Tuesday, February 06, 2007


David Harewood on his poisonous role in Blood Diamond

David HarewoodIf y ou choose to watch the movie Blood Diamond next time you pop down to the multiplex (and you could certainly make worse choices), you will see popular British actor, David Harewood, drug children, train them as child soldiers and slaughter and kidnap virtually defenceless villagers.

Needless to say, it won’t actually be David effortlessly performing these dastardly deeds.

The Oscar-nominated movie sees Harewood portray Captain Poison, the ruthless leader of a band of never-do-wells who call themselves the Revolutionary United Front (RUF.) Despite the fancy name, they are little more than rebels who force people to mine diamonds which are subsequently used to fuel a bloody civil war with the government’s military in 1990s Sierra Leone.

So please don’t get it twisted. In reality, Harewood is quick to show that he’s a nice guy.

In the calm surroundings of Century on Shaftesbury Avenue in central London, he is a world away from the hot plains of Africa where Blood Diamond was filmed.

The movie focuses on two Africans from different backgrounds who fate unites to find a rare pink diamond in war-torn Sierra Leone. Both men, Leonardo DiCaprio’s Danny Archer an ex-mercenary from Zimbabwe (for which he received a best actor nomination), and Djimon Hounsou’s Solomon Vandy, a happily married Mende fisherman (a performance which netted him a best supporting actor nomination), naturally want the diamond for very different reasons.

Archer sees the diamond as his ticket out of Africa while Vandy sees the diamond as a way to save his wife and daughters from a life as refugees. Even more pressing, is his desire to save his son, Dia, who has been kidnapped by Captain Poison, from life as a child soldier.

Looking at Harewood, it is hard to believe this father of two young children could ever be a ruthless killing machine, who laughs as he orders rebels to slaughter villagers, who shoots dead any miner who dares to keep a coveted diamond and chops the hands off men, women and children he sees as useless.


Funnily enough, Harewood said he really wanted to play a villain. “On stage, I have had the opportunity to play darker roles - but this gave me the opportunity to play a role I have never played before,” he says.

Harewood is known for more than 30 theatre and television acting roles which range from Macbeth on the Estate (an adaptation of William Shakespeare’s play Macbeth) to Babyfather and Separate Lies.

“I also loved the issue,” he continues. “I think it was one that needed to be exposed, we don’t hear enough of societies that are exploited.”

Playing Captain Poison required a huge change in his mindset, so the naturally calm and collected Harewood spent time reading up on and watching documentaries on the real atrocities, which took place during the civil war in Sierra Leone.

But this wasn’t enough.

Although Harewood relished the role, even he was taken aback when he saw the full-length film for himself.

“I was really kind of shocked.

The first half hour of the movie is really shocking,” he says.

“There was a woman who sat down next to me and I was telling her what I was playing and she said I really can’t believe you could ever be that nasty. When I went, I could see her kind of double taking, looking at me as the film was going on.”

Despite even these extreme reactions, Harewood is able to locate the greyer areas of his character’s personality.

“He (Captain Poison) is an absolute devil… but I couldn’t simply say he’s bad. We think it’s easy to demonise people but everything has to start somewhere.

My character rose to the top through cruelty but he had to do that to survive.

“One message (from this movie) is that if we allow our darker side to come out, we can destroy ourselves and destroy all communities. Family is also a strong theme running through the movie. The emphasis Solomon Vandy places on family is very important.”

Harewood said his preparation for this role has led him to a deeper understanding and sympathy for Africa. A crucial part of this is that it has made him become more aware of the issue of conflict diamonds - harvested by warlords to fund weapons for bloody conflicts - and their devastating consequences for people caught in the conflict.

He has also started reading more on Africa, asking himself deeper questions on the role of Europe in Africa and the inclination by many in the West to ‘demonise’ youth and others without making much effort to understand root causes of what is described as bad behaviour.

“For me this has been a journey. While I was in Africa, it continually struck me how beautiful Africa was but how poor it was. It struck me that a land so rich in resources can be so poor,” he says passionately. It will certainly be interesting to see if Blood Diamond causes any sort of shift in attitudes towards Africa. After all, there are many people who still cling to the belief that colonialism was somehow good for the continent (instead of seeing it as the legalised looting and killing spree that it really was).

Similarly, the general public just don’t seem aware of the extent to which the meddling of multinationals in post-colonial Africa has in some cases been even worse than the system that preceded it.

“I think a lot of people will have their eyes opened,” Harewood says.

“Hopefully the film will make people more aware so they think twice before they buy and display diamonds.”

Link to The Voice UK