Human Trafficking is a large operation in the United States and across the globe, that to the general public may be invisible. In fact, Polaris, a non-profit organization created to combat human trafficking, received reports of 36,270 human trafficking cases in the United States and experienced a 13% jump in cases in 2017. The form of slavery is brought to the forefront of the new independent film Traffik, starring Paula Patton, Omar Epps, and Laz Alonso.
The film follows Patton’s character Brea and her boyfriend John who look to celebrate a romantic weekend before encountering a group of bikers who are sex traffickers and are hell-bent on keeping their operation a secret and recovering a satellite phone that is key to their operation.
The creation of the film from Writer and Co-Producer Deon Taylor was spawned by the possible reality of trafficking arriving at his doorstep after a notice was issued to him as a parent by his daughter’s school. The film would cast Laz Alonso who portrays Darren Cole, a role which would educate him to the dark world of trafficking.
Reflecting on both the subject of human trafficking and their efforts to the film, Taylor and Alonso share on researching the subject and preparing their crafts to accurately tell a story that will resonate with their audiences.
Deon, you had the role of director, producer, and writer. What led you to want to craft this story?
Deon Taylor: The movie was from me receiving a letter from my daughter’s school about kids being trafficked. I had no previous experience in wanting to do anything in this world. But that led me into researching it more and more, then coming up with these dark images and understanding how crazy this world was. From the initial onsite, like seeing it and understanding it, and it just kept haunting me and it was crazy. I get up in the morning, I juggled between Sportscenter and headline news and no matter what, every time I flipped during the week I started noticing it will be something about trafficking. It was just like, damn, this has been laying here in plain sight. And what really blew me away was when I found out that it’s 62 percent of African-American women are leading the charge and being trafficked. I had no idea. I thought this was like white women, international, Asian, you know, not us. That sparked the idea to do the film.
Laz, you’ve had a variety of roles what perception did you have for this one as far as the story and your character?
Laz Alonso: I just wanted to stretch as an actor. The whole reason why I think actors are so excited to do an independent film is it has become the medium where you can act again, you’re not necessarily part of a formula. You are part of the story. This was one that I was really excited to do. I just did a stint on TV playing a cop for two years and I wanted to do something completely different from that place, something that had color and personality and fire. This role came across my desk and you know, my first day on set with Deon I knew that I was going to be able to really tap into the beginning of my career, which is creative freedom because he was so liberating and encouraged it. And he was like, come on man, go just go. Once we did that, it was no holds barred, so from the standpoint of the film itself was an interesting topic and an interesting genre, character-driven genre.
Deon mentioned research but for both of you, what methods of research did you do?
Deon: I prepared a lot of online in the beginning and then I was blessed enough to speak with a few people that have been trafficked and actually a woman who was doing trafficking, which was like nuts. It was a lot of verbal information and started coming after I had read a bunch of stuff. I was able to actually touch people that had been through it. I think that was the most unique for me in terms of like seeing how these people move the mannerisms and understanding how dark the people were and that that actually was one of the reasons why the movie became. You have to truly understand how dark and evil someone has to be to enslave another person. And then it also makes you realize how dark and evil slavery was for us. That was one of the more main reasons why I chose to use the Nina Simone song [“Strange Fruit“] in the film. Cause that’s like a golden coin for us, right? I’m like, yo, I’m gonna use this coin right here because this is crazy what these women are going through.
What I thought was really cool about the actors like Omar and them, I think they were learning a lot on set. I thought that was great because had they known they might have projected differently, but it was kind of cool when the phone lights up and he goes, “they need filters.” It’s a funny moment. Only Paula had a sense and Roslyn had a sense, but they didn’t know.
Laz: I definitely discovered this world as my character did. I was so hyper-focused on delivering a credible and believable character, and as this went on it started popping up everywhere. All of a sudden I started noticing the headlines and noticing the newspaper clippings and noticing the feeds on my newsletter and my timeline. Now that I’m actually in this world I’m more aware and the more I learned, the more I realized, man, this is a huge, huge industry. It’s an industry that rivals drugs. No difference between this and drugs. Drugs get consumed and here they reuse humans over and over and over and over and over again every single day.
Laz, how do you prepare and intersect who you really are into this character?
Laz: For me, it really is discovering who the character is first. At first, Darren is a stranger. I don’t know him, I know Laz. It takes a couple of scenes to find exactly who that guy is and then it can’t be 100 miles per hour every single scene because it becomes exhausting and that’s not acting. That’s a very bottom of the barrel portrayal of the character. You want to make him a complex human being. You are not the same right now as you are when you watching the game or when you with your lady or when you wake up in the morning. You have different levels and once we figured out together, because it’s a collaborative effort, what Deon needs Darren to do, this is his role, in this particular film, this is what I need Darren to do. Then I’m like, ok, well I know where we started and ending and what he needs to accomplish but not how I get him there, make him entertaining and relatable. Make him a real human being now and that was the fun part. You do a little research, I impersonate some people I know, other stuff is improv and in the moment for what feels right for the character.
Deon, when you create a character like Darren how do you decide what type of person do you need to fit this story?
Deon: I don’t know what the other folks do but I see the movie before we shoot it or watching frames, I’m actually editing the movie in my head. I think that’s like really weird for a lot of people to understand, but that’s how I shoot. It’s also how I can make a movie like this in 20 days. I’m already seeing the story. I know what he’s supposed to do, I know what he needs to deliver. And if they’re able to channel that and bring that in and build that then it works even more. Now what happens is when you get on a set and you get ready to shoot a scene like for instance the scene the first day was the dinner. Omar’s very reserved, Laz big energy. I think we did just take maybe 12, 13 times because he was trying to get the lines and you could just see that immediately day one. He’s loud and he’ the quiet one and they’ll play that the whole movie and it’ll be great. He’ll say all the stuff that you don’t say. You know what I mean? And every now and again you’ll get Omar to rise up a little bit, go down, and then it’s also the same exchange with Paula.
Laz: It’s a dance, man. Because Omar, you know, was playing his character and it allowed me to be bigger. If Omar would’ve been bigger, I would have had to go in different, so I wouldn’t have been able to play in that way. I would’ve had to make a different choice because you can’t have two people hitting the same note. That’s what happens when you argue for screen time.
Deon: You don’t get that when you got two guys trying to like the fight for screen time and don’t know what they’re doing. I’m overacting you. I’m just trying to get more words. You just hit a nail on the head, man. The ability to be a professional in the film. Understand what you’re doing. See, Omar was already in an epic battle in this movie with Paula acting wise because she is the movie and what he’s trying to do is match her as a man, so he found a solid place to be. He’s allowing her to have the stage. And did you bring this guy who’s like, he’s already in that mode and it just kind of snapped right.