With superhero movies getting bigger and more bloated by the year, it's created an opportunity for filmmakers to find more intimate and subtle ways to explore the hero genre. Case in point, director/writer J.D. Dillard's theatrical debut, Sleight.
Set in contemporary Los Angeles, the indie drama/sci-fi (-ish) tale tells the story of Bo (Jacob Latimore), a charismatic street magician who lets go of a prestigious engineering scholarship to take care of his young sister in the wake of their mother's death. An everyday hero trying to make ends meet, Bo ends up drug dealing for an affluent local pusher (Dulé Hill) who drags him into the gritty, violent side of their profession. However by blending his sleight of hand abilities with his scientific intellect, Bo figures out a means to escape his fate in an altogether elevated, and perhaps 'super' unexpected way.
The premise and execution works because of the charmingly earnest performance of Jacob Latimore, who makes Bo a relatable, flawed hero leaning on his heart and brain rather than the guns and violence that define his circumstances. Best known for his recent roles in genre films The Maze Runner and Collateral Beauty, Latimore as Bo cements his presence as a new player in Hollywood gracefully navigating the emotional and physical beats that makes Sleight so unique.
In a recent conversation with Latimore, we discuss what appealed to him about Bo's journey, the woes of picking up street magic skills and what he thinks about Bo's surprising evolution in the film.
When you read J.D. Dillard and Alex Theurer's Sleight script, what grabbed you first?
The thing for me was that it was very authentic and different. We get a lot of the same storylines and situations, and I thought it was a really cool narrative of him possibly being a superhero. It was also very relatable where he's a young, smart kid who is caring for his little sister and he loves street magic. The balance of the street magic and his drug dealing was cool to play with. As an actor, you look for those weird scripts that shine you in a different light. I'm at the beginning of my career and I want to be known for doing a variety of things. I thought it was incredible to be a part of it.
Bo is an everyday modest hero, which isn't always portrayed in films where the protagonist gets involved in drug dealing. Were you immediately empathetic to his plight?
When I read it, I always saw Bo as a likable guy. He's a young kid with the charisma that a street magician brings to the table. And looking at his personal life, he drops the scholarship to take care of his young sister so he's not a selfish kid. It was noticeable from the beginning.
Being a credible magician is key to buying Bo's diverse talents. How did you train to live up to his skills?
J.D. and Alex sent me a bunch of links to the Fontaine [card] guys as we feature their cards in the movie. This guy named Zach (Mueller) has a bunch of great tutorials online, and they show you how to hold the cards and shuffle. I wanted to make sure that I knew the basics. I wanted to be comfortable even holding them in the shots, or spreading the cards out in scenes.
Were you able to perform all of Bo's illusions?
For most of the close-up hand shots, we had a hand double who was incredible. But for most of the shooting, I kept cards in my hands and I would just play with them. And the magician on set would teach me how to do things but I would never get it down because my hands are tiny. (Laughs) It was something I would have to stay in the mindset for literally that month [of shooting] turning into Bo.
What was more complicated for you to master, the action or the magic?
The cards are the most complicated thing because it's something I've never done before. Floating bullets aren't that difficult. (Laughs)
You also sell how smart Bo is with his scientific aptitude and execution of it throughout the film. Did the science come natural?
I was like, "J.D., what am I saying?" (Laughs) I was just trying to make it as natural as possible. The math is obviously something Bo was very, very comfortable with so I wanted to make it flow. We had a bunch of rehearsals and had chemistry reads to do our jobs.
You have a great ensemble in the film including Seychelle Gabriel, Dulé Hill and Sasheer Zamata. Was there a scene with any of the actors that helped define Bo to you?
I think during the scene where Dulé's character invites me into his office and we have that moment where he finds out I'm cutting his drugs. It was a really, really chilling moment for me because even though it's a prop gun and there was safety all the time, to be in that moment with a gun being held to your face. Dulé is a very energetic, great personality type of guy, so for him to play this villain is so different. And then Bo is trying to be the tough guy, but he finds himself too deep in the hole to crawl out. It was my most memorable moment of filming.
[SPOILERS for the ending of the film]
The end of the film closes on a very enigmatic beat for Bo that leaves the audience questioning how much this experience has fundamentally changed him. How did you interpret it?
When I read it, I thought Bo could be something else if he really wanted. I don't know. I think Bo had this obsession with magic and when he falls into that dark world, he had to do what he knows best to protect his family and scare these guys off. He used his brain power to do so, and when he realized how powerful that was, I don't know if he'll use that to better his magician characteristics or superhero characteristics. It's a difficult thing to say what Bo would do because he tells Seychelle's character, "I can do something no one else can." To be a magician, you have to do things out of the ordinary and go outside the box. You never know what Bo will do next. But that's in my pocket with J.D. about who Bo is going to be. Will he be a guy in Las Vegas or will he be Static Shock? It was the best way to leave it for us, and leave it up to the people.
Have you actually talked about a sequel yet?
We haven't talked deeply about it. We throw it out there and joked around about it, but the movie will come out and live with people. You never really know but it could be something bigger in the future.
You shot this over a couple of weeks in the summer of 2015 so there's been a lot of distance between production and release. Were you nervous to finally see the finished film?
Yeah, we shot it in a few weeks. When I see a movie, I get scared because when you shoot something that fast you don't expect the way the movie looks and is edited to be such a success. But I was like, "Yo, this is real-life Marvel stuff here!" (Laughs)
Sleight opens in theaters on April 28.