With his good looks and Denzel Washington-like swagger, Nate Parker, 32, is quickly becoming a hot commodity in Hollywood.
He burst onto the scene in 2007 with Washington's directorial debut "The Great Debaters," but this year has been his coming-out party as he starred as a Tuskegee Airman in "Red Tails," played a bad-ass drug dealer in Spike Lee's "Red Hook Summer" and now trades barbs with Richard Gere in the white-collar thriller "Arbitrage" (opening Friday).
In "Arbitrage," Parker plays Jimmy Grant, a family friend of financial banking titan Robert Miller (Gere) who gets into hot water after Miller calls him late one evening to pick him up at a gas station in the suburbs. Soon, Jimmy gets taken in by a hard-nosed NYPD detective (Tim Roth) and is looking at a long time in prison ... unless Miller can do something about it.
Parker chatted with us about the moral dilemmas seeped in "Arbitrage," re-teaming with Lee for the upcoming American version of "Oldboy" and his love of Hall and Oates.
Out of the characters you've played this year, which one was the hardest to shake off?
I would say the one for "Red Tails." I coach a high school wrestling team and a middle school team. I consider myself a coach and an activist so I'm really involved in the community. Leadership is one of the things I really strive to excel in in my life. Taking on the task of playing these iconic Tuskegee Airmen spilled over into my life. I would be back in practice and giving the orders kind of like [my character] Captain Martin Julian, "C'mon guys, on the line!" You know? So it took me a minute to get out of that just because it was closer to me in my everyday life.
Everyone brings their A-game in "Arbitrage." Can you feel the energy is a little different on set when you know everyone around you is really into their roles?
I think so. But I think it starts with the leadership; [director] Nick Jarecki really obsessed over the details, so we walked into something that was so airtight that all we had to do was show up. And you have to understand, we're working with Richard Gere and he's a heavyweight and has been one for a very long time, so it trickles down. And there were no egos. Everyone showed up and were servants to the project.
Walk me through your scenes with Gere. Did you guys just shoot a couple of takes, or did you do a lot?
Nick was big on rehearsal, so when I first arrived to New York four days before I was shooting, I went to Nick's house and Richard came over and we just beat the scenes to death. We shouted at each other, we struggled through it, we questioned each other. So when we came onto set we were able to exist in the space. I think that really, really helped us.
So be honest with me: Who was more fun to work across from, Richard Gere or Tim Roth?
I would say Tim Roth. The emotional intensity was definitely Richard, you could just feel it. But Tim was so unpredictable, he would come through one door in one take and, in the next one, he'd come in the door behind you and scream in your ear. You never knew where he was coming from! And Nick would just let the tape run, so if Tim just wanted to stare at you for 30 seconds to see how you'd react he'd just go with it. So that was fun because you just never knew what was going to happen with Tim.
Tim seems like a guy who would be in character off-set throughout filming. Was he cool when the cameras stopped rolling?
It's both. When you're in a scene and we're between shots, he's more in character. But at the end of the day, or before the day, he's one of the nicest people you'll ever meet. I didn't know what to expect; from his work you don't know if he's one of these method guys that when you meet him at the cast brunch he would hate you. But when I met him he was cool.
Because you had time before shooting began to talk things out, what did you and Nick discuss about the Jimmy character? Did you want to change things?
I really wanted to find the human being. The American dream is more about opportunity than anything else. So Jimmy isn't this ex-drug-dealing gun charge, mad at the world; he's a human being trying to better his life. So we really investigated the backstory between Jimmy and Robert and why Jimmy felt this intense loyalty to this man. So even though Jimmy is looking at years in prison, it's his responsibility to protect Robert.
Do you think at the end of the day Jimmy is a good person?
I absolutely do. I think good and bad is so relative. We throw the words around like it's so definitive, and I don't want to get political, but there are a lot of questions about where we are as a country and what's good and what's bad. Who is good and who is bad? And I think it's relative to the person defining the word. When you have a Robert Miller you think, well he is a bad guy, but on the other hand you're like, well, what would you have done differently? So every character in this movie has that moral dilemma.
You've worked with so many great directors and actors in a short time. Is there one that's given you the best advice?
They all have. Every single relationship I've had so far has provided a certain level of expertise for the next project. But Denzel was the first that I worked with and he was the one that nurtured me and that I could call on for advice. And he told me it's not only the script but the filmmaker. So throughout my career I've tried to work with directors that have integrity. Denzel also said, "Man gives the award, God gives the reward." He said, "Don't obsess yourself with the awards of man because if you do you'll be constantly disappointed." These are the things that created inside me to realize this business is a marathon, not a sprint.
Are you going to do "Oldboy" next?
Yeah, I'm excited to work with Spike again.
Did you see the original "Oldboy"?
It's one of my favorite movies of all time. I watched it just before I came into this crazy business of being an actor and I was so taken by it. It was heavy, it was dark, it was funny. So when Spike and I did "Red Hook Summer," he told me he was going to be doing it, and I was like, "What, you're doing that?!" I had no idea. He then called me and asked me if I'd read the script and that was that.
Can you say who you're playing?
I won't say who I'm playing; I'll just say I'm extremely excited with the role.
What is your dream role?
Nat Turner. He's revolutionary and changed the landscape of this country so if I could bring any story to life his would make me the most proud.
Mac or PC?
Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest or Instagram?
I'm down with Twitter (@NateParker) but my wife loves Pinterest.
Beer or Wine?
Rock or Rap?
That's a tough question. It's almost a tie but I love classic rock. I'm a big Hall and Oates fan.