CS Interview: Omari Hardwick on Horror-Thriller Spell
Just in time for the film’s debut on digital platforms, ComignSoon.net got the opportunity to chat with star Omari Hardwick (Power, Sorry to Bother You) to discuss his work in Mark Tonderai’s horror-thriller Spell and his first real exploration of the chilling hoodoo genre.
ComingSoon.net: So we haven’t really seen you explore the horror genre too often. What was it about Spell that really interested you in wanting to be a part of it?
Omari Hardwick: I guess first and foremost that fact stated by you, that we haven’t seen me in this light. You know, my acting coach once said, “If it walks and talks like a duck, it better be a duck,” and I always added to it, “If it quacks.” I think what I always added to it, which sort of framed how I looked at my career from that point on, it doesn’t necessarily mean that every character has to be the same thing. You could still quack the same, you could still see bits of Omari in that. I could still do my job in the act of making the antagonist somewhat of a protagonist and making it actually maybe like a bad guy and equally making the protagonist somebody that’s complex and not just someone we digest, you know, in a boring way of like, ‘Okay, here’s the bad guy, here’s the good guy.’ In this story, when you go to this level of genre, and when I say level I mean because it’s that of extremity, with these other genres that you don’t have to bring your lunch pail or your toolbox to do the job as much. But for this, and not necessarily if it’s just horror, but the fact that it was a psychological thriller, that was right for me. I definitely could’ve done a Scream or whatever those movies are and whatever that’s horror. But I always really liked what Anthony Hopkins was able to pull off as Hannibal Lecter. I always liked the response and the reaction in that being Jodie Foster and how she felt with that, whomever was the antagonist or protagonist, they both did a great job of playing the chessboard the way that they played it and I wanted to be a part of that. Not the horror as much as the psychological component involved and it did do a lot for me. They allowed me to be a part of the opinions for that, which I thought was needed, and that is, ‘Omari, who do you think should be your counterpart?’ Picking Eloise obviously, we picked Loretta Devine, who happened to be a friend, but I just don’t think anybody could’ve done what she did, partly because we hadn’t seen her in the same light. We both were virgins to that genre, if you think about it, at the same time. It wasn’t like I got down with someone who had been in it already. They brought up Octavia, but of course, Octavia had already done that, and brilliantly done it in Ma. So to have Loretta who came out with me on the first time I had done something that was equally the first time she had done it was something that excited me.”
CS: So then, what was it like sort of getting to the heart of your character from both a psychological standpoint as well as just from a personality standpoint?
OH: Real grueling, man. Real, real grueling in a different way. And I had said it. You know, I understand the complexities of [UNINTEL 03:54] and I understand that, which I didn’t understand the complexity of [UNINTEL]. And I never think that — I never want to know the character and fulfillment until they say series wrapped, if it’s a TV show or picture wrap if it’s a film. I just think it does a disservice to the craft of what I signed up for and to the character and to the story and the writers. You know, I think it does a disservice to be like, oh, I’ve got [UNINTEL 4:17], cool. It’ll be four weeks, got it. We’ve got two more months to go on this route. Like for me it’s like, hmm, these characters are ever-evolving and in this space, you know, call it the small screen or the big, that the fans of course sign up hopefully to view you in. It’s too pretentious to think that you could have a character down no matter how good you are until it’s over, and maybe not even then, because you’re still figuring it out, whether that be five years or more for a project. So it was grueling in the nature that I knew complex characters prior, but in looking at this guy, it felt like he was the most complex, James, Ghost and Jamie included, was the three-headed monster I played for six and a half years and now I’m going into this. I thought this was more complex. You had to dive even more into who he was versus what he thought he was, you know? And then, all of a sudden, as Eloise is getting to know who you are, usually that doesn’t come with a physical partnership, but she physically punished me while I’m in the corner trying to learn who I am. There are two levels of being punished at the same time that are crazy. I think that’s the thing that made it just the most grueling. I needed some time off and definitely my family came with me to South Africa, so I tried to shake it as much as I could by night to be able to lay down and roll into bed, but that didn’t always work. So you know, but they get it, seven and five years old, they get it by now, maybe not as much, but you know, his mom and his sister can help him understand, Papa’s in a place for a little bit.”
CS: Since you talked a little bit about Loretta, what was it like building that sort of antagonistic rapport with each other, especially since you said coming into it you two were already kind of friends?
OH: When you think about it, I think, shoutout to the essential workers and everybody in the last nine to 10 months or however long essential workers have been called essential workers. It seems like this moment in time — that’s the only time we called them that, but I absolutely always thought of them as that. But for those people, if you think about paramedics all the way to the firefighters, and cops included, you know, back over to nurses and doctors, I mean, they have to laugh a lot because they see so much horror. They really do. They have their own genre of film called horror which is equally — I think there’s a lot of laughter that we don’t get to know that that world carries, it comes with a lot of laughter so that they can deal with the insanity of what their job comes with. I think Loretta and I played those same characters, and both has similar levels of insanity, her character that is, Eloise. Then of course, Marquis T. Woods comes in not as insane or so you think, thinks of his father as one way, looks at Eloise as one way and then all of a sudden finds out that he’s absolutely going insane, which I kept driving into the director as much as he allowed me to help him direct me and directed me, you know? So I was like, “I’ve got to go insane, right?” And he’d be like, “You’ve got to find that.” So, I think the fact that there was an actual rapport prior that we were friends, it makes it a lot easier because when trust is there, you can kind of go anywhere, and maybe you’re not a novice to it. She’s obviously an icon and a legend, but I’m almost 20 years deep. So me being 20 years deep and she being the legend she is, we both trusted each other. Having come from stage, the improv, we have it, we were able to improv at times, even if the script supervisor wanted us to dial it back a bit, by doing the improv mixed with the laughter, you find the balance.”
