Street Kings: Keanu Reeves, Forest Whitaker

David Ayer’s new crime-policier “Street Kings” features three strong actors in three strong roles.

Noble Warrior: Keanu Reeves as Tom Ludlow

With the success of such films as SPEED and THE MAXTRIX trilogy, Keanu Reeves has become one of the most beloved and iconic actors of his generation. His films have made an indelible mark on the landscape of filmmaking and he has one of the most recognizable faces in the world. In STREET KINGS, Reeves and his manager-producer Erwin Stoff saw an opportunity to tackle a complex role with a fully formed and personal performance.

After initially reading the script I thought this role would be a singularly fantastic opportunity for Keanu as an actor, recalls producer Erwin Stoff. He is not the type of actor who wants an expectation placed on him of the kind of roles he should take and thats been the hallmark of his career.

I was intrigued by the level of violence surrounding the character and the dramatic consequences of that, explains Keanu Reeves. He can be viewed as either someone who kills in the name of the law or someone who delivers justice. Dramatically, there’s a high price to pay and I was interested in how it would all play out.

To help extract an honest and truthful performance from Reeves, David Ayer attempted to create a world steeped in truth and grit by surrounding the actor with plenty of physical realism to draw from. He was immersed in the culture of Los Angeles and some of the most challenged areas in the city.

What was very exciting to me was the idea of Keanu Reeves going into the ghetto and playing a very realistic organic character with a nuanced intense performance, explains David Ayer. In this film hes not fighting aliens or robots, hes fighting gang bangers, cops and police corruption, so we wanted to help him get to the point where he felt a part of that world to get that very psychologically realistic performance. It was incredible.

Tom Ludlow is man dealing with many demons, both in the real world and within himself. He is a dedicated police officer who touches the darkest elements of society while still reeling from the loss of his wife. The depth of the character gave Reeves the opportunity to live in the skin of someone who is very different from himself.

The character of Tom Ludlow is an interesting head space for Keanu to get into, explains Foster. Keanu is very much a pacifist in real life and weve asked him to play a very dark human and its been amazing to watch him rise to the challenge.

Im an actor and its all make believe, but in the imagining of this world steeped in violence it can be intoxicating, remarks Reeves. Violence is an elemental force and acting it out has a weird illusion of control. Ludlow is lashing out and using violence to get to the truth, but as someone says in the film, Blood doesnt wash away blood. In the end, violence doesnt change anything.

The Leader: Forest Whitaker as Captain Wander

Captain Jack Wander is a larger-than-life figure who has gradually accumulated a great deal of power within the ranks of the LAPD. He is known as a man who gets results and his unit has the track record to show for it. He leads his men with fierce confidence and serves up an intense psychology to his followers.

A palpable brotherhood exists within his unit where his men find unwavering loyalty, protection and a sense of family. Although Ad Vice knowingly goes outside the limits of the law to get the job done, the men are unwavering in their dedication to their leader, who they lovingly refer to as King Wander.

In developing these characters, I always saw Wander as the father of a dysfunctional family, explains David Ayer. In dysfunctional families youre often handed your reality by Dad who tells you how ugly the world is outside the house but that inside the house theres love. He makes them believe that what theyre doing is for their own good and uses that sort of abusive psychology.

To bring the role of Jack Wander to life, the filmmakers would need a powerful actor to flesh out this intense and charismatic man who is capable of leading men into harms way with unflappable dedication. They got their wish in Academy Award winning actor Forest Whitaker, who was attracted to the characters strength and unwavering confidence.

To me, Wander is a guy whose trying to take care of what he considers his family, explains Forest Whitaker. He lives by a code and feels like hes justified in acquiring power.
In the film, Wander is an LAPD captain in a specialized unit on his way to becoming Commander. His career trajectory seems unstoppable and dreams of taking it all the way. When Captain Biggs from Internal Affairs starts sniffing around asking questions about protocol and the methods used within Wanders department, Ludlow relents to protect his mentor and family against anyone who threatens it. While Wander and his men are working outside the confines of the law, they are looking into the face of darkness going head to head with societys ugly truths.

