I took more of [Fuzz] with me than any other character—ever. Without a doubt, man. I think about him a lot.
There are no small parts, only small actors—or so the old saying goes. Scene-stealers get at the heart of what they do best: They show up, sparkle, and leave us wishing they stuck around a while longer, or wishing they had headlined it all. Movies are reliant on their indispensable presence.
Ed Skrein is a scene-thieving dynamo in Ana Lily Amirpour’s Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon—and elsewhere, like Deadpool, if you’re familiar with the English actor’s work. Here, he plays Fuzz, a street corner drug dealer, although he would never call himself that—he deals occasionally. On the surface, you see why he might invite snap judgements: His facial tattoos, fluorescent fits, and a general loudness in character. Thankfully, Skrein takes Fuzz to a place of great warmth and caring over the course of the story. Fuzz is the film’s heartbeat, which the actor so ably captures.
After spending the better part of a decade in an insane asylum on the outskirts of New Orleans, the rise of a blood moon awakens something in Mona Lisa Lee (Jeon Jong-seo). She now harnesses a dormant superpower, which gives her the ability to manipulate her abusive caregiver with a darting stare. Spilling out onto the neon-soaked streets of the French Quarter, where her mangled straitjacket is mistaken for a fashion statement, Mona Lisa meets Fuzz, a stranger who supplies our hungry escapee with junk food, before literally giving her the shirt off his back. Before long, she gets mixed up with an opportunistic stripper, Bonnie Belle (Kate Hudson), who’s quick to monetize this new protégée’s telekinetic abilities. Naturally, there’s also a determined cop, Harold (Craig Robinson), hot on their tail, and the stakes of this manhunt are only heightened by the unlikely friendship that develops between Mona Lisa and Bonnie’s latchkey kid, Charlie (Evan Whitten).
Next up for Skrein is Zack Snyder’s sci-fi epic, Rebel Moon, for Netflix.
Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon is now in select theaters, and available on Digital and On Demand.
I loved Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon, and it’s so rare that a movie stays with you and gets even better with reflection. How did it measure up to what you thought you had filmed?
I always feel a bit disconnected from movies when they come out. ‘Cause I love the process. I love the shoot. In truth, I feel like that’s when my part is kind of done and I’m out of the equation. So it always feels a bit weird, me even speaking about it now, especially in my own accent, in my house in London. It feels like it’s for other people to talk about now, even though I understand the relevance. The way I judge movies is, “What was I intending to do? What did I think this was? What was I trying to do with this?” When I watched this movie, I said, “It’s exactly what we tried to do. This is exactly how it felt—the intoxicating, hallucinogenic nature of New Orleans, and the way Ana Lily [Amirpour] was shooting stuff with the cinematography.” It was everything I could hope for, man. And it definitely stays with you, these characters, you know? Even Bonnie, man. Bonnie is such a great, complex character. You’re not supposed to like her in a way, but you can’t not like Kate Hudson. I’m really proud of how this movie turned out, man. I really, really am.
Ana Lily described Fuzz to me as her “dream guy.” I fell in love with him, too. Normally, I’d be inclined to ask that dreaded question: What drew you to this role? I think it’s pretty clear.
Hell yeah. You know what drew me. Fuzz is my dream guy, too. Not in a romantic sense, but… I’d never finished a film before and thought to myself, “I need to be more like that character.” I look at myself like, “I’m a good person, man,” but I’m also always self-reflecting, trying to change, and evolve and grow. I was like, “I need to be more like that.” All of us need to be able to give without expecting in return, you know? Everyone else in the movie’s trying to find their place in society, but Fuzz exists outside of the human struggle. He’s the Cheshire Cat, and not just because he’s got the tattoo on the back of his head. Everything is not as it appears. Fuzz might seem rough at first, but you need to just give him a chance. If you don’t give him a chance, you missed out because he’s the golden ticket, man. He’s the golden key. He was that for me to play him. This is a beautiful person. And this is why I love Ana Lily’s writing. I know people like Fuzz. He is a drug dealer, he stands on the street corner, there are the parties, and he’s trying to stay away from the police and all of this. That would suggest that he’s a bad person, but he’s the most beautiful person. He just wants to give and love. Ana Lily once said to me, “Bruce Lee is his religion.” [laughs] And I was like, “This is my director. This is my character.” This is what I fucking chose. I’m like, “Bruce Lee is his religion? Fuck yeah.” Obviously, that’s a ridiculous thing if you try to intellectualize it too much. It was so fun for me to feel liberated, with the glasses, the tattoos, the shoes, and the candy bracelet on my ankle and shit. Most of the time, my characters stay somewhere in my body, but they don’t stay in my heart. He’s a special character that will stay in my heart forever.
