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Marchánt Davis Interview: The Day Shall Come

The Day Shall Come Poster

Actor Marchánt Davis makes his feature film debut in The Day Shall Come, a provocative new comedy from director Chris Morris. The Day Shall Come is the long-awaited follow-up to Morris' previous film, the controversial and hilarious terrorism satire, Four Lions.

Davis stars as Moses, a street preacher with wide-eyed ambitions of the violent overthrow of society's status quo. He's a charismatic visionary with radical ideas and the will to carry out his lofty goals. He's also little more than a local mascot and of no genuine concern or danger to anyone. Of course, that won't stop an FBI agent (Anna Kendrick) from trying to set him up as the next Osama Bin Laden. Her plan is to manufacture Moses into a big criminal and then bust him, proving her worth, as well as validating the untold millions of dollars that are funneled into anti-terror Homeland Security programs across the country. Like Four Lions and Brass Eye before it, this new film is a jolly comedy with a dangerous subject matter. Chris Morris thrives on making his audiences squirm with discomfort and delight, and The Day Shall Come looks to follow in this proud tradition.

Related: 15 Shocking Comedies – Including Four Lions

While promoting the release of The Day Shall Come, Marchánt Davis spoke to Screen Rant about his work on the film, from his first meetings with Chris Morris to his thoughts on the knee-jerk reactions from outspoken naysayers on Twitter. He also shared his ambitions for his career, as well the actor who inspired him as a young man in Philadelphia (spoiler alert: it's Eddie Murphy).

Merchant Davis in The Day Shall Come

From my understanding, you auditioned for this movie before you even knew what the movie was. Can you describe your first meeting with Chris Morris?

My first meeting with Chris was back in 2017. I auditioned a few times over the course of a few months. Maybe five times. And the first time we met, we talked for maybe 20 or 30 minutes, something like that. Then we went on tape for about 45 minutes. We worked and played, talked and worked to come up with something. I think I had a much better idea of what the film would be by the end of that audition process, but I didn't get a script until after I got the job.

I'm always interested in those early conversations, where you both want to know each other. But I imagine you, as an actor, really want the director, who you want to hire you, to really  like you. What's that dynamic like for you? Do you want to sound as smart as you can? How do you approach those meetings?

That's such a great question. This is the first time anybody asked me something like that. For me, it's like dating, right? You know when you're on a date and it's working. And you know, when you're on a date and it's not. So when you put it like that...

And when it's not working, you try to make it work, but that just makes it worse!

Yeah. It's not about trying to sound smart, but it's about finding how you can align with the other person. In the case of me and Chris, early on, I forget, but he said something to me, and right off the bat, it reminded me of these guys in Philadelphia, the MOVE organization, in the late 1980s, that was bombed by Mayor Wilson Goode. So like, from there, the conversations really jumped off, you know? He'd say something, I'd say something, I'd introduce ideas he didn't know, he'd introduce ideas I didn't know. You know, you start talking, and you realize the person in front of you is a lot more interesting than you might have thought.

I know how he's talked about how doesn't necessarily see his movies as controversial, he just wants to tell the stories he wants to tell–

(Laughs)

Yeah, I know, right? But I was wondering if you subscribe to the idea, like I do, that if someone says you can't do something in art, are you morally obligated to then do that thing?

I think Chris is a bit of a provocateur. I think, in his mind, he believes that whatever story he's telling, it's the best way to tell it. I don't think he's trying to intentionally offend anyone or poke them. But I think he has a lot to say, and he says it. If somebody tells tells you that you can't something, I'm going to show them that it can be done, and then take a picture and show them, you know what I mean?

Merchant Davis in The Day Shall Come Street

That whole idea of someone taking it upon themselves to say to an artist, "No, you can't do that." It just seems like a challenge, like, "Oh yeah, you wanna bet?"

Yeah! It is a challenge. And who is anybody to tell anybody what they can and cannot do, you know what I mean? I think, as artists, it's our job to illuminate the world around us. I can't speak for everyone, but for me, as an artist, I want to illuminate the world around me. I want people to have conversations about things. I want to collide with people in a way they haven't before. I think that's the kind of person Chris is, and I think that's the kind of work he does.

Four Lions was back in 2010, and that was really before Twitter was as ubiquitous as it is right now. Twitter is a powerful tool, but people don't always look before they leap. I think we saw that with some of the response towards Jojo Rabbit, for instance.

