Nothing can quite prepare you for the harrowing second act of Detroit – based on the real life events that occurred at the Algiers Motel during the Detroit riots of 1967. Kathryn Bigelow has a knack for creating suspenseful scenes and continuing to turn up the tension until it’s practically unbearable. And playing the lightning rod of all of this unbearable tension is Will Poulter’s Officer Krauss.
This was a difficult role for Poulter, often having to hug co-stars between takes just as a release, a respite, to what they were filming. Officer Krauss is a composite character of the Detroit police officers who were at the Algiers that night – racist and sadistic, Krauss uses terrifying “interrogation” techniques on the residents of the Algiers in a scene that, at times, feels never-ending. Krauss is cruel. And for Poulter, there’s wasn’t much to grasp onto here in terms of humanity.
Ahead, Poulter (who is no stranger to tough work environments after his work on 2015’s The Revenant) discusses why Detroit was such a difficult role and why this is a movie with themes are more important than ever right now.
Jason Mitchell said that after some takes you would break down and give out hugs.
Yeah, I think there were certainly occasions where the nature of the material we were shooting was so intense, so violent, so kind of naturally upsetting that, yeah, when we got the opportunity to break and nothing else was required of us in that moment or on that day, we would find ourselves kind of hugging and embracing each other. And kind of doing the antithesis of what we were capturing onscreen. But for the most part, when it came to shooting the incident of the Algiers Motel, we had to sort of remain pretty focused and we had to do what was necessary to capture that kind of intensity. So that meant that, for the most part, the culture onset was sort of pretty quiet, very focused, and kind of naturally tense.
Is Krauss a composite? I know the officers’ names were changed…
I would describe Philip Krauss as a composite of several different police officers who were present at the time.
So how do you wrap your head around this kind of character? There aren’t any redeeming qualities.
It is difficult. And the reason being that normally when you play a character, or you approach a different personality, you’re able to identify with something in their makeup that you either possess yourself or you feel like you can adopt – because it’s not too far-fetched, and it doesn’t force you so far away from yourself. But the tricky thing when I looked at playing Krauss is I couldn’t see a single thing about him that I could relate to beyond the fact that he was a white male, right? That was really my only sort of, kind of relatable trait I saw in Krauss. So really, I was kind of just building a character without any sort of feeling of relation. And it was about looking into what informs a racist and what kind of mentality they have. And it’s built on fiction and on a lot of mythology and mistruths about people who belong to different ethnicity groups. And you’re really forming a psychology and a personality without any sort of rationale. So therein lies the challenge, I think.