Ashton Sanders is ready for a fight. In his latest film, Captive State, he takes on the role of a blue collar worker leading the resistance against an alien race that has occupied the United States. Set in a dystopian Chicago, Sanders is joined by screen veterans John Goodman and Vera Farmiga, who are on opposite sides of the law.
“The plot of this script is something that I was really into and I think that we have something really exciting on our hands,” Sanders tells BET.com. He is taking a break from filming another project in New York City and won’t even make the premiere for Captive State, but is very excited about the release. “Though it’s this alien film about rebels infiltrating this alien government, it’s also about uprising against a force that you’re not really with. A government that you’re not really into. And I think that’s really badass considering the Trump administration that we’re in now. I’d say that the aliens are a reflection of our administration. The governing that we’re under. I signed on because I saw this was a rebellious ass film.”
Unlike other alien invasion films, Captive State bypasses the elaborate “first contact” trope to determine if the visitors from outer space are friendly or not. There is clear and present danger as viewers are jettisoned into the drama at the start of the occupation. The unnamed threats are nightmarish creatures that are fast as they are brutal. Humanity has already surrendered to their superior technology and physical prowess and the seeds of rebellion are forming as a younger Gabriel (Sanders) and his family are attempting to flee the city. However, there are those who have surrendered in every way to the will of the aliens (Goodman’s Detective Mulligan) and are assisting them in maintaining Marshall Law.
Fast-forward ten years and Gabriel is a factory worker for the government destroying data, smashing SIM cards in a vice. “Anything that links you to yourself, your identity is taken away from you,” he explains. “He’s erasing memories, he’s erasing data, he’s erasing these people’s lives. That’s basically what his job is in the film.”
While at work, Gabriel is assisted by his friend Carrie, who is played by If Beale Street Could Talk's Kiki Layne, whom Ashton has known for years.
“We shot this film definitely before Beale Street,” says Sanders, who starred in Barry Jenkins’ Oscar-winning film Moonlight. “Kiki was still in Chicago contemplating moving to L.A. when we shot Captive State. That was our first time working together. Kiki and I knew each other before we started doing this. We went to the same college for acting. We both went to DePaul university for their acting program, that’s where I initially know Kiki from. We were friends before all this happened. She’s really talented.”
Gabriel dreams of fleeing the city on a boat that he and his friend Jurgis (Machine Gun Kelly) have constructed from spare parts and hope, but he is drafted into the resistance, which is coordinating a plan to strike back against the aliens.
“He’s rebelling against the system to make things right. He’s the head of this plan and I would say that he’s trying to save humanity along with the people we meet along this journey.” With all traditional forms of communication compromised, the resistance relies on an analog means of contacting each other. Days before this conversation, Instagram and Facebook were down for a day sending online users in a frenzy. How would we cope without our tech? Where would our memes go?
“I was definitely working but I wasn’t really tripping, I just thought that my service wasn’t popping,” he says of the outage. “It was a real moment of ‘Damn, this shit is really controlling our lives.’”
While Ashton’s current project hasn’t wrapped yet and Captive State is in theaters now, his next must-see film is new adaptation of Richard Wright’s 1940 novel Native Son, where he plays the lead Bigger Thomas. This adaptation by Suzan-Lori Parks revamps the 1986 film, placing Bigger in present day Chicago. Kiki Layne joins him in this film as well as Bessie.
“I think this was the perfect time for the book to be remade into a film,” Ashton says of the movie coming to HBO in April. “Everything that’s going on with race relations right now is so elevated. I thought it was kind of crazy that we’re dealing with the same thing. Suzan-Lori Park and Rashid Johnson have made Bigger into this Afro Punk so it gives him this layer of not only feeling isolated in America, but putting the extra layer of being an other even further, being misunderstood in his own community, while still holding the same themes of the book. I feel like that was brilliant. I think we created a beautiful art house picture.”
See Ashton Sanders in Captive State in theaters now!
Photo Credit: Focus Features