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Q&A: Actors Carmen Ejogo and Michael K. Williams on Surviving “THE PURGE: ANARCHY”

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Writer/director James DeMonaco’s sequel THE PURGE: ANARCHY (just out on Blu-ray and DVD from Universal) expands the scope of the housebound original to explore how the violent annual ritual affects a wider range of people. Two of the key participants are played by Carmen Ejogo and Michael K. Williams, who sat down with FANGORIA to discuss their characters.

Ejogo, whose numerous film and TV credits include the recent series ZERO HOUR, plays Eva, whom the actress describes as “representing the working poor in the film” and tries to protect her daughter Cali (Zoë Soul) on the night when all crime, including murder, is legal. Williams, who appeared in this year’s ROBOCOP among many others and is perhaps most recognizable as Chalky White on HBO’s BOARDWALK EMPIRE, is anti-Purge resistance fighter Carmelo Johns.

FANGORIA: What was it about each of your characters that attracted you to the film?

CARMEN EJOGO: I hadn’t had a role like this before, and the journey Eva goes on and the arc she undergoes meant that as an actor, I had a lot to play with.

MICHAEL K. WILLIAMS: What attracted me to Carmelo was his voice and what he represents. He’s like a cross between Malcolm X and Huey Newton from the Black Panthers; he speaks to the people, he’s for the people and he’s speaking against the machine, and against what the Purge says they’re about. He kind of rips that to shreds, and there’s an honesty to him that really resonated with me.

FANG: According to DeMonaco, THE PURGE: ANARCHY was a really down-and-dirty shoot on the streets of LA; can you talk a bit about that experience?

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EJOGO: Yeah, it was very guerrilla-style; it felt like we were down in the trenches. I had never seen the streets of LA so barren; we were in close proximity to Tent City and areas where it felt like there were people who could potentially go through this sort of experience, because they’re the forgotten people in some ways. It was also bizarre and surreal at times, because there would be nightclubs letting out and a woman would be on a rooftop with a machine gun, and the people’s reactions would be priceless. The boundaries weren’t really defined a lot of the time, but that kind of made it fun, because it felt very edgy being down there.

FANG: Were you familiar with the first film, and if so, what were your reactions to it, the idea of a night when all crime is legal and the political ramifications of that?

WILLIAMS: It resonated really deeply with me. You know, it’s not farfetched from the possibility of a reality today, in some senses. The original was amazing, and it left space for part two, in which we see that the poor people are the ones being purged, and Carmelo speaks to that.

EJOGO: I hadn’t seen the original when I got the script for ANARCHY, but it was very palpable how important it was to James for the sociopolitical aspect of the storyline to be heard. As much as it was clear that there would be a lot of action and crazy Hollywood moments, it was clear the themes at its core were important. Then I did watch the first one, and saw that he understood how to manifest that while knowing as a filmmaker how to keep that storyline intact. So I felt secure, being in this kind of genre film for the first time, that what I was most excited about—the sociopolitics of it all—would resonate and come through.

FANG: Michael, when you were doing all of Carmelo’s speeches, were you allowed to improvise and put any of your own words in there, or did you stick to what was written?

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WILLIAMS: There was absolutely no need for me to get in the way of that writing—no need. The words were so beautiful, so well-written, so well-thought-out; I was more concerned about making sure they weren’t just words on paper, that there was real emotion behind them and that they would be executed properly. There was no need for me to touch anything.

FANG: Carmen, are you a mother yourself, and if so, how did that play into your approach to Eva?

EJOGO: I am, yeah, and I had played mothers prior to being one myself. I believe that as with any character, you need to be able to step outside yourself, and you don’t necessarily need to have real-life experiences to draw upon. Certainly, there were scenes in ANARCHY that were so visceral, like when I have to protect my daughter from a predator coming into our home, that could be deeply felt because I was able to draw upon real-life emotions in terms of how that would feel if it was my daughter. But at the end of the day, it’s all just acting.

FANG: How about the physical side? You get into some pretty intense scuffles in the film. Was there a stuntwoman at any point, or was that all you doing your own thing?

EJOGO: I foolishly did a lot of it myself [laughs], and had a lot of bruises and scrapes. I remember my knees and my wrists being permanently bruised, because I was being constantly grabbed by my wrists, and I was always down on my knees begging or pleading with somebody. But there were certainly moments when somebody had to step in. I’m not sure if it was so much for me and more for Kiele [Sanchez, who plays Liz in ANARCHY], because she really got thrown around at times.

FANG: Michael, how about the weapons work you do toward the end of the film? How was that experience?

WILLIAMS: The guns were huge, and bigger than what I was used to from prior projects, but for me it’s never really about the guns, it’s about the intent behind the gun, the place I have to go to mentally to prepare myself to kill someone. That’s the bigger part of the work, as opposed to shooting the weapon. Anybody could do that, but when you look in my eyes and see, “OK, this man is about to kill someone,” that to me is where the work is at.

FANG: What do you think the possibility is of something like the Purge actually coming to pass? Does it seem like a a potential reality?

WILLIAMS: I think so. I believe we’re not far from it now. The way society is going with this social structure, and the way the money is divided between the rich and poor, in some ways it’s sort of a slow Purge happening now to underdeveloped communities and poor people. That’s just sort of the direction we’re going.

EJOGO: There’s a social attitude toward being fairly accepting of violence, and coupled with the access to guns, in some ways we’re already at a place where in certain communities, gun violence is already rife—and in some ways, because of policy, it’s kind of condoned from the top.

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About the author
Michael Gingold

Michael Gingold has been a member of the FANGORIA team for the past three decades. After starting as a writer for the magazine in 1988, he came aboard as associate editor in 1990 and two years later moved up to managing editor. He now serves as editor-in-chief of the magazine while continuing to contribute numerous articles and reviews, as well as a contributing editor/writer for this website.

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