Yes.

Do you have any personal concern about people jumping the gun and rushing to judgment, or do you just tune it out because you know you're doing great work?

Well, listen. My goal is always to honor the characters I put on stage and on film. If I've done that, I've done my job. People are going to judge, but the real judge is God, for me. You can't really listen to the naysayers, the people who jump to judgment. I would encourage those people to actually watch the film before rushing to judgment. I think the easy thing to do is to jump to judgment about you think something is going to be, and I also think it's a very American thing to do.

Merchant Davis Big Outfit in The Day Shall Come

Do you think that might be part of why this movie was shot mostly in secret? I mean, we didn't even know it existed, most of us, until it popped up for SXSW. Do you think Chris didn't want any outside context to interfere with the film itself?

Yeah, I think so. Wouldn't it be nice if all movies were that way? I want to hear about the movie while I see it.

It's a big part of art right now, with Rotten Tomatoes, to want to know what we're going to get before we get it. To quote a song, "we like to play it safe, but we want what we paid for." There's no risk anymore.

We're in a day and age where we need to be having conversations. We need to engage. We need to look at each other. We need to see something that's a little difficult to see, and be able to talk about it. Especially given who's in the White House. We need to be able to have these conversations. But if everyone is fearful to even step in the room, how the hell are we going to do it?

Not to put you on the spot, but can you share an example of a movie that completely caught you off guard like that?

I just saw The Hustle. I really enjoyed it, partially because I didn't even know that Constance Wu was going to be the head of that story. She's brilliant. She's amazing. I hope to meet her someday and tell her that in person. Her work in that film was so beautiful. And for it to be a studio film, STX, I was expecting it to be way more commercial. I though it was so well done, it was very smart, and it surprised me. And these women, I hope more people see it so I can talk about it with more people! And I'm excited to see Jojo Rabbit. I love the director, Taika Waititi.

You've discussed having a guerilla filmmaking improvisational style on this movie. I always wonder, if you're an actor on set, and the director has an idea, and another actor has an idea, is there a pressure for you to throw out ideas as well? What's that kind of collaboration like?

I don't think it's a pressure, but you learn from other people. I think all the best actors steal. I steal from other people who are better than me. That's how I get better. So, like, Jim Gaffigan and Kayvan Novak, those are... Those motherf******* are some of the funniest people on earth. (Laughs) For them, it's not about competition of what's funny. It's about saying, "There's an opportunity here. Let's find it." I never felt pressure, but I did feel an obligation to find it, you know what I mean?

Merchant Davis stars in The Day Shall Come

You're a young guy, I think you're about my age, I'm 28.

Hey, we're the same age!

Oh, rad! Coming up, who were some of your inspirations? People who you saw and were like, "I want to do that." How were some of your heroes?

Eddie Murphy! I love Eddie.

What's your favorite Eddie Murphy movie?

Coming to America. I also love Harlem Nights. Trading Places is good. And the Beverly Hills Cop movies are great, as well. I love Eddie Murphy. As a kid, I was obsessed with Robin Williams in Mrs. Doubtfire. I loved the comedies as a kid. As an adult, I don't want this to sound too general, but, like, every black woman in the game right now. Viola Davis, Regina King, Teraji P. Henson, Danai Gurira, Danielle Brooks... Oh my goodness, those women are resilient, relentless, and so powerful, and they inspire me every day.

Absolutely. She wasn't on your list, but I met Keesha Sharp at a party for Lethal Weapon a few years ago, and just getting to spend a few minutes hanging out with her still feels like one of the highlights of my career.

She's amazing, too. She was on that show, Girlfriends! She's amazing.

Looking forward, the next big thing you're working on is The Great Society, on Broadway.

We're in previews right now, yes.

I've gotta ask, did you think you'd be at this level in your career at this point? You're having such a great moment in your career, do you feel like you're living your dream?

I feel like I'm living "a" dream. It's a complicated feeling. Part of it is really exciting, but I'm a storytelling, so at the end of the day, I think there are a lot of stories in me that I still want to tell on my own. It's really great to be on Broadway right now, and with a bunch of really exciting actors, but one of the things that's illuminated for me is that I really want to be at the helm of the ship that I'm on. I'm a writer, so I want to keep on writing and keep on developing my own things.

More: 15 Controversial Movies That Are Actually Inspiring

The Day Shall Come is out now in select theaters and VOD.

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