Will Poulter arrived at Deadline’s inaugural The Contenders London event to assure the audience at BAFTA that the charming, easy-going star of We’re The Millers had not crossed over to the dark side after his all-too-convincing performance as racist cop Krauss in Kathryn Bigelow’s riot-set period drama Detroit. Written by Bigelow’s regular collaborator Mark Boal, who scripted Bigelow’s 2008 Oscar-winner The Hurt Locker as well as the 2012 follow-up Zero Dark Thirty, the film is another rendering of real-life events, this time focusing on a shocking incident of police brutality at the city’s Algiers Motel in 1967.
Speaking to Deadline’s Joe Utichi, Poulter acknowledged that, although the film is firmly rooted in fact, some liberties had to be taken.
“Mark and Kathryn, in their individual pursuits but particularly as a duo, take a very kind of journalistic approach to their work,” he said. “So the main goals throughout this entire process was to do justice to the facts and where there were gaps and where there was a lack of information of course we had to dramatize. But for the most part we were recreating these real events.”
Poulter revealed that his character is “a slight anomaly” in the sense that Krauss is a composite of three of the actual police officers present at the scene depicted in the movie. “Two of those police officers are deceased, and one is still alive,” he said. “The question I come up against quite a lot is whether meeting one of [those] individuals would have been helpful, and as it turns out I don’t think it would have been. I found that where I really lacked knowledge was in understanding the socio-political context of the rebellion and what Detroit was like, as a white police officer at that time. First and foremost, you’re part of a police force that is 95 percent white in a community that 47 percent African-America, so the racial bias is just evident on paper. Then [I had] to learn just how racially motivated police work was there. The sort of antagonistic arrest tactics that were used – the tricks of the trade that allow police officers to get out of situations where they would have acted unethically – were just commonplace.”
Even in 2017, the actor noted, the issue of police corruption is “incredibly relevant.” He added, “I would like to think, and I think most people like to think, that bad police officers are part of a minority group. And I think it’s probably safe to say that if you weren’t crooked, and you weren’t bent in some way, as a police officer in ’67 in Detroit, then you’d be looked down upon for not engaging in those sorts of behaviors. The blue code of silence is an incredibly powerful thing. A dangerously powerful thing.”