La Mission: Peter Bratt Directs Brother Benjamin in Tale of Che

La Mission, starring Benjamin Bratt and directed by his brother, Peter Bratt, premiered at the Sundance Film Fest.

In bringing Che to life, Benjamin Bratt had to portray a man of proud conviction, frightening intolerance, hard-earned respect, and, ultimately, love.  It’s a difficult role because of its depth and complexity – the need to create a character not immediately likable, but eventually have the audience root for him to find the change he needs to survive as a whole person.

“No doubt, it’s the most challenging role I’ve ever had,” says Benjamin.  “And because of that, also the most rewarding.”  The actor was intrigued by the duality that exists in a man like Che.  “He’s a bit of a throwback, really,” he says.  “Che is like a creature from another era, almost unconsciously resistant to the change going on around him.  Here he is, living in one of the most cosmopolitan, progressive cities in the world, yet he is totally out of step with the famously accepting nature of his hometown – and, more tellingly, with his own son.”

While Che’s rigidity is partly cultural, partly religious, Benjamin feels his violent tendencies are not just his own, but a symptom of the greater society around him.  “The trick was to find the humanity in a character who negotiates life with brute force instead of words,” he says. “‘How does a man of violence, who’s been conditioned to suppress his emotions, demonstrate his affection for those he cares about most?’  Pondering that question led me to a greater understanding of whom Che is and how to play him.  Rather than demonize him and his response to his Jes’ secret by simply being angry, I discovered his anger is fueled by pain, and his rage simply belies the heartbreak he feels over what, in his mind, means the total and absolute loss of his son.

“His inflexibility and intolerance make him unsympathetic – damn near unlikable,” Benjamin continues.  “But then we glimpse the one thing that gives us hope for him after all: the love he has for his son and his community.”  

Peter and Benjamin worked together before on Follow Me Home, but there was something about La Mission that was incredibly special for both of them in collaboration.  “Benjamin and I are best friends,” says Peter.  “We love working together.  In fact, when we wrapped, he got a little teary-eyed, saying, ‘This is really as good as it gets – being an actor, working with my family, working on a story that means something to me.  This is as good as it gets in this field.’  I think both of us felt we were experiencing something we’d only dreamed about – making a movie about our favorite neighborhood – and here we were living it.”

Peter also appreciated that his brother could be so helpful with feedback on everything from the screenplay to editing.  “He’s is such a good developer of story,” Peter says.  “He’s been acting for almost 30 years, so he was vital throughout every stage of the process.  I constantly bounced ideas off him – including when I was directing some of the other actors.”

Benjamin was also an inspiration to those on the set at-large.  “He’s a consummate professional,” Peter says.  “He’s so supportive of the other cast members, and will often stay on set even when he’s not working himself to be there as emotional support for the younger actors.  His presence and incredible focus makes the set more electrifying, which makes everyone want to do their best, including the crew.”  That’s not to say Benjamin doesn’t know how to crack the whip when it’s necessary.  As a producer, he was also very driven to get the film made well, quickly, and on budget.  “I joke that I’m the good cop, he’s the bad cop,” says Peter.  “He knows what he’s doing and he’s not afraid to let his fellow filmmakers know when they need to step up their game, including me!”

For his part, of his collaboration with his brother, Benjamin says, “For an actor, it’s a rare gift to have someone write a role specifically for you, and all the more remarkable when it comes from your own brother.  But in our case it makes sense because we know each other so well and have always enjoyed working together, even when we were kids.  It’s a yin and yang thing: our differences bring about a result that neither of us could achieve on our own.“