British actress Carmen Ejogo wasn’t raised in a country as violent as America, but the world depicted in “The Purge” don’t seem to her to be too far off. In the sequel, “The Purge: Anarchy,” the actress — who’s about to be in “Selma,” as Coretta Scott King — plays a waitress in a low-income part of Los Angeles who has spent her life keeping her head down and trying to eke by. But that doesn’t protect her from the annual Purge, when any crime is legal for 12 hours.
Were you shocked when the first one turned out to be about something?
We all as artists came into this with the hope that we’re not making a film that has people coming into the streets afterwards. The first film was a testament to the fact that you can get into this territory and not have a simplistic conversation about it. It proved itself to be a far more compelling idea than people were expecting.
Were the ways it critiqued bloodlust something that drew you to it?
As much as I wanted to be part of a film that was ultimately recognizing the futility of violence and the futility of revenge as an idea, I was also excited to be part of a film that recognized that human nature can get very messy and muddy and there are a lot of gray areas. What we would do is not as clear-cut in [the world of “The Purge”].
This one moves it in a different direction: It takes it to urban areas, where it’s revealed that the Purge is really about killing off the lower classes.
It explores the way in which the working poor in this country are treated. When your back is against the wall, no matter how much you’ve towed the party line and done the right thing and been socially responsible, as my character has been — when you need that reciprocated by your government or some infrastructure, there’s just nothing for you. James [DeMonaco, the writer-director] thought as much this would be a fun, crazy experience in the cinema, it would also be something that leaves you thinking about stuff that is actually going on.
It also plays more than the first with the idea that the very wealthy would take advantage of this holiday.
The idea that you could potentially kill someone for sport — we as a cast grappled with that concept, if it could really happen. I do wonder if there are places somewhere in the world where there are human safaris. This is a deep, dense, dark world we inhabit, with people who have a lot of power and money and crazy ideas. Most of what is going on in “The Purge” is a few steps from potential reality.
As someone from London, how do you view the gun problem in America?
It seems like every week there’s some mad gun drama. I think it helped being from the U.K. because I have an outsider’s perspective, and I don’t accept the culture as an inevitability, which I think a lot of Americans do. When you don’t know any differently, you really do think the death penalty and a vengeful approach to problem-solving is the only way. What makes this country particularly unique in the world is the access to guns. It’s a very simple correlation. You have access to guns in a way that you don’t anywhere else in the world — and you have more gun deaths and more gun violence than anywhere else in the world. It’s a no-brainer what’s going on here. People are astonished when I tell people the police in the U.K. don’t have guns.
On a slightly less heavy note: What was it like filming Downtown L.A., an area that’s much nicer than the film depicts?
Being in Downtown L.A. was a perfect environment to be making this film. At times I felt like I was in the L.A. Riots. It felt very empty and very vulnerable. It’s not inhabited by a lot of people anyway, and then you’re shutting them down. And you’re in close proximity to tent city. There’s still enough edge about Downtown L.A. that it permeates the film in a real way. But I love Downtown L.A.
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