Daniel Craig has a simple explanation for how he wound up playing a recluse in the drama “Kings,” the English-language debut from writer-director Deniz Gamze Erguven about the 1992 Los Angeles riots. Pic premieres Wednesday at the Toronto Intl. Film Festival.
“The answer is ‘Mustang,'” Craig told Variety.
“Mustang” was Eguven’s 2015 Oscar-nominated drama about five Turkish sisters. Craig recalled that he knew nothing about the film until he received a “for your consideration” screener.
“I watched ‘Mustang’ and I immediately watched it again because I was so blown away,” he said. “So I did what I can occasionally do because of my celebrity and called up Deniz. That’s the lucky thing about this job. So I told her, ‘I would love to work with you if there’s something you might have for me.’ ”
Erguven, who is of Turkish-French ancestry, had been working on the “Kings” project for a decade, researching the 1992 riots that were sparked by the acquittals of the four white Los Angeles policemen charged with assaulting African-American Rodney King in a widely seen video. Craig’s character is the only white man in an area largely inhabited by African-Americans, Latinos and Koreans. He allies with a single mother, played by Halle Berry, to navigate the gathering chaos in the city to bring her kids home safely.
“There really are no bad guys in the film and it was a joy to work with Deniz — who never raises her voice,” he recalled.
Erguven said “Kings” began to move quickly once she received an Oscar nomination for “Mustang” in early 2016. The film was shot in Los Angeles in December and January.
“I needed to cast someone with a lot of physicality who could deliver a very nuanced performance,” she said of Craig. “Daniel has such a diversity [of talent].”
For Erguven, working out the story required visiting dozens of churches in South Central Los Angeles to get the correct sense of what it was like to survive the four days of riots. Erguven found that a key to telling story was the mostly forgotten fatal shooting by a South Korean convenience store owner of 15-year-old Latasha Harlins, two weeks after the King video emerged. A week before the officers were acquitted, a state appeals court upheld the reduced sentence given to the grocer.
“Latasha is like a ghost haunting the film,” she noted.
Charles Gillibert of CG Cinema produced and co-financed the film with Trudie Styler, Celine Rattray and Charlotte Ubben of Maven Pictures executive producing with Bliss Media’s Wei Han. Maven Pictures and Bliss Media co-financed; Vincent Maraval, who is also an exec producer, is handling international sales via his Insiders shingle. The Orchard picked up U.S. rights in May.
Craig, who has agreed to return for one more stint as James Bond, recently starred in Steven Soderbergh’s “Logan Lucky.”
“‘Kings’ turned out way beyond what I thought it would,” he said. “I watched it …. and I’m the world’s worst audience at watching my own work.”