Bright Interview

Might, Magic and Machine Guns: Actress Lucy Fry on Working with Will Smith and Joel Edgerton on 'Bright' and Her Affinity for Non-Human Characters

December 20, 2017Ben MK

What if you took the world of J.R.R. Tolkien and transplanted it into the narrative of a gritty cop drama? That's the basic premise behind the Netflix original film Bright, a fantastical yet grounded action-thriller set millennia after the nine armies united to fight and defeat the Dark Lord.

Now, in modern day Los Angeles, Orcs, Elves, Fairies and humans share the city. However, it's a coexistence that's anything but harmonious, with Orcs being treated with prejudice and shunned as outcasts for their decision to aid and abet the Dark Lord, while Elves live largely in the lap of luxury at the other end of society's spectrum, and can often be found in positions of power. Then there are the Fairies, who are considered to be more like pests than anything else — feral little creatures to be exterminated like rats and cockroaches.

Caught in the middle of all this are human LAPD officer Daryl Ward (Will Smith) and his partner, Nick Jakoby (Joel Edgerton), who also happens to be an Orc — and the only one of his kind on the force. But on his first day back on the job after a near-fatal encounter with a shotgun-toting Orc, Daryl finds himself dealing with much more than he's prepared for, when he and Nick become the unwitting protectors of an Elf named Tikka (Lucy Fry) and a magic wand, putting them at odds with their fellow cops, the Orc community, the local gangbangers and a group of Elves calling themselves the Inferni — led by the ruthless Leilah (Noomi Rapace) — who are hellbent on bringing about a new age of dark magic.

Bright also stars Edgar Ramirez, Jay Hernandez and Ike Barinholtz, but I recently caught up with Fry, a rising star from Australia, for a roundtable interview to talk about her character, what it was like working on the movie, and why she loves playing non-human characters. The following is an edited version of that conversation.

You've played a vampire before, and now you've played an Elf. What is it about playing these non-human characters and making them relatable that draws you to these kinds of roles?

Fry: I guess I love bringing magic into a story, you know? I think there's something about the escapism of watching mythical creatures. I actually played an alien, a mermaid, a vampire and an Elf. [laughs] And I just love it because it's so fun. Sometimes you can tell stories [about] something that's too confronting for people to find fun if it was just humans, but because it's Orcs and Elves and humans, then people can watch something and find it really fun and exciting. It's like you can experience the world and feel removed from it, but then afterwards you get left with these lessons. Then you're like, "Oh, maybe I'll process that into the way that I see things."

Max Landis is known for subverting audiences' expectations when it comes to movie genres. How did you take your character, which has this fantastical element to her, and ground her in this gritty world that he created?

Fry: I love the spirituality and the mysticism of Elves, and I love The Lord of the Rings, and so, in the first audition, I went in that direction a little bit, like the ethereal quality of Tikka. But then David [Ayer], he's all about the real world — reality, gritty, raw, violent. Like going into the heart of darkness and then finding the light there. And that was such an exciting journey cuz then, as we developed Tikka together I realized she's a little fighter. She's not floating on some cloud, she's in the trenches. She's run away from a cult that worships the Dark Lord and she's come to this safe house where she's learning to fight the Dark Elves with her magic.

And yeah, so she's kind of having a bit of a crisis of identity and, I guess, a breakdown when she meets Ward and Jakoby, and she's got a wand. And then [the movie] goes into this chase to keep the wand safe from the Dark Elves, from the corrupt cops, from the Orc gang and the human gang. And David would always make it feel personal for you. Like before we started filming, he sat down with all of us and we all had to talk about the worst things that have happened to us in our lives and all of our big secrets, so that he can help us use that in our work to make everything that we're fighting for feel personal and real.

So, in the end, a lot of that spirituality and the prayers and the mysticism of the Elves came into Tikka cuz she has a huge heart and she's fighting for equality, and to believe in a good world, and to believe that she can be good. But it all came [from] a very grounded place of fighting for that for myself, personally or fighting for my family. David always makes it come back to something that you can believe is true.

Being that he is known for very visceral and masculine films, were you intimidated by David Ayer when you first came onto the movie? Did you have any preconceived notions about what you were getting into, and if so, did your views change once you started working on the film?

Fry: I didn't see David like that at all, but I know that he wanted to play a certain role on-set. Cuz he was in the military, so it's a very strict set and everyone's super focused and really driven. And that's why he's such a great leader cuz he knows how to lead people into battle and into something where you're all working together to create an artwork. I loved the way he worked so much, and when he would be really pushing me or driving me to an edge that only a director can lead you to there would always be a little sparkle in his eye, that I knew he's doing it for my sake. He's doing it to make me stronger and to create a great performance and to help me to transform.

He really brought me through the fire in a way that I wanted to go. Like when I went to the final audition, I was so ready for this role that I just gave that everything I could, and then I got the part and I was just ready to do this role and to transform, and so he helped me face a lot of my darkest things. Before we started filming, his friend, Jamie Fitzsimmons, who does police interrogations, sat down with all of us and found out all of our fears, all of our worries, how we worked. He figured out our psychology and told David, so David could use it to help us get through.

At first, I was really scared cuz I was like, "He's gonna know all these things about me," but it was the best challenge cuz he took me to the darkest parts of myself. And I had to look at it and see it and stand it, and from there I was like, "Ok, now I can grow, now I can change." And that's one of the themes of the movie, is to look at the dark parts of the world, of like the United States of America at the moment, and be like, "Ok, this is what's happening." To be able to see it and stand it and then, from there, you can create change.

What was it like learning to speak Elvish for the movie? It must be quite a challenge as well. Is that the type of thing you relish as an actor?

