CS Interview: Damson Idris on sci-fi actioner Outside the Wire
In time for the film’s debut on the streaming platform, ComingSoon.net got the opportunity to chat with on-the-rise star Damson Idris to discuss his role in Netflix’s sci-fi military actioner Outside the Wire, in which he stars alongside Anthony Mackie (The Falcon and The Winter Soldier).
ComingSoon.net: So Outside the Wire is such an interesting combination of timely military thriller as well as a sci-fi action pick. What about it, though, really drew you to want to be a part of the project?
Damson Idris: Well, I was mostly drawn to the script, of course, but above all things, it was to work with Anthony Mackie and Mikael. I always admired Mikael’s 1408. I was like, “Who is this director?” And just to work with Mackie, I of course came off the huge frenzy and high as everyone else did with Avengers. So to be given this opportunity in 2019 to work with him was just a blessing. So that was the main reason I wanted to be a part of the project. But Harp, he spoke to me, man. And I hope he speaks to everyone that watches him.
CS: What was it then like for you, getting to the heart of Harp for the film?
DI: The biggest thing for me was the preparation of the mind state of Harp rather than his physicality. So his physicality was something I wanted to be underprepared with. This is a guy who sits in a chair all day and eats gummy bears and plays with a joystick [laughs]. I wanted him to have a stitch when he runs, and I want him to not hold the gun right. But when it comes to his mind state, I wanted him to be a fantastic drone pilot. But at the same time, I wanted him to be aware of the PTSD and the trauma of what it takes to be a drone pilot. Movies such as Eye in the Sky and Good Kill helped me to get to that place, definitely. But for me, the first time we see Harp, truly see what he does when he presses that button is in that bank sequence, when he experiences his first drone strike. So these are all the things that I kind of combined in order to get into the mind state of Harp. But above all things, I wanted him to be relatable. He’s a 23 year old. He’s about to get married. That’s crazy. And everyone in the world isn’t prepared for that, you know? How does that make him? It makes him a serious guy. So those are the things I looked at.
CS: Since you mentioned Eye in the Sky and Good Kill, I was going to ask, did you do any kind of extra research for this role?
DI: It was movies, it was a lot of movies, Terminator, I Robot I was in a robotic mood, man, I even watched Wall-E [laughs]. But those interviews with some of those Air Force pilots, man, I mean, YouTube is an actor’s playground in 2021. There is nothing you can’t find on there. And you can go down a dark hole, yes, but it’s all worth it. But just to see how some of these soldiers are, the focus, the devotion to their country and to service was something I wanted to show through Harp.
CS: This is also your second time, if I’m recalling correctly, in a military film after Megan Leavey. What was it like returning to the genre?
DI: It was interesting because Megan Leavey was my first time – in that year of all the work I did, I remember it vividly. You know, I did Megan Leavey I did The Commuter and I did City of Tiny Lights. The reason I did those movies was of course to be able to afford bread and milk, but also so I could watch those leads, so I could watch Neeson, watch Kate Mara and watch Riz Ahmed and really understand what it takes to be a lead and what it takes to work on a movie of a huge magnitude. So from going from that young boy to still being a young boy, but to be given more responsibility, it was beautiful because I felt prepared and ready for it. I’m used to doing smaller roles from Black Mirror to Twilight Zone to Snowfall to Farming. I’m used to crying every two seconds. Now it was time to have some fun and to be in the living rooms of millions.
CS: So since you do also mention Snowfall, one thing I really noticed as well was there was a difference in the vocal work, I feel like with Snowfall, we get more of a gruffer kind of lowered voice, but in this one we have sort of a higher pitch. Was that something that you brought to the character? Was that the script? Was that the direction?
DI: It was mostly just a decision I made with Mikael, aside with him being green on a physical nature, I wanted a kind of nerdy aspect to him, also, but I didn’t know how to portray it because you know, there’s the whole corny cliché of the smart guy wears glasses and I didn’t want to do that, you know? But with the pitch of my voice, that’s something I’ve always been infatuated with. I remember when I used to do BBC Radio One plays in London and I started doing them at around 20 years old, when most people’s voices break, but here I am doing water babies in Old Man and the Sea, and I’m playing the little 10 year old boy, you know? I always was infatuated with that kid-like nature of characters, so that’s why I chose to make it more high pitched. I didn’t want Harp to be this cool guy. That’s Leo, Anthony Mackie’s job, you know?
CS: Well, since you mention Anthony Mackie, I mean, one of the things that this film really is reliant upon and it does well is the rapport between you guys. What was that like, building that off camera before they started rolling?
