You may recognize Kelvin Harrison Jr. for his supporting turns in “The Birth of a Nation” and on “Roots” and “StartUp,” but with A24 and writer-director Trey Edward Shults’ “It Comes At Night,” he leaves his mark as a Hollywood heavyweight on-the-rise. He plays Travis, who along with his parents, Paul and Sarah (Joel Edgerton and Carmen Ejogo, respectively), holes himself in a woods-nestled house after a deadly outbreak begins sweeping the nation. Harrison came by Backstage HQ June 8 to discuss the psychological horror flick and reveal the one acting trick Viola Davis taught him on the set of “Ender’s Game.”
Harrison wanted Travis to be ‘trapped.’
“I [understood] the psychology of a 17-year-old and what’s going on in his head. I first started [breaking into the character] with questions and understanding what [his] nightmares meant. There’s a lot of nightmares in the film, and there’s a lot of symbolism in the nightmares. I asked Trey, [and] he answered the questions—or he didn’t, depending on what they were. He’s like, ‘Who’s to say?’ Because a big theme in the film is the unknown, and he wanted us to also kind of go through this process in the dark…. I wanted [Travis] to feel like he was trapped in a child’s mindset and very sheltered, and then that’s amplified because we’re in this house and isolated.”
As a New Orleans-based teen, he went from being a musician to an actor.
“I started off playing piano and trumpet and singing. I went to jazz camp every summer. I went to a creative arts school for jazz. I really wanted to get into acting [so] I was like, ‘OK…do a musical.’ That’s a happy medium, right? Some music, some acting. So I did ‘Hairspray,’ and that was a door into something else. And then I did a movie called ‘Ender’s Game,’ where I originally auditioned for an extras role, but I got upgraded to a principal role…. I did that for about four months, and I got to meet Harrison Ford and Viola Davis and all these amazing kids. It felt so tangible [to continue acting].”
When Viola Davis offers you acting advice, you take it.
“I remember Viola told me, ‘It’s a craft. You need to understand that and get into some classes.’ So the next thing I did was I got into acting class. I found a local acting teacher in the city, and I did that for a few years.”
Trust your instinct going into an audition.
“I’ll read the script and I’ll just start breaking it down bit by bit. I ask a lot of questions. Anything I don’t know, I just start writing questions down and start answering them. And then whatever my instincts tell me. My instinct is a big thing for me because though I took those classes, I haven’t gotten a formal [training], in my opinion—like, university training. [From there], I’ll start with whatever, like, it might be a movie reference or it might be a person that I think of, and then I start pulling up stuff, and I look up a lot of clips. Then I just start jotting stuff down in my journal, and if I want to, I’ll coach with my acting coach on Skype. And that’ll be about it.”
Want to hear more from Harrison? Watch the full Facebook Live interview here.
Want to star in a horror film? Check out Backstage’s film audition listings!