Fifteen-year-old Abraham Attah is making his feature-film debut this Friday in Cary Fukunaga’s new movie for Netflix, “Beasts of No Nation.” And there are no plans to watch it with his parents.
“Sometimes it’s too tough for me to watch,” he said in an interview at the Wall Street Journal office in New York. “They’ll see it but I don’t want to be there.”
It’s easy to understand why. In the movie, Attah plays Agu, an African boy who is recruited as a child soldier for a gang of rebels led by a charismatic and gruff leader called Commandant (Idris Elba). The choice for Agu is simple: Become a soldier and live, or be killed by his captors. Moments later, Agu is seen donning a rifle and helping the gang pillage villages in gruesome fashion.
“Beasts of No Nation” is the first feature film for Netflix and on the day it premieres on the streaming service, the movie will also play in theaters in limited release. Fukunaga shot it for a little over $6 million.
Attah’s performance is attracting early buzz, after he won the Marcello Mastroianni Award for Best Young Actor at the Venice Film Festival. It was quite a coup for a kid who never wanted to be an actor in the first place.
Various stories have reported that Attah was discovered in his home country of Ghana as a street vendor, but he and his friends were actually asked to audition for the part when a casting director spotted them playing soccer at school. He won the role over about 1,000 other auditioning kids.
To play Agu, Attah says he tried to remain in character as much as possible during the 35-day shoot, even when the cameras weren’t rolling. He was afraid of snakes when shooting in the Ghana jungles. A sub commander from the Civil Defence Forces, who fought in the Sierra Leone Civil War, was on set to teach him military tactics and culture. He received safety and weapons training from armorers and stunt men.
In person, Attah is nothing like the children and teens depicted in the film. His mother is a trader and his father works at a harbor in Ghana. He is shy, with a wiry frame, and he loves his new Samsung smartphone – his go-to mobile games are Subway Surfer and Temple Run.
He has never watched the Oscars and, when asked whether or not buzz is building in Ghana about him, he says, “[People] are talking but only my friends on Facebook,” he says. “They’re telling me I’m famous in my country.
After “Beasts of No Nation” comes out, Attah hopes to continue acting while finishing up school in Ghana. But he’s still getting used to seeing himself on screen.
“I don’t like watching myself,” he says. “[But] I was happy to shoot a movie.”