KELVIN HARRISON JR. [LUCE]
WORDS BY IRVIN RIVERA
New Orleans born and raised Kelvin Harrison Jr. may seem like a fresh face in the industry but this ingénue has been in a lot of projects that showcase his innate talents as an actor. He currently stars in the film LUCE playing the titular character of Luce Edgar, a seventeen-year old boy from Eritrea who was adopted by a suburban white couple. The film explores the overlapping narratives of race, expectations, tokenism, social class and lots of internal conflicts.
The magic of Kelvin Harrison Jr. as an actor is that he invites you to slowly peel the layers of his character as the film unfolds.
In this exclusive interview, KELVIN HARRISON JR., tells us about his titular role in the film LUCE, alongside Octavia Spencer, Naomi Watts and Tim Roth. He shares to us what to expect in the film, his process in going through the headspace of his dynamic character, and why it’s one of his favorite roles so far.
Let’s talk about Luce. Can you tell us about the film?
It’s about a seventeen year-old boy who was adopted by a suburban couple who happens to be white. He writes a paper for a class assignment and his teacher decides to confront him about some of the topics that she doesn’t agree with about the paper and presents it to his parents. Well, he was not very happy with that. So he challenges on how she views the world and how she views power and privilege.
How was it to work with a powerhouse ensemble of a cast?
Sick. They’re honestly the nicest people that I’ve ever met, which was really refereshing, cause it’s so easy to assume that these big names don’t have to deal with me at all. They don’t have to talk to me. They can just do their job and I just have to do my job and you never really know what to expect. But working with that group of people proves that the best people are always the nicest. Naomi and Octavia and Tim, they were so generous as actors, as collaborators, and as people. They took care of me. If I needed anything they were there. If I needed more dialect coaching sessions, Tim was like, “I will pay for it if the movie can’t” (cause it was a small lil indie). It’s the small little details like that that meant a lot for me to be a young actor. It’s just so good.
Luce is such a complex character that you portrayed really well. While watching it, there are moments when I feel like he’s at the brink of exploding but he can switch into something else in split seconds. How did you do that? How were you able to play and portray the complexities of his character so well?
I think a lot of it can be credited to Julius Onah (director). He really has a clear vision of how he wanted us to be- how we sounded. How we looked. It was refreshing for me as an actor because the hardest thing I think for any actor to do is to trust the director with your performance and just know that they’ll see you- the pieces of you that you can bring to and the work that you’ve done but also have a clear idea of what they want from you. I think what was so exciting about going there is that he gave me reference materials. We pulled out Will Smith, we pulled out Obama and we’re like these are quick shorthands that we will have. “And that’s a Will moment.” “And that’s an Obama moment.” “And you know, this time, don’t show your cards this much.” So it’s always about playing and him seeing what I brought to the table. I’m gonna intimidate or I’m gonna do this or I’m gonna charm or disarm them. And he will be like, now show less. Now show a little bit more. We just have to find the performance through those beats and through the collaboration and then of course they edit. (laughs)
Out of all the characters that you portrayed, is there a specific favorite? Or a role that remains close to you after the film?
It changes every time but now it’s Luce, to be honest. I never thought about some of the things that he was thinking about. I was like I never had to really take a look at my own upbringing and how I was tokenized in highschool and what that felt like. I think that reading those books, the Frantz Fanons, learning about the colonizers and the colonized and all that stuff kind of got stuck with me so I’m always looking at the world from the perspective of how did this historically tell us what’s going on now? How is this affecting me? What can I do as a young person? I have some power. So what do I want to do with that?
His thinking sometimes haunts me; though it’s really sad sometimes when you’re taking out some of the baggage of these characters.
Read more about Kelvin and see the complete interview in the bi-annual print issue of A BOOK OF coming soon!