I mean, it says something that you kept Fuzz’s tattoos on you when you went traveling.
How did you know that? Yeah, I did. I went to Grenada afterwards to see some family, and the tattoos were just cool as shit! I was like, “I’m not ready to let go of Fuzz yet.” And I was going to meet my children so I was like, “This will be funny.” They would see me with tattoos everywhere. Every day would be me and the people on the beach just cracking jokes, making friends with other families and stuff. Every time I came back out to sea, the tattoos would be wearing off and it’s like, “Okay, who the hell is this guy? This is weird.” [laughs] Yeah, I don’t think I’ve ever not wanted to say goodbye to a character before. But with Fuzz, I took more of him with me than any other character—ever. Without a doubt, man. I think about him a lot.
What a huge gift.
He exists inside my heart. But outside of me, I wish he was my friend. I wish he lived in East London and I could buck up with him now. I wish I could hang out with him and have some of his energy. There are some special people in this world that are different from everyone else. I don’t think I’m one of those people in a sense, because my attributes are different, so it was fun to play one of those beautiful flowers. I know it sounds cheesy, but I love him forever, man. For real.
There are a lot of fun anecdotes from this shoot. Craig [Robinson] said Ana Lily wore clown makeup on set to blend into New Orleans, in case she got caught in front of the camera.
Listen—that was the least crazy thing that was going on in New Orleans and on set. And it wasn’t even crazy because we were just vibing, man. It was just straight vibes. Craig’s a musician, and he’s cool as fuck, man. This is a Def Jam comedy legend. The stuff he’s done is unbelievable. And he’s the nicest man in the world—the greatest man in the world. I was with him a couple of weeks ago in LA, actually. I love him to bits. We all just entirely gave ourselves to Ana Lily and said, “What’s it gonna be? What do you want? Where we going?” She’d be like, “We’re going all the way up to the moon and back again.” We were like, “Let’s go.” We were fully in it with her, you know? She’d be running around on set with a boombox and Benny the dog [Ana Lily’s canine]. There was crazy lightening and storms and shit. You remember all that stuff in my house, where we dye our hair and we’ve got all the psychedelic stuff and where I’m making the eggs?
The blacklight, yeah. It was a crazy night, man. We had to keep stopping because there was risk of all the crew outside getting hit by lightening. I was just like, “Yeahhh. This is Fuzz. This is Mona Lisa. This is Ana Lily. This is the vibe!” I can’t really believe it happened. Because most of the time, shoots are so fucking sober, and if it ends up being cool and vivid on screen, that’s usually added by the composers and stuff. Normally, our job is not to experience the same energy. It’s not for us to feel on the day. But with this, the magic was there and the whole set was sprinkled in fairy dust. Everyone was raised up like a foot off the ground and we’re floating, shooting like that for hours and days. Then they say, “Alright, it’s a wrap,” and the fairy dust wears off. We come back down. We get in our cars. We go back to the hotel going, “That was crazy. That was magic.” And that’s Ana Lily—truly, truly, truly. If she picks up the phone to call any of us in the cast, I know we’re running back a million miles an hour. I’ll swim over the Atlantic.
I also checked out I Used to Be Famous the other day. There’s a loose connection between your characters, Fuzz and Vince, in their shared love of music. You obviously have a musical background as well. Is that perhaps part of the allure when you’re considering these roles?
No, it’s sensory. It’s like a 4D sensory experience, so music is as informative as food or mark making. Music is always with me. It’s just even better to be able to work on these two projects that have strong musical cores. It’s interesting you say that because these two movies are the only two movies I ever got—now, Deadpool had this as well, but not to the same extent—where they really lay out exactly what songs will play at exactly what time. With Ana Lily and with Eddie Sternberg, who made I Used to Be Famous, the scripts came with playlists. So as soon as my character comes on, every time Fuzz is there, you get that low kind of tribal house. It would say that in the script. So I’d press play and go over the script. It was the same thing with I Used to Be Famous, where we’d go to a montage sequence in the screenplay and we’d go into some really eclectic song. Again, I don’t just sign up to screenplays—I sign up to the energies of directors. Eddie had a playlist that was so different from what I would’ve chosen. It was so perfect. And it was exactly the same with Ana Lily. I want to be led and taken somewhere new, as well as stimulated by these grooves that I already use. I always use music and have my own playlists for all of my characters. Music follows me everywhere I go. But it’s nice to be led by the filmmaker and for everything to be even more specific, you know? I just think that, when you’re a creative person, like Craig is, like Ana Lily is, and like I am, it just comes out however it bloody can. You’re just trying to express yourself. It’s like a theme for sensory art. You just wanna be stimulated and you wanna be inspired. You wanna feel something, you know? ‘Cause it’s as inspiring to be like, “Ugh, that makes me not wanna make anything or do anything.” You wanna feel something.
