Original-Cin Q&A: Moonlight's Trevante Rhodes on working blind in the Netflix thriller Bird Box

Based on the best-selling Josh Malerman novel, Bird Box is a post-apocalyptic thriller that follows a woman (Sandra Bullock) who, along with a pair of unnamed children, must make it through a forest and river blindfolded to escape a supernatural entity that, if seen, causes people to commit suicide. 

The film also stars Trevante Rhodes, who blew us away in 2016 with his performance as the adult Chiron in the Academy Award-winning film Moonlight.

Our Bonnie Laufer spoke with Rhodes about working alongside Sandra Bullock and not taking his sight for granted.

Bird Box begins streaming on Netflix - December 21st.  

ORIGINAL-CIN: Welcome back to Toronto, Trevante. I know you’ve been extremely busy with recent roles in The Predator, and 12 StrongBut I can’t believe it’s been two years since we spoke for your breakout movie, Moonlight. 

Trevante Rhodes:  “I know, right?  Time really does fly.” 

Trevante Rhodes and Sandra Bullock in Bird Box.

Trevante Rhodes and Sandra Bullock in Bird Box.

OC: The movie was so loved and of course went on to win the Oscar for best picture. Is it safe to say that it’s still hard to come down from the high of that film and the experience you had with it? 

TR:  “I don’t want to say I never got ‘up’ on it, but it was truly an amazing experience. I don’t know how to explain it but for me it was all about Barry Jenkins (the writer/director). For me it was so cool to see his success and how people responded to the film.”

OC:  Now you’re here with Bird Box, one of the most intense thrillers I have seen in a long time. What was your initial reaction when you read the script? 

TR:  “The script changed a lot, but initially it was just this very interesting story that had this through-line of love, family and connection.  For me, that was interesting.  I always try to look for that and when it does have those elements plus a bit of a thrill ride as with this one, I was immediately hooked.”

OC: What did you connect with? 

TR: “The idea that my character was a good person and I was excited to do my best version of that really.” 

OC: The storyline puts a group of complete strangers in a house together, who not only need to fend for themselves but for each other.  The circumstances are dire, but there has to be an element of trust involved for survival. 

TR: “When your emotions are running so high and your adrenaline is pumping, you don’t really have any choice but to trust these people.”

OC: For you, is it a gut feeling whether to place your trust in someone? 

TR: “Yeah for sure, always.” 

OC: So tell me about trusting Sandra Bullock and working with her. 

TR: “Sandy is different, she is on a whole other level.  She’s someone who puts her heart in her eyes and on her sleeve. So, it’s very easy to trust people like that. It’s very easy to be the same with people like that, so Sandy is a special situation.” 

Trevante Rhodes (right) with Bird Box director Susanne Bier.

Trevante Rhodes (right) with Bird Box director Susanne Bier.

OC: What do you learn from somebody like her? 

TR: “Everything. I learned that I needed to continue to try and be like her, in the way she exudes that trust, and to be the best version of yourself and work hard every day.”

OC: She has said that she found you extremely grounded in a way that she could never be. What does she mean by that?  She obviously found a lot of to trust in you. 

TR: “She’s just humble and so giving.  I honestly don’t know. She is one of the most giving and exceptional people I have ever worked with so far.  I just tried to follow her, to be honest, and hope that I wasn’t disappointing her in any way.”

 OC: The film is directed by one of my favourite directors Susanne Bier.  What was it like working with her, and what did she bring to the table to encourage the level of intensity that was needed?

TR: “Susanne has a really unique ability of identifying that thing that tugs on your heart in every scene. And then to apply that to this high angst situation, I think, provides a really unique balance. She just always had us on edge from the minute she said ‘Action!’ to ‘Cut!’ For a lot of the film, we are stuck in a house which was dark, so it added to the vibe and essence of what we were trying to do.”

 OC: Plus being stuck in that house with John Malkovich  had to have added to the tension. 

TR: “Yes, he’s an intense dude but lots of fun too.” 

OC: I understand he was the bird whisperer on set. 

TR :  “He was! John talked to the birds and was able to communicate with them. He would go over to them to tell them to stop chirping and they listened to him! It’s hard to explain  without sounding crazy … but it was pretty surreal.”

OC: You spend a lot of time in this movie blindfolded, so how did you prepare to play someone who could not rely on sight? 

TR: “We were fortunate enough to have someone come in and  help us with that. He was blind   and pretty much showed us the tricks of the trade so to speak. 

“He was amazing. He could walk into a room and, in seconds, determine that there was a wall six feet away. He could tell you that there was a table next to him without even feeling it. He even knew how high the ceilings were around him.  

“I don’t know how he did it, but his senses were unbelievable. He taught us noises (like a clicking noise) to figure out depth like a sonar.  He gave us a lot of help to make us comfortable without our sight.  

“Although working blindfolded was liberating at times, my major take away after making this film was that I will never take my sight for granted, or any of my senses for that matter.  It really makes you think about how much you have to rely on your hearing and your sense of touch when you can’t see.”

OC: There’s a scene where your character has to drive blindfolded. Now, we know it’s movie-making but come on. Even the thought of getting behind a the wheel of the car without any sight had to be scary enough to get your adrenaline going. 

TR: “It was interesting, because we were on a gimbal and all the windows of the car were completely blacked out. We were crowded together in this cramped car relying on how our senses - other than our sight - were going to get us to where we needed to be.  

“Someone would yell out, ‘The monster is above or in front of you!’ and we, of course, would have to react without having any sight. So you are relying a lot on your imagination. In many ways, we were blind relying on our hearing to convey everything. Plus, we couldn’t see each other, what we were doing or reacting to, so that was an exciting and fun scene to shoot. It was like being on a roller coaster ride.” 

OC: When you are working on this kind of material, do you find yourself getting closer with your cast-mates because you have to really on them so much? 

TR: “Oh definitely. But i have to say every time I work on something, I feel close to the people I am working with and have developed some lifelong friendships. I feel like I am putting my heart out there and I just hope everybody else is too.  It’s personal.”

OC: Could the two kids in this movie be ANY cuter?

TR: “No! Because if they were, they would have stolen the entire film!  They stole enough.” (Laughs) 

OC: They were quite outstanding and seemed extremely professional, especially for what they had to endure.

TR:  “They were and so mature for their age. Little Vivien (Vivien Lyra Blair) had the most amazing eyes I’ve ever seen, and Julian (Julian Edwards) was, like, the man. 

“Children have this ability to be incredibly present and honest  it always amazes me how they can flip it on and off. So working with them is refreshing.”

OC: The opening of this film has stuck with me ever since I saw it.  We meet Sandy’s character and she is literally screaming at the kids in fear, and she says, “If you make one sound, I will kill you.” We don’t know anything yet, we have no idea why she is saying this. But wow! What an impact that scene makes.

TR: “You’re right. It’s pretty intense. And to be honest with you, I get it. I was raised by a single mother, and the world is hard. So that  scene hit home for me. I was raised with the understanding that things are difficult, and you need to live a certain way and  watch yourself and be strong.  

“To me the film in many ways is very much synonymous with my life.”