Real-life events depicted on the big or small screen can introduce moviegoers to topics and experiences that result in thought-provoking conversations. Breaking, the latest from director Abi Damaris Corbin is an excellent team-up with writer Kwame Kwei-Armah. The two bring the true story of Marine Veteran Brian Brown Easley, played by Star Wars franchise star John Boyega.
Breaking follows Easley as he holds two Wells Fargo bank tellers hostage, played by Nicole Beharie and Selenis Leyva, with the aid of a homemade bomb. Also, starring is Michael K. Williams as the hostage negotiator, trying to keep everyone inside and outside the bank safe.
The film’s plot that focuses on Easley’s PTSD and his mistreatment by the Veteran Affairs system is a testament to today’s care of US veterans. For part one of this two-part featurette, we spoke with the director Abi Damaris Corbin and writer Kwame Kwei-Armah behind the next Dog Day Afternoon.
How did both of you get involved with Breaking?
Abi Damaris Corbin:Well, I read the article by Aaron gal about Brian Brown Easley. And I’d not heard about the story previously, but it struck through my soul when I read it. It reminded me of my dad’s struggles with the VA. My dad’s a veteran–a Navy guy–, and I knew the story had to be told, and then I was a big fan of Kwame’s work.
Kwame Kwei-Armah:And so, really, Abby auditioned me over a lovely Thai meal
And that they’ll generally get anybody to do anything.
Kwame Kwei-Armah:Hey, it got me, bro.
Abi Damaris Corbin:That’s really good Thai food
Kwame Kwei-Armah:But Abby sent me the article, and I read it and was touched and moved. So then I connected with Abby, and so she wanted to join her on the mission to tell this story in as good a fashion as we possibly could.
What research did the two of you do to depict the events of what happened accurately as possible for Breaking?
Kwame Kwei-Armah: What research did we not do?
Abi Damaris Corbin: We did everything that we could possibly do. We transcribed the tapes from the day verbatim. We walked the same streets Brian walked from his hotel to the bank. We spent time in the bank. I think I still have a selfie that Kwame took in the bank.
It was my screensaver for just like a day there because it was so good. But we did our best to get to the hottest part of the fire. Brian was a man of intense beauty, sensitivity, and kindness, as we came to know through the research. So what we wanted to find out through that is what made this man who had such nobility.
Who had such a love for books, who had such a love for film, and who was such a father to his daughter. What made him break? What made him come to the point where he could not take anymore?
John Boyega is the lead role. Was he always the first choice Breaking?
Abi Damaris Corbin: John’s a generational talent. Go ahead, Kwame.
Kwame Kwei-Armah: No, no, go, go, go, go.
Abi Damaris Corbin: I was just going to talk about how John’s an incredible artist, and I can talk about that for hours.
Kwame Kwei-Armah: Yeah. What’s very interesting is when we got to the end of the first draft, I said to Abby, “Abby, you know, this is John Boyega,” and Abby went, “This is John Boyega.”
I have to mention that the three of us shared a collective laugh in agreement that this role was made for John Boyega
Kwame Kwei-Armah: I mean, we were in sync throughout this process, and we sent it to John, and he was busy. And then, be it serendipity or whatever one believes, when it was time to shoot—he was the one. So it’s very rare that you can say to an actor and their agent, “Do you remember that email I sent you?” The end of the first, which said, “You’re the one.” So yeah, that would be our answer, my answer, our answer.
So what was the most challenging thing to write for in this movie?
Abi Damaris Corbin: Ooh, to write…
Kwame Kwei-Armah: His death?
Abi Damaris Corbin: I think so. Yeah. That’s where my mind’s going.
Yeah. Cause that’s a very, “oh shit moment.” And it’s a hard watch, especially how the movie comes to a point where everything might be okay.
Abi Damaris Corbin: It’s hard to write, hard to execute.
Kwame Kwei-Armah: It’s interesting. I say that the death [scene] was the hardest, but actually, one of the hardest was his first words once inside of the bank. Because Brian was such a kind, loving, and generous person, Abby and I, wrestled forever and tried to find the first thing that would come out of his mouth once he had done the act.
Abi Damaris Corbin: And you know, when John said them for the first time on set, I remember this feeling of just, “That’s it.”