Remaining an idealistic visionary who determinedly stays true to their dreams and identities, no matter what problematic situation they find themselves in, can be a difficult for many people. But the actors and the characters they play in, as well as the filmmaker of, the new crime thriller, ‘Hotel Artemis,’ maintain their roots and distinct personalities during even the most challenging circumstances. Just like the city the movie is set and shot in, Los Angeles, the characters, cast and crew aren’t always what they appear to be, and can’t always be rightfully judged, based on their exterior appearance.
‘Hotel Artemis’ was written by ‘Iron Man 3’ co-scribe, Drew Pearce, who also made his feature film directorial and producing debuts on the drama. The filmmaker’s latest action movie is set to be released in theaters this Friday by Global Road Entertainment.
‘Hotel Artemis’ is set on a Wednesday night in the year 2028, as the streets of downtown Los Angeles become increasingly more impassable. With the most violent riot in L.A. history in its third night, the city’s privatized police force is pummeling blue war-painted protestors whose only demand is clean water. Amidst this chaos, four men clad in skull masks find themselves in the middle of a failed bank heist. After turning the situation around, Sherman (Sterling K. Brown) leads his brother, Lev (Brian Tyree Henry), and their two cohorts walk out of the bank, and right into a fire fight with the cops. Injured and seeing no other option, Sherman leads them to their only hope for survival, the title hotel.
At the Hotel Artemis, which is owned by a ruthless criminal leader, The Wolf King (Jeff Goldblum), international gangsters can be cared for by nurse Jean Thomas (Jodie Foster) and her assistant, Everest (Dave Bautista). As the brothers struggle to stay alive with the nurse’s help, the trio must also contend with not only The Wolf King’s sinister motives and actions, but also the other outlaws who are determined to protect themselves and their interests. With the lethal assassin, Nice (Sofia Boutella), and narcissistic arms dealer, Acapulco (Charlie Day), also posing threats, the occupants of the Hotel Artemis realize that it’s starting to become safer on the outside.
Brown and Henry generously took the time recently to talk about starring in ‘Hotel Artemis’ during an exclusive interview over the phone. Among other things, the actors discussed how they were drawn to the originality that Pearce infused into the characters, particularly the strong bond between Sherman and Lev, which always remains strong, no matter what situation they’re contending with in their lives. The duo also expressed their admiration for the filmmaker’s relaxed directorial approach, as he encouraged the actors to bring their own thoughts and ideas to the story and their characters.
ShockYa (SY): Sterling, you portray Sherman Atkins, aka Waikiki, in the upcoming action crime film, ‘Hotel Artemis.’ What is it about the script, as well as the character, that convinced you to take on the role?
Sterling K. Brown (SKB): Well, I thought the script features a unique and new story; it isn’t a sequel or summer tentpole film, but it still has a lot of character to it. The characters are richly drawn, so I was attracted to that. I especially like that the characters of Waikiki (Sherman’s code name in the hotel) and Randall, who I get to play for half of the year (on the acclaimed NBC drama, ‘This Is Us’), are so different. The movie also offered me the opportunity to play brothers with Brian, so that was also a plus.
SY: Sherman and Lev are brothers, like you just mentioned, Sterling, and they commit crime together. But they have different views on the way they approach their heists. Brian, what was the process of working together to create your characters’ bond and different views together?
Brian Tyree Henry (BTH): I just really wanted the opportunity to act with Sterling. When I started on the project, it was an action film that was set in the not-too-distant future, and there was a lot of blood and fighting. Jodie Foster was also attached, so I couldn’t resist those aspects. Then Sterling and I really wanted to take the opportunity to work on building our on-screen relationship as brothers. Thanks to Drew, we were able to create these characters, and show a different side of who we are as actors.
SY: Speaking of Drew, he wrote, and made his feature film directorial and producing debuts, on the sci-fi movie. What was your collaboration with Drew like, as both the scribe and director?
BTH: Drew was a master collaborator. He was open to any and all ideas we had, in regards to our characters. Every once in awhile, we would change some dialogue, and we were fully supported. Since this is the first movie he directed, he was so involved in every aspect of the filmmaking, and was so excited to bring this vision to life. It’s a story he’s been living with for quite some time, so only he could really do it justice, and make it the way he wanted it to be done. So I’m happy he had the chance to helm it, as well as write it, because I think there’s something unique when there’s fewer chefs in the kitchen.
SY: Also speaking of working with Jodie and the rest of the cast, what was the process of collaborating together to create the bond and relationship between the characters?
SKB: Jodie was wonderful. I ask a lot of questions when I show up on set, because I’m a very curious person about other people. When people open themselves up to me, and share what their life has been like, it makes the camaraderie that much easier. Jodie was one of those people who shared so much about growing up in this industry, and what it was like in the ’70s, as compared to now. So the camaraderie develops behind the camera, and then you take that relationship and live it out as fully as possible, in front of the camera. She made the process easy, and didn’t put up any walls, in regards to letting herself be known.
SY: Jodie’s character of Jean, The Nurse, is a high-tech healer who can handle almost anything – except the outside world. Sterling, Sherman helps The Nurse contend with her fears to some degree. Why do you feel that was an important aspect of their relationship?
