Chadwick Boseman revels in grit of '21 Bridges' cop drama

By Fred Topel
Chadwick Boseman stars in "21 Bridges," the first role he's played since portraying Black Panther in the Marvel films. File Photo by Jim Ruymen/UPI
1 of 3 | Chadwick Boseman stars in "21 Bridges," the first role he's played since portraying Black Panther in the Marvel films. File Photo by Jim Ruymen/UPI | License Photo

LOS ANGELES, Nov. 22 (UPI) -- 21 Bridges is Chadwick Boseman's first movie after Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame. He will return for Black Panther 2 in 2022, but he's using the down time, and his newfound clout, to diversify.

"I've done superhero movies and I love them," Boseman told UPI in an interview. "I love that I haven't done cheesy ones or corny ones. I feel like they're good movies, but I never saw myself doing superhero movies when I decided I wanted to be an actor."


Now that Boseman has played T'Challa/Black Panther four times (including his introduction in Captain America: Civil War), he has been itching to get back to real-world characters like the one he plays in 21 Bridges, Detective Andre Davis.

"If I wasn't doing this type of movie, more grounded in reality like this, I wouldn't be fulfilled as an actor," Boseman said. "I would be doing one thing I wanted to do but not another one."


21 Bridges is a cop drama. Davis is under investigation by Internal Affairs for his involvement in multiple shootings. When a pair of crooks (Taylor Kitsch and Stephan James) kill eight officers in a robbery, Andre wants to bring them in alive, even though much of the New York Police Department wants their heads.

"It's a New York movie," Boseman said. "I got some of my training in New York. As an actor, you're running around the city auditioning. You wanted to some of that grit, some of that New York grit."

Boseman became nostalgic for his early days as a struggling actor. 21 Bridges reminds him of the roles he never landed.

"I don't know how many auditions I practiced on the subway, so to do a scene on the subway gives you something that you always wanted to do," Boseman said. "To do a scene in an alleyway, you always wanted to do that. You always wanted to do it in this environment. ... to speak over the noise of a city."

Even though he's benefited from the popularity of superhero movies, Boseman worries that films like 21 Bridges are the underdogs at the box office.


"It's not like it can't be done, but the issue is that the business of making movies is blockbusters, tent poles, remakes," Boseman said. "There's a familiarity. There is an assurance that you're going to make your money back. The risk-taking is something that studios don't want to do, and I think it's a high-stakes gambling table."

A movie like 21 Bridges costs far less than Black Panther. The crew filmed on location with Pennsylvania doubling for most of the New York scenes, and it had minimal special effects. Boseman worries that a lower-cost movie could be a bigger risk than expensive blockbusters.

"Why would I spend $30 million and maybe make my money back, or not make it back when I'm assured to spend $100 to $140 million and make $500 million, a billion?" Boseman said. "That's a high-stakes gambling table. [Studios] would rather gamble at the high stakes."

Boseman took the risk on 21 Bridges because he still believes in audiences going to the movies.

"For me, it is about the big screen," Boseman said. "It is about devoting a certain amount of time to darkness. It's like summertime; let's go to a place where it's cool, and we can enjoy ourselves like that."


It's not just about ensuring 21 Bridges takes in enough at the box office to make back its money. Boseman wants his films to be part of people's lives.

"The popcorn and whatever treats you like is part of the movie-going experience," Boseman said. "Dates you had, it's the titillation of who it is that you're sitting beside while you watch this, and that's part of your shared experience of falling in love."

Other movies this year tackle police violence through the genre. In Black and Blue, a good cop fights back against corrupt cops in her precinct. In Queen & Slim, a violent police stop sends a black couple on the run. Boseman considered the possible political interpretations of 21 Bridges.

"Me being black, [playing] a black cop, I can't take that for granted," Boseman said. "I have to know who this guy is. I felt like we could tell a story that addressed some of the issues of the world but didn't have to preach."

Davis earned the nickname "Trigger Finger," but he feels each of his shootings was justified.

"He's had more opportunities where he's put things to the test, where I gotta see if this person is right or wrong, and they've proven that they pulled a gun, and he shot or he shot at them. That's who he is, but it's coming from a place that's pure."


On the night depicted in 21 Bridges, Davis is trying to avoid more shootings. He's not always successful.

"I think it's important that there be a body count," Boseman said. "This is not arbitrary. There's a value of life in this movie for all the characters because even [for] the cops that want to bring them in, they start with the body count. It's eight people that have been killed."

21 Bridges is full of shootouts and chases, but violence is not shown as a heroic act.

"It's not like John Wick, where you don't know how many people were killed in this movie," Boseman said. "There's a body count. I have to account for the number of times I use my bullets. I don't want to just end it in the streets without there being a real judge and jury if I don't have to. So it's important that there be a value of life and not just arbitrary death in this movie."

Before Black Panther 2, Boseman filmed a movie with Spike Lee, Da 5 Bloods, that will be out next year. He also hopes to film Yasuke, the story of a black Samurai, before his superhero sequel. He's been practicing with the sword.


"I started that before I even decided to do it," Boseman said.

21 Bridges is in theaters Friday.

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