The most exciting time for an actor is rarely when he or she has achieved the type of notoriety that earns magazine covers and exclusive interviews, but when the performer has built up a solid enough list of credits to merit bigger roles and bigger movies. It is these instances in which an actor seems to be an overnight success as if discovered at the counter of Schwab’s drug store instead of actually displaying the tenacity and talent that lead to this burst of recognition.
Demetrius Grosse may be at that moment. Despite a career that stretches back to guest appearances on hit shows beginning in 2005, the actor is fortunate to have earned roles in last year’s biggest surprise hit, Straight Outta Compton, which is available on DVD Jan. 19, as well as what might be the first hit movie of 2016, 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi, which releases in theaters this Friday. If that were not enough, Grosse also completed work on the upcoming series “Westworld,” produced by J.J. Abrams. This is the type of remarkable confluence of roles that makes it seem as if an actor is suddenly everywhere even when, as is the case with Grosse, he has been doing solid work all along.
Even if Grosse’s success is not an overnight one, he certainly approached his role in Straight Outta Compton from the perspective of a person who might be plucked from obscurity into stardom. Instead of approaching an agent or manager to get a role in the hit musical biopic, the Carnegie Mellon graduate attended an open-casting session held in Compton where he auditioned alongside non-professional actors for a role in the film. Many actors with as many credits as Grosse might have thought it demeaning to attend an open call instead of arranging an audition through his people, but Grosse was inspired by what he saw while waiting that day.
“I hung out in Compton all day long in the sun with four or five hundred people who wanted the chance to audition. Many of these hopefuls didn’t have acting careers, and it was beautiful to see so many men and women just collectively there for the cause,” he shares.
The success of Straight Outta Compton may have surprised many in Hollywood, but Grosse knew it would be a success with particular resonance for modern audiences who may not have even been born when NWA began recording.
“We’re in a very perilous time in America, where police brutality is now in the forefront of the conversation,” Grosse says, “and not a lot has changed for the black community in terms our popular sovereignty. When NWA first hit the scene, they were the radical voice that no one else had the nerve to be. I think with the timeliness of the film, it didn’t surprise me that it was so successful, because the film did exactly what art is supposed to do, which is to shake us up, provoke conversation and change people’s hearts, which is oftentimes more powerful than changing laws.”
If Straight Outta Compton is a film that has more political resonance than it seems, Grosse’s upcoming project about Benghazi is the opposite. The very name Benghazi evokes a tragedy that has been used primarily to score political points, but Grosse insists that the Michael Bay film – which tells the story of the attack on the U.S. embassy in Benghazi – is not one that intends to score points for either side.
“People think that this is going to be this political film, saturated with commentary on the politics surrounding what happened in Benghazi, and what it is really is about is how the men and women who came together and were brave and had valor neutralized the situation to evacuate some but not all of the people who were there.”
Grosse claims that 13 Hours will cause audiences to reconsider their perspective on Bay after a string of films in which giant robots battle one another.
“This is a grittier Michael Bay. This is a concerned Michael Bay, not to say that he wasn’t concerned before, but the movie shows fuller relationships than what he has done before. We’re going to care about the men and women in this film.”
Grosse appears in “Westworld” later this year on HBO, and the actor is surprisingly open about his impressions of what happens on the show. Despite being a J.J. Abrams production, there is not quite the level of secrecy that was involved in the producer’s previous work, such as “Lost” and Cloverfield, but perhaps only because “Westworld” is based on a film by Michael Crichton. It becomes a bit more difficult to keep a plot under wraps when it is based on a book released over 40 years ago.
“I though it was a bit farfetched at first, the idea that these robots are so lifelike and so well-engineered that people are able to exercise all their deepest, darkest fantasies with them. Then I read an article on Twitter that there are hotels right now in Asia where this is actually happening. [Crichton] knew this would happen in the ’70s, and this shows just how visionary filmmaking can be.”
Grosse may have worked in one of last year’s biggest films and is currently working with some of Hollywood’s biggest names, but one of his most cherished projects is a short film in which he stars that won a student DGA Award and whose director, Kiel Scott, is currently under the tutelage of Spike Lee. Returning to the political themes that have dominated Grosse’s recent films, the short “Samaria” takes place in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina, told using parallel stories of a white women, a black woman and a black man.
“It’s very interesting how tragedy can actually give us the opportunity to show our humanity. It can bond us in a way that the silver lining is that we see we are a lot more similar than we are dissimilar,” Grosse muses.
A lovingly-crafted short film may not earn the same box office receipts as Straight Outta Compton, but this fledgling effort may not take Demetrius Grosse too far out of Hollywood’s sight.
After all, he says, “There’s a chance it may do Sundance.”
13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi is in theaters Jan. 15. Straight Outta Compton is available on DVD, Blu-ray and Digital HD Jan. 19.