Demetrius Grosse takes over the big and the small screen

Demetrius Grosse is in the midst of a busy spring. After being a part of the acclaimed Straight Outta Compton last year, he’s currently on the big screen in 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi. He’s also headed to the small screen with roles in both the upcoming NBC thriller Game of Silence and the HBO series Westworld. 

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You’ve worked for a long time on big films like Saving Mr. Banks and big TV shows like Banshee and Justified. What made you want to be an actor?

The opportunity to tell stories that provoke really analytical thought and, hopefully, action by people in society. We all want to affect change in the world and this allows me to be an artist but also follow in the footsteps of other provocateurs who weren’t necessarily political figures. This is a way to affect the world and inspire my own.

Straight Outta Compton is more than a film. It’s a time capsule of that moment in American social and political history. After being in the film, what do you think of the continued resonance of the music and the message these men released?

They were a radical voice. Let’s be honest, a lot of their lyrics weren’t necessarily kid-friendly. They were explicit but there was a voice of revolution within their work. A voice of avant-garde consciousness that was contrary to racism, brutality and Reaganomics. These are the reasons they remained relevant. Seeing the film come out now is interesting to see how they were so ahead of their time. As a kid, when “Straight Outta Compton” came out, my mom would go to my cassette player and take out the tape and unravel it. I’d go into the garbage with a toothbrush and re-wind the tape. There was something in that music. I didn’t grow up to be a rapper or have the persona of a “street guy,” but I did grow up to be a guy who tries to be avant-garde in by choices and has a focused fearlessness. I think the beauty of the story is that they overcame.

In 13 Hours, you worked with directing heavyweight Michael Bay. The film recounts an on-the-ground view of the terrorist attacks on a U.S. diplomatic compound and a CIA annex in Libya in 2012. What was it like working on such a big film?

I had never worked with directors of the caliber of Michael Bay or F. Gary Gray and I got to work with them back-to-back. They aren’t making small movies. With the clearance and the budgets they have, there are high stakes in making these movies and a lot on the line. With Michael Bay, there wasn’t a lot of time to not know what you were doing. The preparation really was the difference maker. Fear can be a great catalyst to excellence and I didn’t want to screw up on the set. Michael gets bad-mouthed sometimes as being abrasive and over-passionate, but my experience was really excellent and I looked at him as a coach. He wanted to get a great result. There was a great atmosphere of camaraderie on the set, there were real Navy Seals and Army Rangers helping us, and he really gave us an environment that felt like a team. I think, of his body of films, we have one of his most intricately woven stories in this movie in terms of pathos and heart. It speaks to his process and his continued growth as a director.

You’re on both the big screen and the small screen. What sets your new NBC thriller, Game of Silence, apart from other shows on TV?

Game of Silence is a show about friends in a juvenile detention center who had some traumatic incidents in their youth and stay friends through tumultuous twists and turns in life. They gradually uncover the secrets of their pasts and begin to right the wrongs, but really it’s a story about friends whose relationship endures over time. We all have secrets in our pasts and hopes for the future. This show is about how to balance those things and make the most of our lives. NBC is proud of it and it premieres April 7 right after Shades of Blue finishes its run.

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There are more faces of color on TV than ever before. What does that mean to you? 

It means everything. We live in a country that is finally realizing the dreams of Martin Luther King Jr., John F. Kennedy, Harvey Milk and Caesar Chavez. People are passionate for gender, racial and orientation inclusion. The work of artists like Sidney Poitier and Harry Belafonte, people whose work transcended their craft and who were passionate about our country and how we look at diversity, is finally coming to fruition.

There are many challenges still with police brutality and the police killing black men and women, but we are still the leaders of the free world and we are on the precipice in our art to be that voice the world desperately needs. It’s challenging, but it provokes change. I like to be optimistic to what is the potential of our country, the art we produce and the enterprise we forge.

Another project you have coming up is “Westworld,” a J.J. Abrams-produced series, inspired by the 1973 film of the same title directed by Michael Crichton, and starring some Hollywood heavy hitters like Evan Rachel Wood, Anthony Hopkins, and James Marsden. What’s the experience been like so far? 

Westworld is my opportunity to ride a horse and be a cowboy. Growing up in the inner city of DC, I didn’t ride horses. Now I’ve landed a role in a JJ Abrams series that got picked up by HBO. It’s about artificial intelligence at a theme park set in the Wild West and I’m excited to play a deputy. Some people aren’t comfortable admitting that we already use robots every day. We do. It’s called FaceTime, it’s called Skype, it’s shaped like a rectangle and called a cell phone, but it’s still a robot. It’s a cool project that’s trying to explore the idea of artificial intelligence and how that affects our society.

Looking at how far you’ve come, where do you have your sights set next?

I’m doing a play in Oregon. I am playing Stanley Kowalksi in an all-black production of Streetcar Named Desire at Portland Center Stage. That’s in May and before that, I’m finishing up my short film, Godfrey.

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Photos by Ashley Lorraine
Interview by Ryan Brinson
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