From Law & Order Detective to Drug Dealer
Bratt is a familiar face both on television and on the big screen.
His breakout role was that of detective Rey Curtis playing opposite
the legendary Jerry Orbach in the long-running television series
"Law & Order." Since then he has appeared in "Miss
Congeniality," "Demolition Man," "Traffic,"
"Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs," (voice) and Dr.
Jake Riley on "Private Practice."
Benjamin Bratt. Courtesy photo.
His latest film "Snitch," stars
action hero Dwayne Johnson as a father desperate to help his
son out of a terrible circumstance. Bratt's character is that
of drug lord Juan Carlos "El Topo" Pintera.
The rest of the cast includes Barry Pepper, Susan Sarandon,
Jon Bernthal, and Rafi Gavron. Written by Justin Haythe
and Ric Roman Waugh, who also directed, the story is based on
Bratt recently sat down with a select group
of journalists to discuss the film and the following has been edited
for content and continuity for print purposes.
L-R: Director Ric Roman Waugh and Benjamin Bratt
discussing a scene from "Snitch." Photo Courtesy
of Summit Entertainment
Unlike most action films of this genre, "Snitch"
is character-driven. How was that accomplished?
Bratt: First of all thanks and I agree with you 100%
and all that credit has to go to the director Ric Waugh. He wanted
to give it that air of authenticity. He wanted to draw each character
as someone who would be quite believable. Ric happens to be an
old friend of mine is research happy. He wants his films to be nothing
if not authentic. Obviously, we are operating in a fictionalized world
but I think what gives the film gravitas, and what actually elevates
it beyond a typical genre action picture, is that it feels real. He
creates emotional stakes that allow an audience to not only be turned
on by trucks crashing and bullets flying, but by the anguish that some
of the characters go through. One thing I really dug was how he thematically
strung together the exploration of the dynamic between the father (Dwayne
Johnson) and son (Rafi Gavron.) Ric is a father himself and
he knows how important fatherhood is to me personally, so in a lot of
our discussions it was about trying to put humanity into every portrayal.
How much actual character direction did you get
from the director?
Bratt: Surprisingly little. The funny thing is after
what amounts to hours of conversations on the phone and swapping emails
and sending pictures of specific sunglasses and photos of real cartel
people back and forth, on the day of shooting there was very little
direction given. In fact, he was working so fast I felt a little thrown
off my game. All actors thrive on rehearsal because rehearsals give
you comfort because you know what's going to happen. Ric was
of the mind, particularly in the one key scene with Dwayne, that
we don't rehearse at all. He showed me where my mark was. He showed
Dwayne where his mark was and didn't allow us to speak to one another.
I said let's rehearse it and Ric said we're not going to rehearse
it; we're going to shoot. That made me as a performer nervous and then
I realized that I can't have any of those feelings because I have to
be that guy that ice cool guy. So I had to go to my separate corner,
kind of like a fighter, and take a few breaths and then come in.
Action hero Dwayne Johnson. Courtesy
Dwayne is a formidable guy. He's a bona fide
movie star, but he's also a mountain of a man. But, I needed to be in
control in that situation. I believe that magic rarely comes from shooting
unrehearsed scenes, but in this case I was wrong. I think Ric
actually got what he needed to great effect in that particular scene.
Was there anything about Dwayne that surprised
Bratt: It's really kind of shocking to see someone as
strong as Dwayne, both physically and emotionally, to look so
vulnerable. I think that's kind of the twist in this film. People don't
expect that at first. Does he ultimately save the day? Yes he does and
we expect that in an action film that he's starring in, but what throws
people off, and what draws people in initially, is that for the first
time we see him as someone who is not weak, but someone who is uncertain.
Someone who can't fight his way out of a situation or kick butt chiefly
because he's not familiar with the criminal underworld.
Benjamin Bratt plays a drug lord in the action film
Photo Courtesy of Summit Entertainment
You play the head of a drug cartel. What makes
your drug dealer character different from others we've seen portrayed
Bratt: The character I play could easily have been conceived
as a one-dimensional individual, but he's not. He's a human being who
has a job to do. He runs an enterprise, albeit be a criminal one, that
has billions of dollars at stake. He's not the guy who has a five o'clock
shadow and wears gold chains and silk shirts. He's actually a very sophisticated
person who has a paramilitary background and training in Special
Forces. He reads the New York Times and is invested
in the stock market. He's label conscious right down to his Ralph
Lauren coat, Burberry shirt, and designer sunglasses.
What kind of research did you do to help you develop
Bratt: There's a ton of research available on the net.
The thing I was most interested in capturing was the comfort level that
comes with the self-recognition that you're the very top of the food
chain. I don't know what that's like in real life, but one thing that
Ric and I really wanted to capture was the almost emotional calm
and mood that comes from being that confident, so confident because
you recognize there's no one who can tip you over. So, even when a six-foot
five, 240-pound monster of a man comes in the room, to you it's
just like taking a breath. You're just conducting business. You're going
to do this for me and you're going to get it done. I know where your
family lives and I'm done with you now. Goodbye. It's just like breathing.
It's just another part of a day of business. I don't know what it's
like to have that air of confidence, in my own realm, but this is someone
who clearly has a global reach.
Did you have conversations about drug wars?
Bratt: Ric and I talked about how much has been
written about cartels and what's going on and we tend, as Americans,
to think it's an epidemic that's occurring over there south of the
border. The fact of the matter is, and frighteningly, it's right here
in our own backyard, but the film doesn't try to solve that issue at
all. It merely uses the reality to up the emotional stakes, making this
world and this character very scary. Also, I love that he takes, what
we can define as typical fare in terms of its genre, an action movie
with a bona fide action movie star, but he tweaks it enough where he
actually elevates the material to a point that makes it compelling beyond
people who simply love action.
