Crash is a film that looks at the separate lives of a seemingly unrelated group of multi-ethnic people living in LA. The film studies racial tension and tolerance in post-9/11 America and the eventual intersections of the characters' struggles over 36 hours. Crash comes to theaters on May 6th and features an all-star cast, including Matt Dillon, Sandra Bullock, Don Cheadle, Brendan Fraser, Thandie Newton and Ryan Phillippe.
So how was it working with the L.A.P.D. to train for this film?
MATT: I'm just surprised that they were as cooperative as they were. I got arrested when I was 14 years old in L.A. for jaywalking. They have very severe police tactics. I literally was crossing the street, but not at the light and they started questioning me. It was very abusive, not in the physical sense though. Ever since then, I've been prejudiced against them. I don't see the police and say, "Oh great! I feel safe!" When I read the script, I thought it was pretty accurate because of my own experiences, Rodney King, Mark Furman ... I was surprised that they were so cooperative when we were working with them.
PAUL: We had great cooperation from the L.A. cops because there are a lot of great L.A. cops.
Can you give me some details about your carjacking? Did they ever catch the guys?
P: In 1991, my wife and I stopped at the Blockbuster video store on Wilshire Boulevard. We picked up some weird Norwegian film, because we'd already seen everything else in the store. When we got into the car, these guys came up to us and said, "We have to take the car." I gave him the keys, and we got out of the car. This guy tells me to stop, and puts a gun to my back. Then the guy grabs the videotape out of my hand and runs back to the car and takes off.
The cops come, and we give them a description of the guys. I told the cops, I think I know what happened here. These kids come to the video store often looking for this video and it's never in. So, they saw me coming out with it, and it was too much for them to handle. So, they grabbed the video and then stole the car to make a getaway. But, over the next ten years, I kept thinking about these guys. Did they grow up? What did they do after this? These thoughts stayed in my mind for ten years, until one day, I woke up and got the idea to write about them.
So you're happy about being carjacked?
P: Yeah, those guys did me a huge favor. There would be no movie without them.
Why is this film released so late?
P: We had no distributor. It was funded by the actors. We needed a lot of time for long-lead press, something I knew nothing about. When you have a low budget, independent film, you can't take out a full page ad in the NY Times, LA Times and The Inquirer. You have to rely on word of mouth so it takes longer.
It was really uncomfortable to watch the film because of so much raw emotion.
P: Thank you!
M: I know I'm doing a job. I don't have some kind of mental condition or some psycho condition where I morph into the character that I'm playing. I know the difference between the two, and yet there's something a little uncomfortable about doing a scene like that. Roughing up a woman, throwing her up against a car.
The high racial tensions made everyone in the audience pretty uncomfortable. Were you worried about perpetuating racial stereotypes?
P: Racial stereotypes don't need perpetuating. They live in all of us. They're not necessarily racial. We wanted to give you a roller coaster ride where you never know what these characters are going to do. These characters are individuals. You can't judge anybody for good or for ill just by looking at them.
It was hard writing it because we didn't know if we could have characters saying these horrible things. We had [actor Don] Cheadle say some nasty things about Hispanics. These things do not necessarily define us. Until we are tested, we don't know who we are.
M: When I played the scene, I obviously got into the dialogue. And when [my character] starts to complain about how his father got hurt, I see [him] as just a self-centered guy throwing blame around. It's important for the audience to see that this is how this guy justifies things. Life is unfair. Tough shit, that's the way it goes. And at the same time I think we can empathize with the guy because he's there for his father and that's a very important thing. I mean, at the end of the day, we can all find things to complain about life and society. [But] is that how we want to be remembered?
P: In my book, there's no such thing as a pure victim or a pure hero. All our heroes are tainted and all our victims at one time or another have done something to someone else.
Can you share one final thought?
M: I think if there's a message, it's that people will encourage other people to examine the lives of others rather than throwing blame and saying, "The blacks are this way, the Chinese are this way, I can't stand Arabs." A lot of people harbor those feelings. The only thing preventing them from blurting it out is [that] they want to be politically correct. People are living such self-centered existences and they don't really take a look around.
I think that's the most important thing as an actor or a filmmaker. That's a number one responsibility, to do something that grabs the audience and is interesting and entertaining.
P: [Hold] them by the balls and squeeze them is what we're trying to do.