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Mamoudou Athie: Horror film 'Black Box' is 'a family story'

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Mamoudou Athie stars in "Black Box" as part of "Welcome to the Blumhouse" on Amazon Prime. File Photo by John Angelillo/UPI
Mamoudou Athie stars in "Black Box" as part of "Welcome to the Blumhouse" on Amazon Prime. File Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo

Oct. 6 (UPI) -- The new horror film Black Box portrays the terrifying side effects of a medical procedure. The film's lead, 32-year-old Mamoudou Athie, says the scary moments enhance the film's family drama.

"I'd say primarily it's a family story," Athie told UPI in a recent phone interview. "The medical part is completely secondary."

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Athie plays Nolan, a widowed father coping with memory loss years after an automobile accident that claimed his wife's life. Athie said he did "a little bit" of research on head injuries, but focused on Nolan's coping mechanisms.

Nolan, for example, has Post-It notes taped around his house to remind him how to do basic tasks like make coffee and restock cupboards.

"What was most important was just how someone is getting through the loss of that memory and a wife," Athie said.

Nolan gets a chance to recover his memories when Dr. Brooks (Phylicia Rashad) selects him for her experimental Black Box treatment. The Black Box is a headset that turns his EEG tests of brain waves into visual data. Nolan enters a virtual reality of his past that the Black Box creates. That's where horror elements come in.

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Inside the Black Box, people whom Nolan still cannot remember appear faceless. Troy James played one of those faceless people, referred to as the Backwards Man. Athie said James' performance was scary enough that it required little acting on Athie's part.

"I was scared, man," Athie said. "Anytime I was with Troy, it's real fear."

As the Black Box treatment brings Nolan closer to unlocking buried memories, he begins to worry he won't like the Nolan he was before the accident.

"Can you imagine not being who you once were because you just cannot recall?" Athie asked rhetorically. "He is told by his daughter, by his friend, by his coworkers he's a great guy."

Black Box is part of the Welcome to Blumhouse anthology on Amazon Prime. Welcome to Blumhouse gave writer/director Emmanuel Osei-Kuffour the opportunity to make his first feature film. However, Osei-Kuffour and the cast only had 19 days to film Black Box.

"I was just so impressed with Emmanuel being able to do that in 19 days -- for his first feature in particular," Athie said. "It's a feat for anybody, but for your first, it's like oh, my God."

Athie said Osei-Kuffour saw him in the Facebook Watch series Sorry For Your Loss and sought him out for Black Box. In the series, Athie played Mr. Greer, a teacher whose death reveals secrets about his life that are shown in flashback.

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This is not the only time a director sought him out based on a previous role, Athie said. He is currently filming Jurassic World: Dominion with director Colin Trevorrow.

"Colin Trevorrow saw me in this movie called The Frontrunner," Athie said. "I've been fortunate."

Athie has worked steadily since he graduated from Yale Drama School in 2014. He appeared on stage in Generations at Soho Rep in 2014 and The Mystery of Love & Sex at Lincoln Center in 2015.

He began to do film and television work in 2015 with an episode of Madam Secretary and the independent film Experimenter.

Through roles in the series The Get Down and movies like The Circle, Unicorn Store and Underwater, Athie said he still relies on his Yale training. He also keeps in touch with Yale classmates, like Gabe Levey, and they help each other with their professional roles.

"A very common thing that we use as a tool is how we want to make your scene partner feel," Athie said. "[Levey] says things in such a way that just makes you really inspired to really continue digging."

Athie credits his success to perseverance. Even graduating Yale does not guarantee work, but he never entertained the possibility of failure.

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"I think a healthy amount of delusion is good for actors because the odds are so astronomically low," Athie said. "I think you have to put yourself in positions where you're like, 'Yeah, I can do that.' Why shouldn't you? It absolutely could happen and is happening."

Welcome to the Blumhouse premieres Tuesday with Black Box and The Lie.

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