DI: We both stayed at the Four Seasons, so I was knocking at his door every day saying, “Hey, let’s go downstairs and get a drink and some goulash and smoke a cigar,” which I hate. I hate smoking cigars, but he loves them. So I’d pretend. I’d be like, “Yeah, yeah, yeah. [Coughs] Yeah, yeah.” [laughs] But aside from that, Anthony Mackie is my big brother, you know? And although we met on this movie, instantly he saw himself in me 20 years ago, as he puts it. He sees a young actor who has huge ambition and who is willingly open to being a sponge and learning every day. That’s who I am, you know? Every experience is only going to make me better. So working with Anthony Mackie was amazing because I was able to be a great foil for him, and I was able to truly learn and grow as an actor.
CS: Well, and you have like very kind of scene possible with him. I mean you have drama, you have comedy, you have action. With all of those different kinds, what would you say was your favorite to get to perform alongside him?
DI: Oh definitely the comedy. I mean, the great thing about Anthony Mackie is he is an improv genius. I mean, there would be like five different versions to every comedic beat. Some of them were a bit too X-rated to make it to the movie, but it was so hard to keep a straight face because here I am trying to be this stern pilot who’s all serious and Mackie’s just like, laughing and giggling and for that reason, he’s such a likable character. And unlike any AI we’ve seen before, the human side to him is what’s truly amazing. But just to be in a playful mode with him was definitely my greatest experience.
CS: What then was the actual action sequences like for you? Because I mean, there’s so much physicality with the shooting, with the explosions, with the running. What was that like for you being a part of all these big budget sequences?
DI: That gun fire is the loudest thing I’ve ever experienced in my life. Oh man, that was such a fun day. All of the days, but that bank sequence specifically was when I truly learned that you could really lose yourself in an action sequence, regardless of all of these poles that are around, with these little tennis balls on top of that, are supposed to be robots. So regardless of this green screen or this blue screen or whatever, you could really lose yourself in it and that was remarkable for me to experience. But just watching Mackie rehearse, you know, he said he did yoga and jiu jitsu off set to kind of get into the zone of how to be Leo. And then, to watch him rehearse, rehearse, rehearse, do it again and again and again, grow with the stunt workers, it was something to marvel at. And I can’t wait to be given the opportunity to do that, too.
CS: I was going to say, did you get your chance to do any of your own stunts for this film?
DI: I did every single stunt. My favorite stunt was running. That was something I’m not used to. That was fun. People think running’s easy on a movie. It’s not easy. The camera is right in front of you if it’s a close-up and it’s going and you need to keep a steady pace or maybe it’s behind you, following you, there’s stuff on the ground, there’s debris. You don’t want to trip up and ruin the whole take. There’s a lot that goes into running. I’m sure Tom Cruise will side with me.
Set in the very near future, Outside the Wire centers around a disgraced drone pilot is sent into a deadly militarized zone where he finds himself working for an android officer tasked to locate a doomsday device before insurgents do. In 2036, America serves as a peacekeeping force and human troops on both sides are supported by robot combatants called Gumps and drone pilots monitoring skirmishes from thousands of miles away. But after headstrong drone pilot Lieutenant Harp disobeys a direct order to intervene in a conflict, the Army deploys him to a military outpost to confront the human costs of his button-pushing. Harp’s expectations of guarding a fence are upended when his new commanding officer Captain Leo announces plans to infiltrate the demilitarized zone and apprehend Viktor Koval, a warlord who intends to launch a network of dormant nuclear weapons. Soon, Harp learns that his theoretical experience as a drone pilot means little out on the battlefield under enemy attack — especially after discovering that Leo is an A.I.-enhanced supersoldier whose strength, speed and demand for results promise to turn his real-world education into a trial by fire.
The film stars Anthony Mackie (Captain America: Civil War), Damson Idris (Snowfall, Black Mirror), Emily Beecham (Into the Badlands), Michael Kelly (House of Cards), Pilou Asbæk (Game of Thrones) and Enzo Cilenti.
Outside the Wire is directed by Mikael Håfström from a screenplay co-written by Rob Yescomber and Rowan Athale. In addition to starring, Mackie will also produce the film alongside Brian Kavanaugh-Jones, Ben Pugh, Erica Steinberg, and Jason Spire, who’s repping Mackie’s Inspire Entertainment, and is now available to stream on Netflix!
The film marks Mackie’s latest collaboration with Netflix, who have worked together in the second season of the sci-fi series Altered Carbon and the sci-fi film IO. He will next be seen in Disney+’s highly-anticipated MCU series The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.