Ana Lily gave this amazing quote to Deadline, I think out of Venice Film Festival: “I know my own creative boner. I need to feel that, and I know when I’m faking it.” I love that.
I remember the exact moment she said that. I was sitting next to her in the press conference at Venice. I was like, “Yesss. It’s so true. This one was the greatest.” A hundred percent you can feel that with her, and it helped so much. That’s what you want. I always say, working with directors that wrote the screenplay and have real investment in the piece is the greatest way things can be because they can filter ideas for you in a much more informed way. They can bring intellect and instinct to it. I got the same thing at the moment with the shoot I’m on with my director who’s also the screenwriter, and I had that with I Used to Be Famous as well. It is a real privilege and, just from a technical point of view, it’s really exciting and inspiring and much more immediate. With Ana Lily, you can kind of see the creative boner in her eyes and you can feel it on set. It’s like, “Wow! Yeah, okay!” and we just go, you know? Even that line, “I’ll see you in the sequel,” wasn’t in the screenplay. Ana Lily came up to me like, “Yo, say this line.” And I was like, “You sure? That’s crazy.” She’s like, “Yes, just say it!” And I’m like, “You’re so naughty!” [laughs] You just think it will never make it in because, like, the fuck? We’re breaking the fourth wall now? I think I only did it once, but I remember thinking that was so fun. And when you watch it, you’re like, it looks fun. You see a twinkle in my eye because I had a twinkle in my eye. It was great.
Kate made a great point that, even though Mona Lisa is a “small” film, in the scope of storytelling, it’s quite big. Going from something like Mona Lisa to something like Rebel Moon, which you’re currently working on with Zack Snyder, do they feel very different?
Variety is the spice of life, man. In a way, the storytelling is the same until you get to set, and then it’s different. The preparation is the same. The approach is in many ways the same. Obviously, you make decisions about sensibilities and choices and instincts based on the genre and the scale of it. That does make a difference. With some of them—the big ones—you arrive and it’s like a monster. It’s so fun. It’s so awesome and crazy and you’re just like, “Oh my gosh, look, it’s a spaceship,” or whatever. I love doing the big studio movies. But independent cinema is where my heart is at, you know? Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon and I Used to Be Famous are like the dream blueprint for my career going forward. I really hope that people keep trusting me on the big studio movies and I keep doing that as well. I think I’m able to bring something to those productions. I hope that continues and I keep learning from them in a different way, also as a director and a writer myself. Going from a Danish crew of 26, making a Dogma movie in Paris, to Rebel Moon with 350 people behind the camera and whatever is going on in front of the camera—it’s on an insanely different scale. It’s a very different sensibility the way Danish crews block a scene for a romantic movie. It’s different from how we block them when we’re doing action stuff. I want to keep doing it all. But yeah, I can’t lie, I’ve always had my heart in the underground. I’ve always had my heart in weird shit, with weird people and outsiders. That’s why this movie is so special. It’s because Ana Lily speaks for the outsiders, the people on the periphery of society. I coexist with those people and relate to those people in real life. I love those people in real life. We call them family. And so, to represent them? To shoot on the streets with them and to learn from those places and get to go to those places in New Orleans? Making lower-budget movies, it’s like you’re mucking in. You really matter to the filmmaker. It’s like, without this, they’re fucked. Sometimes when you’re on the big movies, you kind of feel like that doesn’t matter so much. And when I’m on a big movie, I often think, “How many Mona Lisa and the Blood Moons could we make with just today’s budget?”
You know? But, again, variety is the spice of life. I’m so lucky to be able to jump between them. It’s such a joy. I also did All the Light We Cannot See, a historical biopic, and that was so much fun and amazing and so different. Before that, I’d shot I Used to be Famous in Peckham and that was like a 12 million dollar movie. Now Rebel Moon is like bigger than any movie I’ve ever done. After this, it’ll be back to the subversive independent cinema—back with the nutters! [laughs] Back with the fruitcakes that I belong with, you know? With my fellow nutters making subversive shit. But yeah, long may it continue. I always do a couple of independent films and then I’m ready for a big one. Then I do a big one and I’m like, “I’m ready to go back to the other thing.” I just kind of jump the whole time. I’m aware what a privilege it is to be able to do that.