Prior to his starring turn in Chris Eska’s acclaimed sophomore effort The Retrieval, Tishuan Scott had starred in several short films, along with a supporting role in the 2012 based-on-a-true-story film Alcatraz Prison Escape: Deathbed Confession. Scott, who received an M.F.A in acting from UCLA, can also be seen in the upcoming films Computer Chess, Symphony of the Universe and Cry of the Butterfly. He is also funding, via Indiegogo, his short film Aristotle, The Apostle, in which Scott hopes to educate the public about recycling and the preservation of animal life (click on THIS campaign link for more info).
In the Civil War-set, quietly searing drama The Retrieval, which premiered earlier this year at the SXSW Film Festival, Scott plays Nate, a fugitive ex-slave who encounters a young boy and his uncle, both sent by a gang of bounty hunters to con Nate into his recapture. I had the pleasure of speaking with the actor, who garnered the Jury Award for Best Actor at SXSW, about his preparation for the role and approach to his impressive performance, as well as working with director Chris Eska. Eska also spoke with us around a week ago about making the film. You can read that interview HERE.
S&A: How did you get involved in playing Nate in The Retrieval?
TS: I got an audition in Houston from my agent there. I was blown away by the script. The writing is absolutely spectacular, and I love the subject matter because it’s a period in time that hasn’t been addressed properly in history books and/or in American cinema; so that’s what garnered a huge attention and interest.
S&A: There was a post not too long on how challenging it is for some actors to play slaves. Did you have any hesitations or fear going into it?
TS: There was no fear. I couldn’t because my character Nate is completely fearless, so that’s something that I learned from him, and he’s also a freeman, an ex-slave. The approach happened over a period of time. I was orchestrating a festival in 2009. During my downtime I went to the library, the African American section, and picked up a couple of books there: W.E. B Dubois “The Souls of Black Folks”, Ida B. Wells “Lynch Law in America”. I subsequently read about the race riot of 1906 in Atlanta, the race riot in New Orleans in 1866, Houston race riot 1917, the General Sherman acts often known as 40 Acres and A Mule. So it was just a history that led to this role that I didn’t know in 2009 that I would have the opportunity to audition for.
S&A: How did you approach your role of Nate?
TS: There were a few things. What stands out to me is that I looked at Nate as a different species of human, not a present day human being. We have evolved into a different species of human. At that time, he was outside all day digging graves; he slept in shoddy conditions, if he wasn’t sleeping outside in nature. So, I thought him as an animal and I felt that there needed to be a form of animal instinct about him. I thought how a man like this would move, talk, walk. I asked my ancestors to guide me throughout the process, to be with me, influence me and encourage me in my decisions and choices I made in my performance.
S&A: But, he was also very human, which I loved. You could see that he had been through too much and was too scarred to put himself out there for others emotionally, although he may have wanted to.
TS: When it comes to emotions with this character, there was one thing Chris [Eska] said which was that there was absolutely no smiling. I looked back at the photos of African American men at that time period. If you look at photos, they’re not smiling; they’re with their families; they have very stoic looks. I wanted to also use that to influence Nate in how he carried himself. There is a part in the movie where he does try to connect with will with humor, but there wasn’t any smiling.
S&A: How was working with Chris Eska, the director?
TS: It was pretty amazing. Chris is great; he’s brilliant. He is very meticulous which I love. I applaud him and I’m very grateful for his courageousness in being bold and creating a piece of history that no one had touched for fear of what the African American culture may feel about the story or how Caucasian people might feel as far as their part in history. We haven’t really embraced it or talked about it. We got to take a look at our history. One so we don’t repeat it, at the same time, so we learn from it.