2017 Toronto International Film Festival - 'Kings' Premiere - Arrivals

Source: Jemal Countess / Getty

Most millennials can’t fathom being alive during a time when the generations before them had to fight for the right to be recognized as merely human beings. Although our modern day issues of racism and police brutality are no cakewalk, we’ve surpassed the gruesomeness of lynchings and flat out slavery. The country we currently live in offers very little comfort at times, but just think about what life would have been like if we were coming of age in a time of true civil unrest?

That’s the big task young Canadian actor Lamar Johnson had to tackle in his latest project, Kings, which explores the 1992 Los Angeles riots. Lamar plays Jesse Cooper, the eldest son of Millie Cooper (portrayed by Academy Award-winner Halle Berry). Cooper is a loving foster-mother of eight who lives in South Central. The film is set against the backdrop of the 1992 Los Angeles civil unrest, which erupted after the police who were videotaped beating Rodney King were found not guilty. The film is named Kings in homage to Rodney King, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and other change agents.

CASSIUS chatted with the 23-year-old actor about his experience reliving this historic moment through film and acting alongside Halle Berry. Here’s what he had to say:

On working with Halle Berry…

“It was really amazing. When I read the script alone, I was already drawn into the story and the character. But learning that she would play my mother was incredible! I learned a lot from her, and on set, I was able to sit down and talk to her and work from her energy. It was really incredible.”

On his character, Jesse…

“Jesse goes through a lot just being a foster kid and having to take care of the younger kids. And a lot of his journey is physical. I didn’t know how physical it could get, but it was incredible!”

On how it felt to play out a vital time in Black history…

“It felt amazing to be a part of the narrative. Of course, I was born in ’94, and these events happened in ’92. Fortunately for us, we had a director that was well versed in these events, and she made sure we were well researched. We had an intense two-week rehearsal process that helped us get into the headspace. She made it effortless for us to understand and put ourselves in that position.”

On his dream collaborators as a dancer…

“Michael Jackson, who was just my biggest inspiration. He’s actually the reason why I started dancing. And if he was alive today, I’d definitely love to collaborate with him. I’d also say Chris Brown. He’s such an amazing dancer, singer, songwriter… he’s just amazing. I’d love to work off his energy and he work off my energy, I think it would be really cool.”

On being unapologetic…

“Being unapologetic is just being genuine and true to yourself. With the film being so unapologetic with tapping into the topics that it does, I’m truly happy that this narrative is being told to the audience and to the public.”

Johnson also has roles this year in The Hate You Give and X Men: Dark Phoenix. But you can check him out now in Kings, currently in theaters. Peep the trailer below.