A day after filming on “The Inspection,” Bokim Woodbine would occasionally walk into the lobby of his hotel and see young actors “having a great time” playing marines under his supervision.
In person, director Elegance Bratton said, Woodbine is both “effortlessly funny” and a true gentleman, “caring like Sidney Poitier in his car and regal, with real sweetness,” and in a recent interview he was soft-spoken and thoughtful. But in the film, Bratton’s moving autobiographical story about a gay homeless youth who finds his worth by proving himself at Marine Corps boot camp, Woodbine plays head drill instructor Leland Loss, who rides the young recruits all but as almost self-destructive. He aims his poison at Bratton’s alter ego, Alice French (Jeremy Pope).
Yet Woodbine’s take is more nuanced than clichéd — Bratton appreciates a brief laugh during a pivotal confrontation with the French that “communicates all his complexities” — but he’s still an imposing and even cruel taskmaster.
So when he found this group of actors to be “really good cats” with whom he usually likes to hang out, he would walk past them and sternly say, “Stop moving around. You’ve got to get your asses to bed, we’ve got to get up early.” And, Woodbine recalls with a laugh, they would respectfully reply, “Yes, sir.”
Woodbine is perhaps best known for his role as Fathead Newman on “Ray” and his Emmy-nominated turn as mobster Mike Milligan on the TV series “Fargo,” but he has been acting steadily for three decades and diligently preparing for each role. .
Initially, Woodbine planned to revisit films with famous drill sergeants, particularly “Full Metal Jacket,” but stopped himself. “I told myself, subconsciously, it’s better to have my own organic interpretation of who this guy is,” he says. “I just didn’t want to lean into methods or tropes that the audience would find familiar.”
Instead, “mining the experiences he had endured and observed after realizing Elegance,” he relied heavily on Bratton’s rather personal take. “There were pushes and pulls at times, but he was amazing in his ability to give actors free rein and let go but rein things in.”
Law is, to a large extent, the film’s villain, but Woodbine refuses to see him as such. “No matter how despicable my characters are, I’ve long since set my heart on them,” he says. “I am never trying to qualify or judge their actions. I always think they’re right because often they don’t think they’re right.”
The drill sergeant cares passionately about his underlings. “He has a love for these young servicemen who at any moment have to engage in hyperviolence and suffer wounds and potentially lose their lives,” Woodbine said. He explained that he worked to develop an understanding that committed the laws
So heavy is this young man and his transformation into a Marine that he will develop a “blind spot in his moral compass” that adds to the film’s dramatic tension.
And while Woodbine had never served in the military, he understood the dangers of tunnel vision. “In the past, I’ve tried to work, and other things can fall by the wayside because at that moment the role is the most important and it’s like nothing else matters,” he says. “I can relate to her isolation and her feeling that no one cares as much as she does.”