Looking At The Work Inside ‘Overlord’ With Actor Bokeem Woodbine

The hallowed halls of Hollywood can often play out like the wild west; you can be king of the world one minute, then not know where you’re going to get your next meal from the next.  Or you can be one of those quieter characters that exist in the background…and manage not to get shot!  Those people are otherwise known as working character actors and we got to talk to one who has been around the block in this business more than once.

Bokeem Woodbine has almost 100 on screen credits to his name but has never made his bread and butter around being a star.  After debuting with strong performances in 1994’s films like Crooklyn & Jason’s Lyric he would rack up a myriad of screen credits appearing in things ranging from The Rock & The Big Hit while also taking memorable smaller roles in hit TV shows like The Sopranos & The X-Files. 

The man has been working steady since he got in the game and you’d have seen him most recently in the second season of Fargo & recent Marvel Blockbuster Spider-Man Homecoming.  In Overlord he appears as Sergeant Rensin in Overlord which is available now on DVD, Blu-Ray, 4K and Digital Download from all major providers.

In Overlord we’re on the eve of D-Day, American paratroopers are dropped behind enemy lines to carry out a mission crucial to the invasion’s success. But as they approach their target, they begin to realize there is more going on in this Nazi-occupied village than a simple military operation. They find themselves fighting against supernatural forces, part of a Nazi experiment.

Bokeem really anchors the film in a small but pivotal role in this J.J. Abrams produced adventure and when I asked him about getting the job and getting to work on a Bad Robot picture he jumped at the chance and had this to say…

I actually knew very little going in.  They called us; meaning my agent and I which was awesome because one random day I just got this phone call and he told me that I was being looked at for this JJ Abrams/Bad Robot project and of course I thought that was cool, but then my agent said was that the only caveat was that the director wanted to talk with me first.  So they set up a Skype between me and Julius and we had a really nice conversation because he told me flat out; “I love your work, and I really want you to be a part of this, but you need to know up front that this won’t be an easy shoot”  “It’ll be very demanding and I just want to be sure that your on board for something like that?”  I of course said “No problem, I’m really excited and I certainly hope we can figure something out to work together”.  Obviously we did, and when I finally got there, he really wasn’t playing around man! (Laughs)  It was tough picture to make, and even though I wasn’t in it for that long, it WASN’T an easy picture to make!  They really wanted to create the sensation of what it would be like in this tiny ass little plane, with all that gear on and the pressure of going into battle as well as the nature of what it means to WILLFULLY go to a place where people are going to being trying to kill you.  To willfully put yourself in harm’s way like that.  It was a wild experience, but one I was so happy to have been a part of.

It’s a smaller role to be sure, surrounded by a very young cast in this big budget action film.  He quickly understood his role as the ‘old guy’ on set and I asked if he was thrust into a leadership role even off the set having to mentor and maybe even motivate some guys with a lot less experience then he had, and he said the following…

No man, the entire ensemble and crew were just so motivated and dedicated to this picture and it was so fun to be a part of.  I’ll admit that I was the “old guy” on set (Laughs) and they all gave me that respect and that reverence.  Plus I was acutely aware that I was the dude on set who had been in a few more pictures then pretty much everybody else and I genuinely appreciated the respect that they gave me on set.  Everyone was cool, the young guys actually did call me “Sarge” even when we weren’t filming and it was just such a nice atmosphere to be around and I had a great time working with those cats and took my position as “Old Guy” pretty seriously.  I will say though that I had no complaints though as they all came ready to rock each and every day.  I was proud to be part of that cast and they really motivated through their sincerity and commitment to the work, take after take under those conditions, it was amazing to see.

When you see Overlord (if you haven’t already) you understand that the magic of this film really plays in the fact that even though it is a big spectacle kind of film, there’s a real scrappy nature to it at the same time.  Bokeem has been on some very big budget sets in the past and when I asked him to compare this experience with some he’s had in the past, I really enjoyed what he had to say…

I definitely think that it’s the same kind of caliber of film, especially when it comes down to the overall scope of the project.  It’s a large, well funded major motion picture and it is definitely comparable to some of the other big budget stuff that I have been involved with.  However in Julius (Avery) our director it really had this maverick sensibility to it all because it almost felt like we were getting away with something when we were making it.  We felt like The Dirty Dozen!  You know what I mean?  We were this unpolished fighting force and it always kind of felt like we weren’t supposed to be able to pull it off.  That’s the kind of thing that always compels me because I always view myself as a bit of an underdog and I like working with other underdogs and in proving that we deserve as much recognition and airtime as anybody else and it’s kind of the way that approach my entire career, just that I have something that I need to prove every time I go out there.  I feel like that’s how we all felt when we were making this picture like we all did have something to prove and I really like that kind of energy.

Overlord is a high octane experience that still brings character to the forefront, and having experienced character actors like Bokeem Woodbine in your film only enhances that.  If you haven’t already checked out Overlord, what are you waiting for?  Because honestly, who DOESN’T want to kill Nazis and Zombies?

Overlord is available now on DVD, Blu-Ray, 4K and Digital Download from all major retailers.

Dave Voigt

David Voigt is a Toronto based writer with a problem and a passion for the moving image and all things cinema. Having moved from production to the critical side of the aisle for well over 10 years now at outlets like Examiner.com, Criticize This, Dork Shelf, to.Night Newspaper he’s been all across his city, the country and the continent in search of all the news and reviews that are fit to print from the world of cinema. Having launched his own home; In The Seats (intheseats.ca) back in 2015 for all the latest and greatest movie reviews and interviews he’s one of the leading voices in the film criticism scene in Toronto, and eventually the world. David is the Entertainment Editor for Addicted Magazine.