Larenz Tate is part of an impressive ensemble cast in writer-director Paul Haggis’ “Crash,” an intricately-constructed drama that confronts lingering racism in America through a series of interlocking stories involving a group of characters in L.A. whose lives intersect with frequently explosive results. Tate visited Dallas to talk about his role as a thoughtful car-jacker who has intense scenes with his more intense partner played by Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, a D.A. and his wife (Brendan Fraser and Sandra Bullock), and an idealistic young cop (Ryan Philippe). His character is also connected, in a way that’s revealed only late in the film, to an L.A. police detective played by Don Cheadle, who also co-produced the picture and was instrumental in putting together the large cast, which also includes Matt Dillon, Jennifer Esposito and Thandie Newton. “We all knew that we were rallying behind this film sort of because it spoke to our minds and our hearts and…our consciences, and we would take the time out from anything else we were doing to do this. [We said,] ‘We’re not sure that this movie will come across our desk again.’ It was clearly something that could make a difference in Hollywood [and] it made a difference to us as actors. None of us had really been a part of a film like this…because usually they don’t happen.”
Tate recalled, “Once I read the script, I got a call from Don, and I expressed my thoughts and told him that it really didn’t matter how much money he had or did not have, I was on board. I hadn’t read a movie this good in years. This [story] sort of tugged at your own inner being; it made you look at yourself, because I can’t blame the next person without blaming myself. It’s really good to see that, especially in Hollywood. What we discover is that we really are far apart–we’re a melting pot, but we really don’t communicate a whole lot. We do have a lot of preconceived notions about one another. The cool thing about the movie is that Paul has been able to intertwine so many of us, so many of our perspectives and our points of view. He sets them up and he pays them off in such a logical way, because it also gives us a theme of six degrees of separation–in some way or other, we all are connected, whether we want to believe it or not. You have these elements, these stereotypical elements, but it’s used to set you up for what you will discover about who all these people are. You begin to pull back the layers. And I think the single most [important] thing is that we can see ourselves in this project–as actors, when we [were] reading this movie, we [were] saying, ‘About time that we can really have a voice that is honest.’ I just wanted to make sure that first-time director Paul Haggis would not be deterred from his creative expression–he would not get side-tracked from what we read. On the page it was so clear where this guy was coming from. It had such a unique voice, it had such flush characters, so many different subjects that hit home for us that I was hoping the movie would be done in such a way that it could…keep its integrity and its truth and its humanity by not being controlled–and usually with a Hollywood movie films like ‘Crash’ can sort of having a watered-down effect, because so many people have their hand in the creative process–not just the actors and the filmmakers and the writers and the producers, but you have so many other elements that can take away from one’s true voice. I can remember saying, are they really going to let us make this movie? And say the things that we’re saying and think the way we’re going to think? And [Don] said, ‘I’m still trying to get Paul Haggis to push the envelope even more, because it’s important not to candy-coat this.’” In the case of this project, however, a lack of resources actually helped to allay Tate’s fears. “We didn’t have a studio, we didn’t have anyone to finance or back it.,” he said. “Because we had no money…we sort of had the license to do what we wanted to do. But Paul Haggis had written such a wonderful film, so beautifully crafted and brilliantly crafted, that we didn’t have to do anything other than what was on the page. It’s probably closest to any script–or film–that I’ve been a part of from the beginning process. This piece of material has stayed…true to the first time I got a chance to read [it]. That was uncommon. It was really refreshing to see it on the screen. We didn’t have to go rewrite and improvise a whole lot.”
As it turned out, perhaps the most difficult part of making “Crash” turned out to be scheduling. “Each actor had roughly ten, twelve working days. It was only like a thirty-day shoot, but it was so broken up” that, he noted, some of the stars hadn’t actually met before the premiere. “The shooting schedule was by far probably the most challenging thing we had to endure,” he said, “because we only had maybe a ten-day schedule to actually work, and because everyone’s schedule was so different, some of the actors we didn’t even get a chance to see, [let alone] work with, only because their rehearsal time was so different and there were so many people in the cast that we could not possibly have the same schedule. It was more or less like a few days here, you take off work a week or so and go back for a day, and take off. In fact, part of what happened with Don was that he shot some of his scenes, and because we went through so much [of the budget], they had to shut down production for a few weeks, and he went over to Africa to work on ‘Hotel Rwanda,’ then came back and finished, like, two days of his work. So the schedule was the most grueling experience of it all.”
But Tate found the experience of working in his most extended scenes with Bridges and Philippe extremely rewarding, despite the scheduling problems. “Ludacris came into the process knowing that he had to really surrender himself to the character, to the role, to the process of moviemaking,” he said. “And in those scenes I wasn’t working with Ludacris, it was Chris Bridges.” As for a shocking sequence he plays with Philippe, he added, “We all knew what we were up against and what we had to do to make it genuine and unexpected. It had to lay itself out like these are just two guys who are completely missing one another, completely missing one another for no reason at all. And we do it every day. And I think that’s what made it so powerful.”
Just as the picture as a whole is. “Crash” is a Lions Gate Films release.