Over the past few years, masculinity has become the subject of debate regarding how men should compose themselves both at home and in public. It’s tricky to tackle, mainly because masculinity isn’t a monolith. It can be aggressive just as much as it is subdued. It can be tender just as much as it is cold. Masculinity can’t be defined with a narrow scope.
In Bruiser, Miles Warren’s directorial debut, 14-year-old Darius explores the depths of masculinity through Malcolm, his father, and through Porter, a drifter who functions as Malcolm’s polar opposite.
Though fatherhood—and especially Black fatherhood—can be especially difficult to tackle in a film that hovers just below two hours, Bruiser provides insight into the fragility of manhood. Canadian actor Shamier Anderson’s take on Malcolm is multifaceted, balancing the duality between being a collected father and overcompensating for his insecurities as a father to Darius.
Malcolm stands in stark contrast to Trevante Rhodes’ portrayal of Porter. Where Porter fits the standard, stereotypical portrayal of a rugged, muscular man, Malcolm is quieter, though not necessarily less aggressive. Porter is direct with his words, leaving little room for misinterpretation. He’s layered, but not overly complex. Throughout the film, Malcolm proves to be more emotional, but less open to discussing his angst.
Malcolm’s complexities drew Shamier Anderson to the role and dove deeper into what drives Malcolm as a character and why masculinity is an important subject to touch in a coming-of-age film like Bruiser.
How would you describe Malcolm’s character?
Malcolm is a complex individual. He’s layered with so many things that not even this film is able to touch on. But the one thing I think is important is Malcolm is rooted in all of his angst, his aggression. His want, his need, his objective is rooted in loving, in being the best dad possible. So what makes this movie intrinsically valuable is just the ecosystem of Black narratives that we get this one on one of two fathers who want to be in the life of their kid.
How does Malcolm distinguish himself from Porter?
I don’t think Malcolm’s conscious of his differences. I think consciously he would then admit that he’s inadequate. And so for him, it’s more rooted in his truth subconsciously of like “I’ve been present. I’ve been taking care of this kid” which he vocalizes. “I’m working like 10 hours a day to get you this education, getting you a new bike.” He’s doing all the things to show why he is the best father. I do think it’s subconsciously though, especially when Porter comes back into the equation. But I think with any parent that loves their kid, they just wanna be the best parent. And I think ultimately, Porter aside, anybody else aside, even Monica aside, I think, why I love Malcolm so much, is that he’s just honest in his love, and he wears it on his sleeve.
I described Malcolm and his emotions as baking soda and vinegar trapped in a bottle. So the sizzle is there and then when you open it up, you know something’s gonna happen.
How did you strike the balance between an assuming father and being a role model to a kid he knows isn’t his?
Great question. I mean, I think from my lived experience with my mother, she’s my biological mother, but I think the common denominator once again is love. My mother was my role model, but at the same time, she had that tough love, which made me not like her sometimes. But as I matured and got older, I realized that it wasn’t from a place of being spiteful, but from a place of being sensitive, and I think that’s where I relate to Malcolm and being able to really drop into him is understanding the duality between tough love and not tough love.
And I think that’s where Malcolm, in my opinion, is such a complex guy, and why I chose that role. In the beginning of the process, they usually audition people for the same character, just to get a feel, and for this one specifically, I really gravitated towards Malcolm and it was for those reasons, not that Porter’s less interesting, but I just thought that I felt that I could take this man to another level, even from the the physical standpoint, the aesthetic. Like in the script, I probably could have had a nice beard. I could have had a coiffed haircut, but for me, I wanted to take it to the level of “this man is worn.” That’s why I shaved my head. It’s why his clothes were drabby. It’s why I didn’t go to the gym. You see Porter is ripped, shredded. Malcolm doesn’t go to the gym. That’s not his thing. Even though we see him at the beginning of the film, hitting weights, I think that’s more of an outlet for aggression more than trying to be physically fit. So I think it’s all those elements that helped me build this character and find the beauty within the margins.
How did you go about the transition from playing such a subdued, calm character to explosive aggression?
Yeah, I described Malcolm and his emotions as baking soda and vinegar trapped in a bottle. So the sizzle is there and then when you open it up, you know something’s gonna happen. And I think for me, I speak a lot, I talk a lot with my family and friends. I’ve got a great community of people that I can express my discontent, my feelings with, so I’m very lucky in that way. However, I don’t know if Malcolm had that. So I’m going to try to replicate that as much as I can. I didn’t speak to Trevonte Rhodes at all. I barely spoke to anybody on set right outside of the director. I may have been perceived as cold, which wasn’t my intention. But in order for me to get that, like you said, super subdued and that explosiveness, it needed to come from a place of sincerity. If I was, for example, going out to dinners every weekend with Trevonte when we’re not filming, I don’t know if that tension would be as poignant as it was.
That’s why we go to the cinema. So we can pretend to be somebody else. Or at the very least look at somebody else without judgment.
And I’m also Canadian man, so I love to talk to people. And I think eliminating the shorthand. My brother (Stephan James) is also an actor, as you know, I don’t think I could do a movie with him where we’re at odds because we’re just too close and it wouldn’t work for me at least. And so I wanted to get to as close to that truth as I could. And so at the beginning, I literally said to myself, the second I get on set, I cannot engage with this man in order for us to keep that tension alive. And even Shinelle, who does beautiful work in the film as Monica, barely even spoke to me and she barely touched me, like hugs and things like that. I just think it’s those granular details that help the sense-memory overload from happening to be able to do what we got to do on set. Not to get too “actor-y” and too esoteric, but I just think it’s the small, small things. You wanna learn how to swim, you gotta jump in the water.
How does the movie make parallels with the anger that so many young men experience today?
I think how this movie parallels with we’re at, especially with men and more specifically Black men, it’s how important communication is. And I think what this film does is offer a perspective and gives you an inside look from the audience and bird’s eye view on like, holy shit, this is what not communicating looks like. What not talking about your issues looks like. And speaking to what’s happening today’s society when it comes to mental health, in this sedated social media world, I mean, it’s tough man. It’s a layered question that I don’t think we’ll be able to unpack fully here. However, I do think the beauty of movies like this is it poses questions for you so you’re outside of yourself for a second. That’s why we go to the cinema. So we can pretend to be somebody else. Or at the very least look at somebody else without judgment. And then I think that’s what this movie does. Hopefully, they can offer up conversations—real conversations.
What can we expect from you in your next movie, ‘John Wick Chapter 4’?
It’s unexpected. I’ve made a lot of cool things with cool people, but this one is gonna be exciting. The one thing that’s a little different is I have a dog in this movie. I’ve never had a dog before in a movie. And it’s not a CGI dog! It’s a real dog! So you’ll get to see me interacting with a Belgian Malinois and kicking ass.
Bruiser is available now on Disney+ in Canada and Hulu in the U.S.