When Ludlow begins investigating the murder his former partner, Detective Terrence Washington, he begins to discover corruption within the force and begins to view Wander and his brethren with new eyes. Whitaker argues After looking into the face of darkness coupled with the death of his wife, I think Ludlows been numb for a while. When he is implicated in Washingtons murder, he really begins to investigate his own life which is intertwined with mine and I have to make sure he stands strong to keep my world in place.

Wanders methods of achieving his version of justice are unforgiving and Ludlow serves as his personal enforcer and favorite son. Whitaker notes, Ludlow is the family member Wander is closest to and if he falls, the whole house of cards could come down.

In his illustrious career, Forest Whitaker has played numerous cops on both the big and small screen and came into the project with an extensive amount of knowledge of the inner-workings of law enforcement. For this material, Whitaker also draws from his own experiences growing up on the streets of Los Angeles. I played a cop on The Shield for a year and have been on many drive-alongs and had extensive weapons training so Ive done that research. In my personal experience, growing up in Los Angeles, I know about cops from the other side. I know how they throw people on the ground and shine lights on them because Ive dealt with them. I know what they say to you when youre arrested, so I feel I probably have more research than most.

Forest Whitaker and Keanu Reeves worked with David Ayer before production to flesh out the dynamics between these two connected souls. When we did rehearsals, I was privileged to see Forest and Keanu together for the first time and witness first hand the incredible chemistry. You never know when putting actors together how they are going to click because at the end of the day were all real people and were all complex. The second they sat down together and started riffing on the material, it was obvious that they would be a believable combination.

I think Keanu is great in the film and is an actor that people want to walk with, comments Whitaker. Audiences can journey through some really dark places with Keanu because hes the kind of actor you can follow and trust.
To me, the movie is really about the relationship between these two characters and Forest and Keanu have been very compelling and amazing to watch, says Lucas Foster. They feed off each other and I think we captured a lot of surprising magic between these two actors who are very much their characters in the moment.

Watchful Eyes: Hugh Laurie as Captain Biggs

Internal Affairs Captain James Biggs exists between the worlds of the corporate arm of law enforcement and the cops who walk the beat patrolling the streets. When Biggs is first introduced in the film he comes off as illusive, deceitful and out to get the goods on Ludlow, Wander and Ad Vice. His character asks some probing questions of the various shades of grey in the moral landscape of these men. Through the numerous inquiries and relentless pressure, Biggs serves as a peripheral player in the awakening of Ludlow.

Biggs was one of the most difficult characters to develop in the film, recalls David Ayer. He is a very self-aware character who understands the grey areas of this world, yet isnt cynical and is ultimately very smart and pragmatic.

To play the character of Captain Biggs, the filmmakers looked to the award winning and accomplished British actor Hugh Laurie to bring him to life. Laurie, who has found great success stateside as the starring role on the popular television series House, was interested in both the material and the idea of breaking outside his comfort zone.

This film was a hard proposition to turn down, he says. I absolutely loved TRAINING DAY and David is a very bright and interesting writer and director and Ive always loved James Ellroy. It was wonderful opportunity to work with this fabulous cast in a very different environment for me. After playing one character for the last three years it was rather wonderful to be able to do something a little different.
Laurie was also intrigued by the questions that the film raised about the morality and ethics of these men who choose to deal with the darker sides of human nature. The story has a lot of shadows with a lot of shadowy characters and its not easy to place them in positions on a moral scale. It plays into the reality that Los Angeles lends itself a certain moral grayness.
While Biggs is certainly out to advance his own career, he becomes an unlikely champion for the morality of Ludlow. While Ludlow is useful to Biggs, Ludlow is the soul for whom these forces are battling, argues Laurie. In spite of the violence and sordid nature of how he earns his living, Ludlow is nonetheless an innocent and nave character. He is the soul for which we are battling.

David Ayer was impressed by Lauries performance and dedication to the complexities of the character. Hugh did quite a bit of research and was able to understand the politics and psychology of the department. Here you have a British actor from the European school of acting who was able to really transform himself into a captain of the LAPD.

Laurie was impressed by the performances of his co-stars Keanu Reeves and Forest Whitaker. Although Forest is the kindest and most gentle person to work with, at the flip of a switch hes able to summon up the most extraordinary reserves of physical menace and power. Keanu has often played characters who you root for and sympathize with and hes able to draw on those reserves when delving into some very dark and frightening stuff.