CS: So then what would you say was one of your favorite moments that you got to improv with her?
OH: So it’s when she — not to give too much away, but it’s when she was bringing me food and I’m not giving anything away, and you can’t tell. Does the protagonist know that the antagonist, obviously Marquis being the protagonist, does he know at this point that this woman is really trying to bring him down? He’s wondering, and it’s at that point that of course she’s almost coming off more motherly than ever and there’s a moment where, maybe they didn’t keep it, but she brings the food and then she leaves. She knows. I put the bones on the bed and then of course you know what happens after I put the bones and do the mathematics on what that means. You know, I vomit. And then, she comes right back in, and it was dope. Mark Tonderai, the film’s director had her come right back in, so I don’t have a lot of time, which they do show in the film, you see my face going from insanity and confusion and bewilderment and fear and then like, I’m just befuddled. All of a sudden, she comes back in and I’ve got to kind of got to play it off and smile. What she did was brilliant after that. I’m like, you know, playing it off, and then she just walks out and starts singing. And the camera caught her during this most mischievous laugh and smile as she walks out and she like, sings. Then, there was a moment for me when I went under the bed like an eight year old and under the thing, I don’t even know why my character would’ve done it. It was that they both really, really had that eight year old thing, all actors hear it. That’s our job, but you don’t always — I mean, we don’t get the opportunity to get a character that we’ve been there to play, and in this moment, I’m thinking that this guy was just trying to figure out who he was and he ran away from who he was. Marquis really paid attention to himself and his family, his wife and that being played by Lorraine Burroughs. She asked, you know, “What was this like? What was that like?” and he tried to focus it all. So in that place, in that 12-hour time period — and then we figured it out. So my improv of going under the bed and like, pulling the sheets from the end of the bed over my eyes like an eight year old, like the boogieman was under the bed, but yet I went to join the boogieman under the bed. I don’t remember if that made it in, but that was all improv and the camera operators went with me and they went where I went.
CS: So it also feels like it’s been a while since we’ve really seen a very good hoodoo film like this that expands so much on the culture. Did you find that you had to do your own research into the culture? Or were you sort of already familiar with it?
OH: I was familiar, yeah, but I’m fortunate to be able to say that I didn’t have to do further research, again, just that which I knew, I had family who grew up in, family, foundational lineage is there. And then I was raised in Atlanta, Georgia. But Savannah’s a little stranger, not necessarily to that, but they’re so close to parts of South Carolina and obviously parts of New Orleans, Louisiana, parts of it are five-to-six hour drive from me growing up. So, I had many a friend who was Creole and many are international friends who are Haitian and African or of the African diaspora. So I was absolutely no stranger to what it was and understanding that it’s a hodge-podge, an amalgamation of sorts, with that of Christianity, which makes it really kind of interesting that there’s a lot of what I said hoodoo meets voodoo meets Christianity. I felt fortunate that I speak about in not having to do much further research in that way, the fact that Mark Tonderai just did a brilliant job of giving us all a bible, all the actors. You know, my kids included, the characters who played myself and Lorraine’s kids, who were both new to acting, both of them. One from South Africa and one’s from London, or from the UK, like Lorraine is, and then, of course, Loretta and myself given the same bible. He might’ve given it to camera operators, you know, obviously the script supervisor. So he just passed that bible out and he had broken down all that he knew about hoodoo, all that he learned further, all he knew about voodoo, all he learned further, the connection. He spoke about Loretta’s actual age versus what the world knows her to be when you watch the film, and all of the people in the environment, the culture, the community, what that would’ve meant. You know, it was just crazy. The bible was unreal. It’s fortunate because when you get a director, man, who can really do his homework or decides to do his level of homework to that level or that degree, it’s just so great because you’re walking into a very uncomfortable setting, you know, set literally and physically in the sense that, like you said, it was something that no one’s seen myself do nor Loretta Devine. Then these characters are so extreme and very taxing, to have that bible right there, that was a beautiful thing.
While flying to his father’s funeral in rural Appalachia, an intense storm causes Marquis (Omari Hardwick) to lose control of the plane carrying him and his family. He awakens wounded, alone and trapped in Ms. Eloise’s (Loretta Devine) attic, who claims she can nurse him back to health with the Boogity, a Hoodoo figure she has made from his blood and skin. Unable to call for help, Marquis desperately tries to outwit and break free from her dark magic and save his family from a sinister ritual before the rise of the blood moon.
Alongside the Power alum and This Christmas star, the cast for the film includes John Beasley (The Sum of All Fears, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks).
The film is written Kurt Wimmer (Children of the Corn, Law Abiding Citizen) and directed by Mike Tonderai (House at the End of the Street, Locke & Key) and is produced by Morris Chestnut (The Resident, The Enemy Within), Gordon Gray (Most Dangerous Game, The Way Back), Janine van Assen (Tomb Raider, Serenity), Brian Wilkins (Darrow & Darrow, Lost in America) and Wimmer.
Spell is now available on video-on-demand and digital platforms from Paramount Home Entertainment, just in time for Halloween!