SKB: That’s a great question, because both The Nurse and Waikiki find themselves tied to things that they don’t know how to extricate themselves from. In regards to Waikiki, that thing is his relationship with his brother. In regards to The Nurse, it’s the Artemis itself. She has anxiety, and doesn’t know how to live apart from the Artemis
**SPOILER ALERT** So by the end of the film, you have two people who have to cut ties from things that have held them down in the past, and forge a new future. So while I think they won’t be together in that journey, I think the possibilities for them both are exciting, and they can both find a whole new lease on life. **END SPOILER ALERT**
SY: In addition to rehearsing with your co-stars, did Drew encourage you all to also improvise while you were filming?
BTH: Drew let us play a lot. His script wasn’t so finite that we couldn’t move around. The scenarios in the story are very urgent and bleak. I was advised to fully play with Sterling, and fall on top of him when my character became unconscious. (Brown laughs.) So we played with things like that, so that we would have the real-life urgency that comes with caring for someone who’s injured. So everything was all very realistic and naturalistic.
So we tried to understand the environment we were in; we were in a hospital, and certain things were going on. There are different criminals, and fighting going on between them. So Drew was very open to us playing within our scenes, so that we could figure out the environment we were living in.
SKB: This is the way I feel about acting in general, and Brian can back me up on this. If any two takes are exactly the same, you’re doing something wrong. You have to have a sense of play and spontaneity, even when you have a script with lines that are laid out for you. I look at them as train tracks, but there’s still room between the tracks for variety. So I work on each take to make them a little bit different.
On a personal note, I feel like that if a director isn’t giving me notes, it means that I’m not being ambitious enough in my choices. I like to do some things really terribly, so they can be like, “Let’s back this up a little bit!” (Brown and Henry laugh.) You have to risk being really terrible, if you want to achieve something that’s really great.
SY: Most of the events in the drama are set in the title 13-story art deco structure that lost its cachet with the traveling public long ago. But thanks to funding from Malibu mobster The Wolf King, the hotel’s worn exterior cloaks a state-of-the-art hospital on the penthouse level. What was the process of having the majority of the story set in one location? How does that influence the way you approach your roles in this type of movie?
BTH: The design of the set was pretty cool and amazing. The hospital’s located in downtown Los Angeles, and has this 1950’s Hollywood legend-feel to it. Even our costumes are very sleek and precise to the time, which I think Drew wanted to reflect.
We filmed on location in downtown Los Angeles for one part of the movie, and then we were on a soundstage for the other parts. It was really cool to see the puzzle pieces move, and how the locations all fit together in the film.
It was also cool to see how each suite is different from the next. here are also secret hallways, passageways and doors. So there’s this whole feeling of isolation that the hotel gives. But at the same time, there’s also the feeling of urgency amongst everyone.
Drew was great at creating all of that; he’s a visionary. The way that he wrote the story, and showed us how the environment was going to be, really informed all of us on how we reacted to the space.
We also all knew that the events take place at night, so there’s not a lot of light going on in the hallways. There were also beautiful decorations that had blood spears on them. So it was fun to see how exactly the story was going to pan out, based on the architecture of the set we were playing on.
There were some suites that we didn’t even get to see while we were filming! I was only in the Honolulu suite, so I didn’t really get to see any of the other parts of the hotel. But Sterling got to see all different spots around the hotel, including the hidden hallways, passageways and the common area, and he also got to interact with the other guests. So I think Drew was very good at showing us how to navigate through the space he created.
SY: What was the process of crafting the physicality for your respective characters as they fought back against the other criminals in the hotel, as well as in the overall riot?
BTH: I enjoyed it a lot, because all I had to do was lay there! (Brown laughs.) All I had to do was let my brother and Jodie take care of me. Getting the IV in my arms, and having the tape be ripped off, was difficult, but that’s all I had to do! (Henry laughs.)
SKB: Yes, all you had to do was have the tape ripped off your arm! (Brown laughs.) But anytime you have the chance to do your own stunts is always a blast. I try to take decent care of myself, so that when these opportunities present themselves, and I get the chance to be a bit more physical, I’m up for the challenge. I had to carry my brother, who’s my little brother, but my big little brother…
BTH: …You’re welcome! (Henry laughs.)…
SKB: …down alleyways for 20 takes at a time! My lower back was not too pleased about that, but I’ve been working on my lower back. (Henry laughs.) But I had a great time doing the fight scenes, especially beating Charlie Day! (Henry laughs.) I say, the more fight scenes, the merrier.
SY: ‘Hotel Artemis’ is a members-only E.R. that exclusive serves one group – criminals. While Sherman and Lev are part of that criminal group, what was the process of making the brothers more humble and relatable?
SKB: I think that’s truly one of the beneficial and powerful things about storytelling, especially in this film. You often see people from a distance, and think you know who they are. We have a tendency and desire to put people into a box, so that we can categorize them, and decide if they’re worthy, or unworthy, of our attention. What we try to do as actors is to get inside of that preconceived notion of who you think a person truly is. Not every criminal goes that route because they love criminality.
In regards to my character, he has a relationship with his brother, who happens to be a criminal. My character doesn’t want to see his brother out in this criminal world by himself, so that’s why (Sherman) becomes a criminal, too. Our characters know that they need each other. So I think it’s really beautiful to show these two brothers, who, while they may be misguided, truly do love each other. So hopefully through that love, the viewers can relate to them. Even though the brothers are making bad choices, they’re still making them together. It’s a family affair.