believer. Then suddenly I’m confronted which you don’t see a lot of in the movie because it’s an action movie and not a drama but, suddenly I’m supplanted by Heather Lee; which is Alicia Vikander’s character, and it’s the difference between the old school C.I.A. and what now is the new world that were facing these days.
Where it’s more a war about information rather than the usual wet work war of going into a place and blowing it up. That’s the dynamic we’re seeing between Jeffers and Heather Lee and essentially Tommie Lee Jones’s character and Heather Lee; the old C.I.A. versus the new C.I.A..
Awesome! That was actually one of my questions. I see this movie more kind of like “big brother” watching you. Do you ever think about that? Does it cross your mind? You know with the monitoring of your cellphone because there was a lot of cool but at the same time scary things like, the facial recognition technology.
It always comes to mind because there were often times on set where I would ask if this was actually real technology or we made it for the movie and Paul Greengrass would actually say no this is stuff people are already doing and it’s already possible, it’s been possible. So it’s scary but it’s also fascinating because the evolution of technology throughout human history has always caused us to reflect on our own humanity and what it means to exist in this world as a society. I think we’re at a tipping point that no other human society has been in ever in the 200,000 years that we have been humans. So we’re now faced with huge moral quandaries about what this power is giving us and what that means for us as individuals. It’s even questioning what privacy means anymore. When we even with all of this technology, we are willingly putting up our entire lives digitally on whether it’s Twitter or Facebook or any of the other technologies out there. It’s like on one side some of us want to keep our privacy but on the other side we’re posting everything on Facebook. Corporations are seeing this and using that as a way to market to us and sell us products or surveil us and it’s a very interesting place that we are in society today.
Very true, very true. I’m a huge fan of the Bourne franchise. I was very excited to see Jason Bourne was back. Are you a fan of the franchise? Have you seen any of the films prior to taking this role?
Yes! Those are the kind of movies where they’ll show it on TBS and even with commercials I’ll still watch it. What I loved about the franchise before is the mystery of a guy who has no memory but has all this incredible skills and is so resourceful he can kill you with some lipstick and a piece of paper, you know what I’m saying. I love the evolution and what I love about this movie is that now you see him when he’s older and maybe a little slower and now you know a little bit more about him so how does this older, more damaged Jason Bourne negotiate through this new world. Again we’re looking at this old world that he’s been a part of and now this new threat which is the informational threat; the more femoral digital threat that were all facing today.
I agree. Matt Damon is pretty amazing as Jason Bourne. It’s almost surprising to see him do all of things because you don’t really think of him as this action star. How was it working with Matt?
The man is a good dude. He’s sort of the trope of the guy you’d like to get a beer with. He’s an ultra famous guy and he’s really, really laid back. I mean there was one time, you know he’s Jason Bourne and Jason Bourne is supposed to be all sneaky and can disappear at a moments notice and we’re filming in a Las Vegas casino; it’s Alicia, I, and Matt trying to film this scene with a bunch of extras along with the people in the casino, and we call action and he’s being sneaky Jason Bourne; but everyone’s trying to record him on their cellphones as he’s walking by.
So you see the dynamic where Matt Damon can’t go anywhere. Jason Bourne is supposed to be able to go anywhere, but Matt Damon cannot. He played it cool, just real laid back, real professional; I loved chasing him around in a casino in Vegas.
How was it working beside Tommie Lee Jones who was your character’s boss in the movie?
Tommie Lee Jones is a legend. He is one of those straight talking dudes and he can bring it anytime he wants. He’s one of my favorite actors from back in the day and he likes to tell a lot of stories. One of the great stories he told me, he looked over to me and he goes you know what, years ago he was doing soap operas. This is how long this guy’s been in the business.
So he was playing a doctor in a soap opera and he had a bunch of scenes with a 5-year-old kid and he goes you know who that 5-year-old was? Laurence Fishburne. I said man Laurence Fishburne when he was 5-years-old. He’s a legend. He’s a real funny, sharp, witty guy so it was a lot of fun to work with him.
It would have been funnier if he said like Morgan Freeman. The whole joke that we’ve never seen Morgan Freeman when he was young.
I know. I would have been shocked man.
How did you prepare for the role? Did you have training?
I knew I’d be running around a little bit so I was working out at the gym and just running on the treadmill, which helped because that scene where I’m chasing Bourne around the casino that ended up being hours and hours of shooting. Running down, chasing Matt Damon and literally jumping over people who I didn’t recognize, so if I hadn’t been stretching, working out, and doing some yoga I would be broken, it was hard. This is my first action movie. Action movies are hard; it’s no joke.
The Matt Damon’s, Will Smith’s, and Bruce Willis’ of the world, that stuff is really hard to do. We don’t appreciate it because we don’t really think about it, but you have to be in a certain amount of shape and have certain stamina to be able to do all of that stuff. It’s not like a coffee-room drama where you’re just siting there talking to someone at a coffee table. This is straight up running and acting, and you’re tired and you have to do it again because you need to get it from a new angle. It was really eye-opening for me. I’m not ready to do another one.
I can imagine, I’m sure. The blog I work for is called Stuff Fly People Like. So if you were an agent give me three fly gadgets you’d want in the field.
Night vision goggles is number one. Some kind of mini-drone that can fly anywhere, that’s smaller than a cellphone with x-ray vision would be number two. The third one, I’d want one of those wing suits so if I have to get away from some people and I just happen to be on top of a mountain I’d just jump off the mountain and be like fly!
That’s sounds like a video game character, it really does. Now, the Academy announced they’re taking steps to build diversity. Recently they invited the largest number into the Academy, 683; and 48% of the invitees are people of color and 46% are women. Do you feel Hollywood is finally going in the right direction? Do you feel this is a big step?
Absolutely, because it doesn’t make sense for it to be a monoculture because everyone goes to see movies. I would understand if only white people went to see movies and only white straight men went to see movies but we need the diversity and the organicness that’s a representation of an array of people. The people who are controlling the industry and moving the industry forward need to represent the actual people who go and see the movies. So it makes complete sense that you get a whole bunch of women in there and a whole bunch of people of color in there because we’re also going into those movie theaters and paying for those tickets.
What was it like working with Paul Greengrass? How was the experience?
I had to bone up on my knowledge of English premier league soccer because although I love watching football I don’t know all the teams in England. If you don’t know all the teams in England he kind of looks at you like, “who are you?” He’s a lovely guy with infinite patience and it was great working with him. I just kept looking at him like I can’t believe I’m in a Bourne movie with Paul Greengrass directing it and he’d just be like, “Aww man, come on.”
I still email him every once in a while just to say, “Hey what’s up?” He’s just that sort of open, and cool, and nice. I think he’s a great, great filmmaker. I know I’m in it so I’m suppose to say this, but I really think it’s one of the best action movies I’ve seen in a long time.
Yes, I agree with you. It was really good.
All the stuff that happens in the movie they’re not just doing just to show you that they can blow up stuff or they can have car chases. Everything that happens in the movie is for a reason. Which is unlike other action films where you can tell they’re blowing crap up because they want to show you they can blow crap up, so it stops making sense. You lose all the suspense because all of that stuff is going to blow up just to show you, but this is like Jason Bourne has to get from here to here. This is what he has to do to get there. It makes for great story telling. Greengrass has a fantastic eye for that.
Jason Bourne hits theaters this FRIDAY, stay tuned for our FLY Review of Bourne’s latest adventure.
PHOTOS: Getty Images, Universal Pictures