A Crash Cast Moment
The movie is Crash, an unflinching no-holds-barred look at the complex issue of racism in America. The action takes place in overlapping stories in Los Angeles. Anger bubbles just beneath the surface of each character as the line between good and bad blurs. Crash leaves everybody who sees it with a whole lot to think about.
The brilliant cast features Don Cheadle, Matt Dillon, Ryan Phillippe, Thandie Newton, Terrence Howard, Chris "Ludacris" Bridges, Brendan Fraser and Sandra Bullock.
Crash is now available on DVD. Oprah says, "I believe everybody should have this in their movie collection."
Don says he expected Crash, in which he plays Detective Graham Waters, to be controversial since it's so uncompromising and politically incorrect. "I hope there are a lot of fights," he says. "I hope there are a lot of arguments. I hope people debate it because I think that's the only way to take [the topic of race] out from under the rock and say, 'No, let's talk about it.' Let's stop saying everything's okay, we're all the same. No, we're not all the same...I'm not interested in that. I'm interested in the differences, and I want to talk about it."
However, after reading the script for Crash, Sandra says she was determined to be involved in the film. She thought, "I don't care who I play." She ended up playing Jean Cabot, a district attorney's wife who displays racism after being carjacked. "It was something that struck such a chord that if I wasn't involved with it, I would feel very jealous. And I said, 'After an experience like this, you can't go backwards.'"
But their relationship goes beyond their stereotypes. "Now [Jesse's tattoos] are like reading material for me when I can't sleep," Sandra jokes. "Where he grew up was not a great place and his life story is on his body art. ... It's his storytelling. We all tell our stories in our own way and that's his story."
Some of the most intense scenes in Crash involve the characters played by Terrence and Chris. Terrence plays Cameron, an African-American Hollywood executive, and Chris plays Anthony, a young man who commits the carjacking at the movie's outset.
Chris says that one line by Cameron about the thuggish Anthony really stuck with him. Cameron admonishes Anthony, saying, "You embarrass me. You embarrass yourself."
"What it did for me...it just makes you realize that [our characters]—not only as black men, but as a race, as Americans, as human beings—we're only as strong as our weakest link. And that can go for a lot of the things that are going on in America today."
"You see a film that just so eloquently places [racial issues] before you in a casual way and allows you to draw your own conclusions," Terrence says. "Then, man, all these things I put out of my head as a child— these things were real that took place. And how do they affect me [now]? How are they causing me to deal with other people? Now, I take two or three more seconds before responding to something that I think is offensive, because I don't know where it might truly be coming from."
"I had a meeting for a film that I was going to do," Thandie explains. "It was a huge movie. And it was to discuss the character, because they were going to change elements of the character because I'm of color, and they needed to modify it so I would fit the role. ... The character [I was to play] had a degree from university. The studio executive said, 'I don't mean to be politically incorrect, but is it really feasible that this woman has a degree?' There was a silence in the room, and I just said, 'Well, I have a degree from Cambridge University.' And she said, 'Yeah, but you're different.' I left the room and decided I wasn't going to have anything to do with [that] movie."
But now, Thandie says she regrets having made that decision. "I was so wrong to do that. You, Oprah, taught me. You were on the cover of Vogue when we made Beloved, and you said that the people at Vogue had endless meetings about you being on the cover. And I was so ready to get hotheaded about it and say, 'That's disgusting. That's racist. Why is this such a big deal? Oprah should be on the cover.' But you said, 'No, no, no, no. They should have lots of meetings because it's a big deal for them and they might lose a readership and they have to really think it through.' But it didn't stop you from taking that place with pride. I didn't do that movie and I should have made the movie. I should have changed those people's opinions. I didn't because I felt like a victim. I think one of the worst things about racism...is that you feel like a victim."
Thandie says that there was plenty of preparation for this scene. "I'd read the script and I just assumed [the assault] was just a suggestion, nothing more than that," she says. "I was so in denial about the horror of this. And when we had the discussion and I realized that this actually was going to go so much further—the horror of that just completely took my breath away."
Matt agrees that this was a particularly difficult scene to film and for him to watch. "In fact, at the premiere I kind of had to duck out during that," he says.
"That's what I liked about the script, and I thought it was pretty consistent throughout the script, not just with my character," Matt says. "With my character—who is this really hideous guy in the beginning—that it then explores the more personal nature of the guy's life. And you get a sense of where this bitterness and this hatred comes from. Not that it makes his behavior excusable, but ... it went a little deeper. To me it was a very accurate portrayal of certain segments, indisputably, of the LAPD. ... He's the guy who's scapegoating; he's living an unexamined existence. He's unable to recognize his own faults and his own bad thinking."
When he wrote the screenplay for Crash, Paul says he thought he would never get Hollywood to accept this difficult and frank exploration of race and racism. And, if it somehow managed to get made, he thought it would be largely ignored.
Now that it's been made and so positively received, what is Paul's reaction to the level of response?
"Shocked, stunned," he says. "When we were sitting in my living room and Don [Cheadle] said, 'I thought we'd be lucky to get it made. And then a few people would see it and get a little attention, maybe, and that would be it.' But, not like this. It's crazy!"
"The jumping off point was in 1991. Two guys came up and put guns in our faces—myself and my then-wife—and said, 'We'll take the car.' And I said, 'Absolutely.' And gave it to them and they took off. Now, writers, we don't respond to instincts like human beings do. I couldn't stop thinking about these two kids over the years. So I responded with curiosity, and once a year I'd think about these two kids: Had they been best friends since they were young? Or did they just meet that evening? Did they think of themselves as criminals?
"So I was really curious about them and then 10 years later, after 9/11, I woke up at 2 in the morning thinking about them. And I got really angry. I didn't know why I was thinking about them and didn't want to think about them. But I started writing about them ... and from there I was always curious about how we affect strangers. [For instance,] we're driving down the street and you cut me off and I yell at you and you flip me the finger and I go right and you go left. What happens to you? I never see you again. So do you go home and you get in a fight with your husband or something because of what happened? Or do you stop and save someone's life and I never know about it. ... That intrigued me. I said, 'I'm going to keep following these characters as they careen into each other's lives.'"