“The best advice of all though is just be prepared before you walk in there and so you don’t waste somebody’s time. Just prepare.” – Gary Dourdan
In the new film, Redemption Day, Gary Dourdan stars as a former Marine who must travel to Morocco to rescue his wife who has just been kidnapped by a group of terrorists. The film, directed by Hicham Hajji and also starring Serinda Swan, Ernie Hudson and Andy Garcia, is a tense action thriller and Dourdan is in top form in the role.
In this interview, he talks about his role, filming on location in Morocco, creating a character, audition advice and how he stays calm when in nerve-educing situations.
Let’s talk about the movie. I thought you were great.
Gary Dourdan: Thank you so much.
Where did you guys shoot this?
Gary Dourdan: We shot 90% of it in Morocco. Morocco, I always say, is that it’s like another character in the film. It’s so beautiful there, with so much texture. The people there are just extraordinary and so hospitable. They have a long history, so it’s nice place to be.
I’d imagine shooting someplace like that, it easily helps you get into the feeling of the film.
Gary Dourdan: Yeah, it’s not like on some Hollywood movies set or in front of CGI screens. You’re really out there in the dessert and in the mountains.
Something like this, is there anything special that did to prepare for the role?
Gary Dourdan: Well, I did have to get in shape.
Yeah, man. You were jacked.
Gary Dourdan: [laughs] Thank you. You know, to play a Marine, you have to get in the best shape possible. To play a Marine, you want to get in the best shape possible. The Marines just have the most incredible endurance. I only had three months to prepare, to get myself in some kind of shape so I could look like that and I did the best I could. It was great because I had guys around, friends that I know, friends that are Navy Seals, that gave me a lot of tips.
I crafted my character, I would say, from knowing these guys over the years. I put some principles in that I sort of modeled my character after, these guys that I know. One in particular, his name was Gary, a really stand-up guy, a Navy SEAL for many years and I just wanted to do him proud. I wanted to not look like I was carrying a big ol’ pot belly from eating too much Moroccan food, so I had to get in shape. It was a great opportunity to do that.
I loved how the movie opened with that five-minute tracking shot.
Gary Dourdan: Yeah, I hear that a lot. That was Hicham Hajji‘s idea, the director. He explained it to me before principle photography and once we started doing it, we did a number of takes. I love doing shots like that because it brings me back to theater. It feels like the choreography of theater, everyone has to be on their marks, everyone has a different cue and when you get the shot, you’re all cheering because you did it together. I do like shots like that. And it makes the film move as well.
Something like that, everything has to be so accurate. Do you get nervous at all beforehand? Like, you don’t want to mess up because you would screw it up for everyone else.
Gary Dourdan: That’s part of the fun and the passion because you get nervous. If you’re not nervous, you’re dead. And you make those nerves work for you because it gives you that adrenaline boost. That’s what I miss about theater. When you’re doing TV, after a few years of doing it, you’re just punching in. You wait six hours for your shot and then they do a close up and then you’re done in a few minutes and you’ve been waiting all day. It sort of gets monotonous sometimes.
When a director comes along and crafts a very intense shot full of intricacies and he’s working on different choreography with the camera and the actors and the extras and the lighting department, It makes it exciting. You find the passion for filmmaking again. And then you go back and say, “This is why I love this craft.” You sort of lose the sense of that when you’re working with people who are just trying to make a day. You lose the sense of why you got involved in this craft in the first place. But every now and then you get with a director who’s got imaginative ideas and then you’re like, “OK, yeah. This is why I do this. This is why I love what I do.”
You’ve worked a ton. Do you still take on roles where you think you’ve bitten off more than you can chew?
Gary Dourdan: Yeah, I’ve been there. A few times. I do a few different things. One of the things I do is… I have the law of detachment working for me where I recognize that if I’m not too invested in it, if I’ve attached myself so much to it that I cannot be natural or I cannot relax, then I start to detach myself. To the point of wanting to predict the outcome of the engagement, on wanting to do a really good job. I detach myself from all of those desires and I just try to get back into the work itself and just piece by piece build it back together, you know? I think sometimes we get lost in how we may be perceived, or we get lost in trying to predict how it may come out and we lose a sense of ourselves and we lose a sense of our confidence and we lose our sense of grounding. So, I detach myself from all of those desires and I just get back into the work again, just piece by piece. Looking at the dialogue piece by piece, the crafting of the character, about what I’m finding that I like about the character. I stop judging the character and really go into just building that character back up.
Depending on what kind of role, it can take some time, but that’s one of the things I do. And I call it, if I may, I don’t like to cuss in publications but it’s kind of like a New York ‘f— it’ attitude. You just say, “F— it.” I do that in auditions sometimes and I also do that on camera sometimes, where I might be flubbing a line or I might be having a hard time with the lines. Maybe I’m working with actors that I admire or intimidate me and then I have to go and get centered and just get a New York ‘f— it’ attitude about it and go, “F— it” and just relax and breathe.
Another actor who taught me that is Chazz Palminteri. He said, “There’s three things, Gary: It’s relaxing, breathing, listening and reacting.” And every time I would do a scene with him, he’d have another tip to throw at me. I love working with more experienced actors because they always raise the bar for me. And that’s how working with Andy Garcia and Ernie Hudson was in this film.
You’ve mentioned theater a couple times. One was last what was the last show that you did?
Gary Dourdan: It’s been a while. I did it touring production two years ago? It was kind of a comedy and that was fun because I got to see cities that I hadn’t really spent any time in like Cleveland and DC. It didn’t last long; it was just a couple of months run but it was just good to get the engine rolling again. You recognize and remember how it is before you get on stage, your preparation time. And then once it opens, once the curtain call is happening, you’re in it and you’re waiting for your cue and your nerves are going. It’s a great feeling.
What’s been your worst audition?
Gary Dourdan: I think my audition for Hamilton was probably the worst audition that they’ve probably ever seen. I didn’t have a lot of time to prepare and I discovered at that audition that I was a terrible rapper.
That’s a great time to discover that.
Gary Dourdan: [laughs] Yeah, that was a great time to discover that in the audition room. Like I said, I didn’t have a lot of time to prepare with the piano accompaniment, so I sucked pretty bad. And I laugh about it now but during the time and anyone who’s ever had a bad audition, they know what I’m talking about: the sweaty palms, the choked-up voice when you’re trying to hit a note, it was all of that. And it wasn’t that long ago, so it’s never too late to suck. You’re never too old to suck.
But like a friend of mine once said, and this is a great quote: Dare to suck.
The best advice of all though is just be prepared before you walk in there and so you don’t waste somebody’s time. Just prepare.
Redemption Day is now available on Amazon and most streaming platforms.