During a talk Thursday at the Tribeca Film Festival between producer James Schamus and director Cary Fukunaga (“True Detective”), the 37-year-old filmmaker gave some insight on his next film, “Beasts of No Nation,” which will be released simultaneously on Netflix and in theaters later this year.
Specifically, how Fukunaga found his teenage lead actor for the film on the streets of Ghana.
“The lead in ‘Beasts of No Nation’ was essentially a street vendor before we shot the film,” Fukunaga told Schamus and the audience. “[He had] zero film experience, little education…but he became a somewhat professional actor, which was astounding to watch.”
Fukunaga says his unlikely star’s name is Abraham Attah, and he is a 14-year-old who plays an 11-year-old child soldier in the film. Abraham’s character joins a militant group from an unnamed West African country that is led by a brutal warlord, played by Idris Elba (“Luther”).
But Abraham initially had to fight for the role. According to Fukunaga, it was an interesting casting process:
“We gathered a bunch of kids who had potential, about 30 of them, and we did this theater workshop and tried scenes that were in the script, and we would improvise. See if these kids could play a variety of emotions and actions that take place in the story. And the kids are fast learners, they quickly understood that the better they did the longer they stayed [in the running for the role].”
Fukunaga touched on the amazing progression of Abraham as an actor when speaking about the most difficult scene during filming:
“We had a difficult one long take that he had to perform; probably the most intense thing I ever asked him to do in the film. He had six or seven kids around him performing [in the scene], and I watched him become a leader among these kids and make sure they stayed in focus and not f— up the shot so they didn’t have to do it over again. I gave almost no direction to those kids. Abraham was driving that scene.”
This is not Fukunaga’s first time working with non-actors. In his debut feature, “Sin Nombre,” which looks at Central American gang culture, he also cast non-actors in the lead roles.
Schamus asked the director what his relationship is like with these kids once filming ends, and Fukunaga says it’s a fine line:
“There’s a reality that these kids will probably not have a career as an actor, so this experience is a one-time experience. For Abraham, he’s only 14 so we had to get him up to speed in school, so right now we put him into boarding school back in Ghana so he can get up to normal 14 year old academics. By nature of us crossing into these people’s lives you have some responsibility there to make their lives better, but at the same time you’re not adopting a child, by any means.”
“Beasts of No Nation” previosuly sparked controversy over its release plan.
Netflix announced in March that along with streaming the film, it will also release it in theaters in order for it to have an Oscar qualifying run. However, many of the major theater chains have stated that it will not screen the film because it is not adhering to the traditional 90-day delay between theatrical debut and streaming release.