“We rarely get to see Black fathers who are present on screen”: Shamier Anderson on exploring Black love in his new film Bruiser

“We rarely get to see Black fathers who are present on screen”: Shamier Anderson on exploring Black love in his new film Bruiser

The actor also discusses the lengths he took to get into character and why he likes to be over-prepared

Shamier Anderson as Malcolm in Bruiser. Photo by Dan Anderson/Hulu Photo by Dan Anderson/Hulu

Toronto actor Shamier Anderson (who happens to be the older brother of fellow actor Stephen James) has often played the action hero wrestling with bad guys on the big screen. But, in his new film, Bruiser, he’s wrestling with a different kind of enemy: his personal demons. With this role, the actor proves that he has more to offer audiences than flashy fight scenes.

Directed by Miles Warren, the film, which premiered at TIFF in 2022 and debuts today on Disney Plus, follows 14-year-old Darious (Jalyn Hall) as he explores the boundaries of manhood alongside his strict but loving father, Malcolm (Anderson), and Porter (Trevante Rhodes), a charismatic loner who suddenly enters his life. When Darious learns Porter’s true identity, he is thrust into a conflict between the two men.

We spoke with Anderson about exploring Black fatherhood, the lengths he took to get into character and how the role allowed him to switch gears as an artist.

We’ve never seen you in a role like this—it was so raw and compelling. What drew you to this script and character?
So many things. The big thing for me was the theme of Black fatherhood. We rarely get to see Black fathers who are present on screen. Usually, they are incarcerated or dead or absent. I think this narrative showcases the beauty of Black love and a father wanting to be part of his son’s life.

I’ve read that there is little you won’t do to prepare for a role. What did you do in preparation for this one?
Malcolm is a car salesman, and he has to work every day to make ends meet. So, to get inside the inner fabric of this man, I went to a car dealership in Alabama, where we were shooting, every day. I learned how to be a car salesman and even sold some cars. Further to that, Malcolm is somebody who doesn’t have a lot of self confidence. So I dressed him in really drab clothes and shaved his head bald, because stress causes hair loss.

Most importantly, I didn’t speak to Trevante Rhodes, who plays Porter, as there was a lot of tension between the two characters. It was important to me that, every time we were on screen together, there was real electricity. As a nice Canadian boy—at least I like to think so—I usually like to have dinners and hang out with my colleagues. But, because I didn’t really speak to Trevante, I still don’t really know him. Hopefully one day we can go for dinner and get to know each other a little more.

You also slept in the desert to prepare for Invasion. Does going to these extents help you be more present in your roles?
More present, yes, but also it’s rooted in anxiety, to be honest. Like someone who’s taking an exam, you want to study so you don’t mess up. If you’re under-prepared, you’re sweating, but when you’re over-prepared, the experience is a wonderland. I always try to make sure that I’m able to play on set as opposed to having to think about what I’m doing.

Malcolm has a violent side, and there are some tough moments in the film. We haven’t seen that from you before. How did you get to that dark place?
I didn’t necessarily feel like I had to go to a dark place to show his dark side. It was more about recognizing that this is a man who is broken and asking myself what his brokenness looks like. Some people cry, some people go to therapy, some people eat a lot of food. With Malcolm, his rage was communicated through his physicality. I wasn’t going to set every day thinking, How can I be big? How can I be physical? How can I be strong? It was, Why does he feel so inadequate that he needs to act that way? That was the real work.

To understand the internal demons Malcolm faces, did you talk to anyone?
The common denominator is a parent, and for me the closest thing is my mother—a person who is similar to Malcolm in some ways, like showing tough love and wanting to do their best. My mom was an immigrant, and she didn’t have much. Everything that Malcolm was doing for his family—I lived that. That was something I took from my own life and added to the story.

Shamier Anderson and Jalyn Hall in Bruiser.

Between Malcolm, Porter and Darious, which character did you connect with the most?
There are elements of all of the characters that I can relate to, including Monica, Malcolm’s wife, who is sweet and just wants the best for everybody. I don’t like beef. And then there’s Porter, who is relentlessly striving to be a better person. I relate to that, trying to be a better person every day.

This was a lot of character work and less action than what we’ve seen in the past. How did acting in a film like this satisfy you as an artist?
I got to play someone who was so human. In the past, there’s usually been a sci-fi element to all of the characters that I play. But, with this one, there were no frills, no CGI, no monsters or crazy fight scenes. These are the hardest roles to play, because there’s nothing to hide behind. What you see is what you get.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.