David Gyasi has a face you probably recognize from film. The London native is best known for his roles in Interstellar, Cloud Atlas and The Dark Knight Rises, but he jumped at the chance to tackle TV in order to be involved with Containment, a new series from the CW that follows an Atlanta cop after a mysterious and deadly epidemic breaks out in the city.
Here, Gyasi explains his extensive and inspiring research process, his transition from film to TV and what’s in store for viewers during Containment’s first season.
How did you originally get involved with the show?
I was flying to America to meet about two other projects, and my manager sent me this script. I read it on the plane and I just fell in love with it. I thought this was amazing. But even deeper than that, I had read an article two weeks previous on Ebola. If something like that is picking up in a country that is not our own or even in a world that we see as separate to ours, like the third world, we kind of just go about our daily business until that’s a real threat to us. And that is exactly how it felt like with Ebola. We heard this through the news and we carried on with our work, going to school and our day-to-day chores. And then all of a sudden, we had one or two victims or threats of victims in our vicinity and then we started reacting to it. I read this piece and felt this is an amazingly ambitious project to attempt and take this situation that is usually associated with others or them or those over there and bring it and place it in the heart of where we live.
What initially appealed to you about the character of Lex in particular?
I was at a stage in my career where I felt like I had done a lot of good co-leads or ensemble parts. I was really looking for that challenge in my career to take something where I am at the forefront, where you get to see the story through my character’s eyes. I wanted to know, on a career level, what the pressure is like. What it feels like to be involved in the conversations with the producers about the shape of the show and where it’s going and what it looks like. I just thought that was something that I wanted to dive into and know what it feels like to hold that much responsibility.
What sort of research did you do to prepare for this role?
I was quite fascinated with the Ebola coverage. Then, I was quite fascinated with what was happening at the time and still is now in terms of the relationship between the police in America and the public. Specifically that relationship between the police and the African American community. Because it felt like living in this country every other week there was something in the papers or social media. So, I was quite fascinated in what it would feel like to be a black policeman in the middle of that. I purposely sought an African American policeman. I really wanted someone in the Atlanta PD. So, I spoke to him for quite some time actually and just asked him what that was like. And he had an amazing story that I used. I actually came away from that conversation and thought that is how I am going to play Lex. He developed a program of amnesty where the local members of the community can come forward and give information to the police. And then of course, I don’t speak like this in the program so I spent a lot of time working on my dialect with my dialect coach as well.
After hearing about the lives of the men in blue in Atlanta and playing a police officer on TV, how did that change your perception of real police officers?
The police officers I’ve met have to make tough calls every single day. There is definitely a respect for the job that they do and for the person that would choose to put themselves on the line like that in some of the toughest environments out there. It’s tough. I certainly don’t have the answers. But I can completely respect the tough decisions that have to be made. I also think that it’s not a job that should be entered into lightly and when those calls have to be made they have to be made right. Otherwise, the destruction of society happens because people lose faith, trust and hope in the systems that we put out there. It’s difficult.
What kind of challenges did you face adjusting from the big screen to TV?
The switch from film to TV is a big one. It’s a lot quicker in TV, but that can be a blessing as well. It is incredibly quick and I think that the major difference I found is with a film script or theater you get that story and you can map out the journey of your character. Of course, there’s flexibility within that because you have other minds and wonderful creative coming in from the directions of your fellow actors. The main bulk of your journey is mapped out before. With TV, I purposely was looking at it week to week and really sort of taking the information fresh and seeing what comes instinctively.
So, you shot in Atlanta. What did you enjoy the most about your time there?
The food is delightful out there. I had my little coffee shops and my walks in the park. My favorite actually was a fish restaurant. It was behind where I lived. That was my personal favorite because it was such good find. I could just go on any evening and sit and be on my own. Read the script and have a ponder and have some good food and just walk home. It was lovely.
What can viewers expect this season?
Expect to be pulled in every emotional direction you can imagine. And don’t be fooled by anything else. It’s an emotional rollercoaster.
Main photo by Austin Hargrave