Benjamin Bratt with his
wife Talisa Soto. Courtesy photo
I'll go see anything, but my wife sat down and watched
the film and as a person who won't go to see everything, she loved this
film because as a parent she could relate to the core dilemma, the heart
of the film, which is to what lengths would you go to save your child.
What was your first meeting like with Dwayne?
Bratt: I said hello to him at an event a few years ago
and we only said hello on the set the day before our scene. It was a
moving train (the shoot) and he's in every frame and we
were shooting in the junkyard and it was cold. I'm astounded, having
now seen the finished product, of how well it came out given how fast
it was moving. I worked on low-budget, 28-day shoot films in
the past and it's a kind of hell because you're not ever certain that
the end result is going to be very good. It's a real testament to Ric's
understanding of what it takes to make a good movie for him to have
been able to work that fast and get the performances he pulled from
everyone and create a really good, compelling film.
Benjamin Bratt on Dwayne Johnson: "...He would
crush me to dust...I'm not afraid to admit that." Courtesy
Did you and Dwayne have any alone time together?
Bratt: You know there really wasn't. I think it wasn't
a conscious decision on my part, and I can't guess as to whether or
not it was on his, but you know he's an alpha male and I'm an alpha
male and I think we understood that it would enhance both of our work
to not get into a ring with one another. First of all, he would crush
me into dust. (laughter) I'm not afraid to admit that. He's one
of the best fighters in the world, but I think in hindsight that's what
was needed. We weren't meant to be buddy buddy, not in this situation,
but perhaps in another film.
Bratt on Jerry Orbach: "He
was one of the last old-
school gentlemen." Courtesy
| Most audiences
became familiar with you from your work on "Law & Order"
in which you co-starred with the great, late Jerry Orbach. Could
you talk bit about that experience and what you learned from Mr.
Bratt: I learned as lot about acting and life
from Jerry Orbach. He quickly became one of my dearest
friends, in spite of the age difference. He was one of the last
old-school gentlemen. He was a former song-and-dance man on Broadway,
quick with a joke, great with a story. I use to tease him that
we would eat lunch together more often than he would with his
own wife because every day that we worked together, depending
on the location, we would go out and grab a bite and it always
had to be fried calamari to start and then whatever else came
Bratt: I learned as lot about acting and life from Jerry
Orbach. He quickly became one of my dearest friends, in spite of
the age difference. He was one of the last old-school gentlemen. He
was a former song-and-dance man on Broadway, quick with a joke, great
with a story. I use to tease him that we would eat lunch together more
often than he would with his own wife because every day that we worked
together, depending on the location, we would go out and grab a bite
and it always had to be fried calamari to start and then whatever else
One of the poems Jerry Orbach wrote for his wife
Elaine Cancilla Orbach.
Bratt: Jerry did something very dear for me when
I finally decided to leave the show at the end of my fourth year. At
the rap party he got up and sang a goodbye song to me to the tune of
Michael Jackson's "Ben," that had all these
personal anecdotes our inside jokes and I have it to this day. He's
missed. He was a dear, dear man who was truly deeply in love with his
wife Elaine who I think from heartbreak died a year later. Every
morning he would get up at 5:00 a.m for work and would always
leave a rhyming poem on a piece of paper next to the coffee. He was
an original and all the best jokes I have are from him, but some of
them are too blue to share with you today. (laughter)
This is the second time you've played a drug dealer.
The first time was in "Traffic". Will you hesitate to play
a drug dealer again?
Bratt: That's a really good question. Both in terms
of introduction and presence in this film, it's very similar to what
I did in "Traffic." The character is talked about a
lot, so much so that you think he's in the movie more than he actually
is on the page. I think I'm in all of two scenes for a total of four
minutes or something like that, according to my agent. I don't count
to be honest. "Traffic" was similar in that they're
always talking about my character Juan Obregón so when
you finally meet him, there's this payoff and he better live up to that
payoff. So, I like the challenge to actually rise to the level of filling
the shoes of expectations that are created about someone who is the
kingpin, top of the food chain, and to the extent that you folks feel
that I delivered, is really gratifying. Also, I felt there were enough
years between "Traffic" and this part to be able to
take it on. The two characters are not dissimilar - they are very similar
people. To do it again, it would have to be a bigger part. (laughter)
More pages. (laughter)
How did the shooting schedule work out since you
were also had a role in ABC'S "Private Practice?"
Bratt: I was shooting that series and worked out the
schedule so I could go to Shreveport for four days to get this
done. It was a welcome relief to be able to take on this role because
on "Private Practice," which was a nighttime soap opera,
the character I was playing was a bit of an idealized man. He was a
fertility doctor who was great with women, the ideal boyfriend, soon
to be a fiancée. The series, which ended in December,
was on for six years, but I was only part of it for a year and a half.
So, it was a nice change of pace.
Do you see yourself more as a TV guy or a film
Bratt: I'm an actor. A working actor and I'll go wherever
there's a good job to be found, including the stage and including voice
over work. I just did the sequel to "Cloudy With A Chance of
Meatballs," or Revenge of the Leftovers. (laughter)
I just re-appeared in "Modern Family" and have
no bias when it comes to what form the work is in, as long as it's well
written. This film is a good example of that and has nothing to do with
the size of the part. As long as it's something where I can do my thing,