Fry: Yeah, I love that sort of challenge, like getting to learn a different language and speak in a different language, even though it's completely made up. Because you have to really think about your intention, what are you saying with these words. So you can never just rely on the text. You can't get lazy about it, you have to really just go for it with what you're saying. And I loved that, because it's a real challenge as an actor and it's so fun to get to do something that's a bit different.

How about your fellow cast members and your director? What did you like best about working with each them?

Fry: Oh my God, it was a life-changing experience working with all of them; they're all so talented. Like Will, when he walks into a room, he just makes everyone feel good and he lifts everyone up. There was one night we were shooting really late, and it was cold; it was leading up to Christmas, and he starts singing Christmas carols to make everyone feel good — like all night, just singing Christmas carols. I was like, "Oh my God, Will Smith's singing us Christmas carols!" [laughs] And he can go from that into an extraordinary scene.

And then Joel as well, the way that he had the prosthetics on every day — 3 kilos on his head — and he could still be completely realistic [and] funny. His character's so earnest, and you just believe everything that he's saying. And the two of them together, they had the best relationship. And Joel is so good at making me feel less... alien. [laughs] Cuz he's Australian as well, he'd be like, "Oh, you speak my language," and say all these Aussie things.

I kept having impostor syndrome, like they're going to kick me off the set soon, like, "Why am I here?" [laughs] But at the dinner before we started filming, David gave a speech, and he said, "You know, if you're wondering why you're here, it's because of who you are." And then throughout filming, he really pushed me. Like, he knew that I could step up to the challenge, and so he really pushed me through the experience of being Tikka and made it real for me, and kept me separate from the cast cuz he wanted me to be nervous around them the way that Tikka is.

And so that as I got to know them, it was like being on Tikka's journey of learning to trust and opening up and becoming a team with them, the way that it was for me. And he also would help me use personal things to fuel a scene — to fight for something that I really won in my life — and to do that as the character. Which was really cool cuz my acting coach, Ivana Chubbuck, she taught David how to work with actors, so they used a similar method. And I loved it, it was like an actor's dream.

And also, David was so extraordinary, because he wasn't just about telling you what to do on the day, he was about really building the character together and telling me to climb a mountain the day before my first scene and say my Elvish prayer 10 times at the top of the mountain, so that I had a visceral experience of what that was like in this extraordinary place and I could bring that feeling of connection to space and the earth into the scene. And also making me learn to do karate and learn to fight, so that I could stand up for myself in the scenes.

And, you know, I started drawing during makeup because my makeup artist, Alessandro, is an incredible artist. He actually won an Oscar for Suicide Squad cuz he's so talented, and he was teaching me to draw. So as I got better at drawing, I started drawing things from Tikka's perspective, and then every day I would put them on Tikka's wall where she has her little bunker in this house. And then David would take a picture, and I noticed he was putting elements of my drawings into the scenes in certain ways.

It was really cool, like everything became super interconnected. He would listen to the music that we were listening to to know where we were psychologically. And he was so good at playing me and Noomi off, to build the tension. He said we weren't allowed to speak to each other for the whole first part of the film, and then the final week, we were finally doing these scenes together and we were allowed to speak. And we were both so deep in our characters by this point, we were both having nightmares and dreams as our characters, and just completed immersed in the world that David had created. And it kind of erupted in this tension between each other.

I loved acting with her; she was so fierce and loving and beautiful. And even before we started filming, I did this drawing to get into Tikka's mindset of this spirituality that she had — I drew a tree with bones and a dragon around it — and then David [created] a very similar image [from] that. He created it [for] the Orc in the Orc church; he made a big mural that was similar to what I had drawn. He really worked with everyone to build the depth of the world, and it was so great cuz I felt really respected as an artist, and I felt challenged as an artist.

And with Noomi as well, acting with her I felt so inspired cuz I was such a huge fan of hers from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. And just getting to be with her, she's so present. With all of them, it was like, "Oh, this is what you can do. This is the peak of what it's like to be an actor, and to be an artist, and to tell an important story and an entertaining story." Yeah, it was like all of my dreams came true in this role.

Speaking of your castmates, Will and Joel have great Bad Boys type of chemistry. And your role is like Téa Leoni's in that movie — you're vulnerable but tough. It's reminiscent of The Fifth Element as well. Did you draw from any of those movies?

Fry: Yeah, The Fifth Element, it's a really good reference. It's interesting, the same actress, Mila Jovovich, she played Joan of Arc as well. And actually, earlier that year, I had done a workshop in Australia with an acting coach named Elizabeth Kemp, which is about using your dreams to fuel your acting, and to get in touch with an archetype that you want to use in your work. And so I did Joan of Arc, and it turned out that Tikka, her journey was kind of similar because she's choosing to fight for something good and for a better world, and she's being a real warrior about it.

But she's also got this spirituality and connectedness to something bigger than her, that she's believing in a world that could be better. So, yeah, I watched her Joan of Arc as well, which I really liked, and I used the dream workshop that I had done with that archetype as well. And there were also a few similarities to Minority Report, with the precogs in that, as well as a little, tiny touch of The Lord of the Rings, though Tikka's probably more similar to Gollum than any of the Elves. [laughs]

Are there any other actors or directors that you'd like to work with?

Fry: Yeah, I'd love to work with Guillermo del Toro, who would be such a dream to work with. I saw him doing an interview at the Director's Guild about The Shape of Water, and the way he talks about actors, as in how much respect he has for actors, it's so beautiful. And David was like that too; he has so much respect for actors. I'd love to work with David again cuz he's so brilliant. And I'd love to work with Cate Blanchett. That would be such a dream, to learn from her, the way she works. I would just love to watch her and see what she does.

Bright begins streaming December 22nd on Netflix.

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