Jason Mitchell gained nationwide recognition and critical praise when he portrayed Eazy-E in the 2015 biopic Straight Outta Compton. He went on to star in the critically acclaimed Mudbound and the Hollywood blockbuster Kong: Skull Island. His latest film is The Mustang, the story of a violent convict who rediscovers his own humanity by training wild horses. Mitchell plays Henry, an outgoing fellow inmate and trick rider.
Screen Rant: First of all, Jason, congratulations on the film. I’ve got to know, what brought you to this project and how did you connect with your character?
Jason Mitchell: What brought me to this project actually was [Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre]. She was a really big fan of mine already. And I'm a fan of hers. But what really connected me to it was, like no matter what situation I’m in, in life, I always have a smile on my face. Like things could be going in the worst, and I'm always going to be smiling and everybody knows that. So, to have somebody sort of take that and add that to the script already was like, “Oh! This is for me.” You know? But I was completely terrified of horses. My entire life. So, I’m like, “This could be interesting.” This could be something that, that not only changes me as an artist, but changes me as a person.
Screen Rant: You were afraid of horses your entire life? So, you got to confront a lot of fears in this.
Jason Mitchell: Yes, definitely. Because I mean, this is a 900-pound beast, you know what I mean? And they're prey animals, so they're like, they always spook super easily. But I had a really bad experience when I was like 16, and one of my friends was run over by a Clydesdale horse, and it was just all bad. And I was like, “You know what, maybe horses ain't for me.” You know what I mean? [LAUGHS].
Screen Rant: That's a good reason.
Jason Mitchell: Yeah. So, to get to the point where not only I can ride a horse, but I can actually go through the process to put my hand on a wild Mustang, is groundbreaking for me.
Screen Rant: Well, they say never work with kids or animals and obviously there's a lot of horses in this. Can you talk to me about the experience and the training that you had to go through to be this like teacher for these horses?
Jason Mitchell: Yeah. Well, before I even got to get on the horse, maybe for like a week solid, they just had me learning how to saddle the horse. Learning how to clean the stables, learning how to clean the horse, learning how to communicate with the horse. Learning which side to walk on, and how to stay out of danger, or different things like that. But it was something that I loved so much that I would always just, you know, kind of go the extra mile. I was the guy who was cleaning all the horse stables after every day, and coming in early to be able to ride, and trying a bunch of different things, and it was really good. I had this guy; he was an Australia guy actually. And he would always be like, “All right, now when you get comfortable, okay, I want you to just get him trotting along that wall. When I say Jason, just do about a 10-foot circle and get back right on that wall. I'm not going to say much, I'm just going to say Jason. Okay?” [LAUGHS] But it was a good time. It was just a really good time. And everybody who had something to do with it was really proud. You know what I mean? And actors can always take the easy route out. Like, “Call in the double.” But I didn't want to be that guy. And as a result, I think we really, really hit the mark.
Screen Rant: You really did. And also, another thing that's highlighted in this film, is all you guys have such stunning performances.
Jason Mitchell: Thank you.
Screen Rant: And you got to work with the legendary Bruce Dern. So, I have to ask, is there anything that you learned from him just by being on set with that man?
Jason Mitchell: Absolutely. I learned that—Well, because a lot of times as a young actor, you're afraid of your own thoughts. You know what I mean? Like, “Would this be okay to do? Is this not okay to do?” And he has such a bag of tricks. When you're in a scene with him, it's never going to be like you think it is. And afterwards, he's like, “You know? I like this kid. This kid can dance. Every time I give him something, he hasn't moved for it. I like this kid.” And he was just so seasoned, and he had so much love for it. Cause we're out there with dust and dirt and the horses. And he's kind of just this frail old man, but he was just always ready. There were times you had to like, cover him up with blankets, but he didn't want to leave. He was totally down to stay. I love that guy.
Screen Rant: Can you talk to me about the relationship between Henry and Roman and how that develops?
Jason Mitchell: Yeah, it was interesting. Because it was a lot like me with a horse. It was like, you try to just sort of like press this, this idea of loving somebody, or having this sort of bond with somebody. But it's steps to that. So, his relationship that he has with Henry is directly reflected through his horse. So, we're kind of like in this weird love triangle. And it was really, really good because [Matthias Schoenaerts] is so dedicated, he's so dedicated. And he's a guy who like, in the middle of the night in the hotel room, he just [KNOCKS], “You know? I was thinking about this. So, what do you think about this?” And he's just really, really sticking it. And when I watched his performance, I'm like, man, I cried like three or four times. I'm like, “Matthias, I know exactly what's going to happen. Why are you making me cry?” It's so good.
Screen Rant: You guys did an amazing job. Thank you so much for your time.
Jason Mitchell: Thank you, man.
- The Mustang (2019) release date: Mar 15, 2019