Season two of Cinemax's insane noir action spectacle Banshee has had no shortage of "Oh, shit!" moments, from exploding cows and a decapitation via big rig, to the heist of a moving armored car and two amazing, interspersed, female empowerment fights capped by a Bible bludgeoning. Last night's episode, "Evil for Evil," arguably outdid them all.
In what is underused black deputy Emmett Yawner's (Demetrius Grosse) biggest development so far, local skinheads harass and assault his pregnant white wife on a Banshee street in broad daylight. The leader, Sharp (Joseph Sikora, who you'll recognize as Ginger the racist biker from True Detective), knocks her unconscious before one of his overzealous followers kicks her belly, ultimately killing the Yawners' child. After comforting his wife at the hospital, the devastated policeman seeks vengeance at the town jail, where the bigots sit in cells. Emmett sends the secretary home, sheds his gun belt, and proceeds to beat his wife's remorseless assailants nearly to death.
A Christian believer in the "turn the other cheek" philosophy, and arguably Banshee's most honest, upstanding citizen, Emmett finds that the sin he's just committed is one that he'd happily commit again and again. Or, as he later tells Sheriff Hood (Antony Starr), "Sometimes repaying [evil for evil] is all you got." The moment marks a dark downturn for both the town and Emmett, who turns in his bloodstained badge rather than concoct a story to clear himself of any wrongdoing. There's a new sense of dread and sadness that cloaks the series, one that strips the episode's final shot, of Emmett's desk, a sonogram taped to a framed picture of him and his wife, of all the optimism it once had.
Complex spoke to Demetrius Grosse about the storyline's meaning, what inspired him during the fight shoot, and why the hell any black man would live in the lily-white Banshee.
What did you think when you first read the "Evil for Evil" script?
I thought, “Wow, this is 2013 and we are still dealing with people having serious problems with interracial relationships?” All of these situations, Emmett’s child being murdered, the unthinkable wrongs that are going on this season, and to think that it all trickles down to race and a sense of elitism. I couldn’t wrap my head around it actually being now, that we are still encountering these issues. But then I started to look around, and this was right around the time of the Trayvon Martin trial, when that really got heavy. I thought about that and I thought about my character’s name, Emmett, and about Emmett Till. I started tweeting pictures of Emmett Till and using that platform to remind people, as I was reminded, that the race issue is very prevalent and unfortunately it is the centerpiece of American culture. This was before 12 Years a Slave came out, but it was after Django Unchained came out, so when I saw in the script that we had a cop taking on three skinheads it was like, “Wow, this is provocative television that people have to see.”
Emmett appears to be the one truly honest and good man in Banshee. What does it mean that he reaches a point where he goes off book and nearly beats three men to death?
It's a chain of events that is indicative of what I found to be Emmett’s hubris or his fatal flaw. I struggled originally when I got the character because on paper this guy is perfect—ex-Penn State football player, young cat, married guy, family man who joins the police force, just one of those blue chip kind of guys. I was like, “So what is his hubris?” I quickly found out that at the forefront of his mind was the importance of this persona, having the perfect life, with the car, the family, the child, and the dog, and that was really his flaw. So what we see when he enacts vengeance on these guys is all of that blowing up in his face and him not knowing how to handle it. We see him going through a meltdown because he has created this life for himself that is so picture perfect and then as it begins to crumble there’s not a lot that he has to hold on to to make sense of it all. And so he runs into a crisis of faith. And it melts down and spirals out.
What was it like shooting the jailhouse fight?
The fight scene was sweaty and musty. We had to make sure—whether the camera was right in our grills, or behind us, or to the right—that we portrayed the violence and the immediacy of these fight scenes, so we trained a lot. We do all of our own fight stuff on this show. I actually got into boxing and kickboxing and all of that stuff, so that was one element of the technical aspect.
We were actually swinging, we had actual knives, and all that stuff is happening at full speed because it is shot in HD and you can’t lie to the camera.
It's an emotional scene for Emmett. How did you prepare yourself emotionally?
I am so glad you asked that question. My dad passed away right at the beginning of [filming] this season, and he was very parallel to Emmett’s father. My dad was a hardworking blue-collar guy. He worked in catering for years and eventually worked himself up to be a catering manager. In that scene in the jailhouse with the Nazis, Emmett talks about his father being a janitor and all the hardships of racist assumptions and all of that stuff. When I saw my father off in his last days on his bed, I played his favorite music, George Clinton and the P-Funk All-Stars. In that scene, Emmett is so far gone, so melted down, almost demented, to a point where he seems to relish enacting his vengeance. During shooting, I had my phone and in between takes I listened to P-Funk All-Stars and thought about my father and I kind of blacked out. It was crazy. I was so prepared that I was able to live 100 percent safely in my imagination. We were able to hit some truth notes, I like to call them. It was an addictive feeling.
How long did it take to shoot the fight? What was it like maintaining that level of emotion throughout?
The shoot took a regular eight-hour day and, absolutely, I had to keep up the emotion from the first time we started rehearsing until the last cut. It’s one of those scenes that you can’t just go through the movements of the fight, you have to keep the rhythm of the fight and the intensity. So even when we were preparing and lining it we would rehearse the scene that way. It was really a testament to the preparation and the awesome Banshee stunt staff, because we were actually swinging, we had actual knives, and all that stuff is happening at full speed because it is shot in HD and you can’t lie to the camera.
Emmett is one of two black men in Banshee and in both seasons one and two skinheads racially abuse him. Why do you think Emmett lives in Banshee?
I thought about that heavily. Why did this guy stop playing football, in which he was a natural? Why did he settle down in Banshee and do the whole small-town thing? I think it had to do with his conviction and faith and being of service. I had this whole back-story about how he has an older brother who went into the NFL and became this cliché superstar athlete who just wilds out. That scared Emmett to the point where he completely did a 180 and decided to be a police officer. At first it was a hard struggle [to believe that] and then I realized people do it all the time. I have a friend who was an amazing offensive linemen and now he has chosen a quainter, quieter life that’s still affluent but not as glamorous. So I believe that Emmett decided to stay in this town to live a simple and humble life and to stay away from the spotlight and to serve; I think he really looks at being a sheriff as being of service.
When he confronts the racism in season one and the racism in season two he always looks at it through kind of a sardonic eye, almost like a parent would to a child who misbehaves or a child who is disobedient. Emmett has so much love, so much compassion, and he is always in an ironic place because he is married to a white woman, so the racism that he experiences is diametrically opposed to his whole ideology. He can’t hate the white men that hate him because his wife’s father is a white man. We pose some interesting questions on Banshee. I love that we tackle these issues that are sometimes unspoken about in our society but need to be explored. If art can be the way that we explore these issues and have these conversations then I am proud and honored to be a part of that.
Interview by Justin Monroe (@40yardsplash)
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