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Joseph Gordon-Levitt And Dominique Fishback On New Netflix Movie, 'Project Power'


In Netflix's "Project Power," a teen drug dealer named Robin forms an unlikely bond with an ex-soldier and a cop. They're united by their mission to find out more about a drug that gives users a superpower. But here's the catch - users don't know what that superpower might be. All they know is that it's short-lived and can be lethal. How's that for a side effect? "Project Power" stars Jamie Foxx and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who partner with Dominique Fishback as Robin. Fishback told me she was drawn to the role, her first lead in a big-budget movie by the cast's star power.

DOMINIQUE FISHBACK: What drew me to the film was Jamie Foxx and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. I saw their names, and I was like, what could they possibly be doing together? And how could a character that I could play be of service to their story?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: It turns out she brings a lot to this film. Her character Robin is more than just a dealer. She's an aspiring rapper who's smart and kind. And Fishback's dedication to the character made quite an impression on her co-star, Joseph Gordon-Levitt who, joined us in this conversation.

JOSEPH GORDON-LEVITT: I actually remember the first time we met. Dom had the great idea to do some improvisation and say, like, all right, well, there's clearly some kind of backstory between these two. Why don't we live that backstory, so that we have that experience? And so we did. We improvised the circumstances under which they met, how they ended up getting close and caring about each other. And I just loved that that was her first suggestion. I was like, OK, well, we're not just going to do another action movie here. Like, this is an artist with genuine conviction who's treating this like any other genuine work of art.

FISHBACK: So much emotion happening right now for me (laughter).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Tell me about that.

FISHBACK: I'm crying happy tears. I mean, I learned so much with Joe - just his conviction as well and his advocacy of the character and what he knew to be true. You know, there's times where things are tight and I'm thinking, well, maybe I shouldn't say anything because we're on time. But I would just remember that, what would Joe do?

GORDON-LEVITT: (Laughter).

FISHBACK: Joe would speak up for his character, and that's what we're here to do. I'm so thankful. I'm so thankful to you, Joe.

GORDON-LEVITT: I'm thankful to you.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I love this. I love this. This is so lovely. But these characters, I mean, they have a dark side. Joseph, you're bulletproof in this film when you take the pill, which you do. And that's not exactly legal and gets you into some trouble. Everyone's kind of multilayered in this film.

GORDON-LEVITT: It's really true. As much as you can appreciate, this is a fun, kind of popcorn movie. It does have some pertinent themes running underneath the surface. And like you say, I play a police officer who I think genuinely cares about his hometown of New Orleans and the people in it and wants to protect them. But as the movie goes on and the story unfolds, he sort of realizes, some of these institutions, these structures, these systems that I put my trust in aren't as positive as I thought they were. And, you know, he discovers corruption where he didn't think there would be. And he eventually has to sort of make the decision to break some rules in order to honor the greater good.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: This leads us exactly into this clip I wanted to play. Dominique, there's this really heartwarming scene where you're stitching up Jamie Foxx's character, the major, after he has kidnapped you (laughter). And he's been in a fight. We don't want to give too much away here, and the two of you begin to develop a bond. And he gives you some advice. Let's listen to that clip.


JAMIE FOXX: (As Art) You're young. You're Black. You're a woman. The system is designed to swallow you whole. You got to find out what you do better than anybody else and rock that. So what you gonna do? How you gonna leave your mark?

FISHBACK: (As Robin) All right.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Tell me about that scene.

FISHBACK: The reality is that it's true. I'm from Brooklyn. I'm from East New York. And it wasn't easy to get a good education. It wasn't easy to travel the world or even travel outside of East New York to know what else there was to be offered. I got lucky because my mom was a schoolteacher and she told me when I was 10 years old, you should try acting. I think you can really do it. And she wasn't one of those parents that said, oh, you have to be a lawyer. You can't make a career in the arts. And so I went head first into theater. I didn't really know how to do it, but I found a way through spoken word poetry. So like Robin, rhyming and rhythm is something that turned out to be a superpower for me. And it got people to see and hear me. And I'm here. And I know those words that Jamie's character says to be true.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So you say you do spoken word poetry just like your character does. Is that how you got the part? Is that something you brought to the part? Was that already there, and they looked for you? I mean, how did that happen?

FISHBACK: The first couple of auditions was just, oh, rap whatever song that you want to rap, and I decided to rap a TLC song, "No Scrubs," Left Eye's part. And then when I had to do a chemistry test with Jamie, and he asks me, oh, do you rap in real life? I said, no, but I'm a spoken word poet. He said, go on and do something for us then. So I was like, ain't gotta tell me twice. So I got up, and I did a piece about Brooklyn and called it "Ode To My Hood" where I personify Brooklyn, and we have a conversation with one another, where Brooklyn thinks that, you know, I'm going to become a star and never come back. And I'm trying to convince Brooklyn that I will come back, and I'm thankful.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Can you do a little bit of that?

FISHBACK: Sure. So I start off actually because I had to do spoken word on a train for money to stay in school at one point. So it starts off like the introduction where those, excuse me, ladies and gentlemen. Wait. Wait. I'm not making fun. You hear that line. I use that one, my name is Dominique Fishback. I go to Pace University. And I'm here reciting my poetry, asking you strangers for your hard-earned money. Because if I don't get this money, I won't get my college degree. Now, how Brooklyn Black girl statistic would that be? I mean, even Brooklyn is banking on me. Dom, you about to be a star. Don't forget about me. That's a part of it. It's on YouTube, as well.


GORDON-LEVITT: It's all good.

FISHBACK: Thank you, Joe.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Joseph, I want to ask you about playing a cop. This was obviously filmed before this latest reckoning, but does play a cop means something different to you in these times?

GORDON-LEVITT: Yeah, I definitely feel the extra weight and responsibility of playing a police officer while we are all having what I think are ultimately really productive discussions about the responsibility of the police, holding police accountable, whether police are really charged with doing the right things. You know, meaning, like, should police be sent in with a gun to settle domestic disputes, to - or would it be better to have a perhaps a social worker or an expert on addiction or mental health? And I mean, if I can help amplify those discussions in any way by being an actor playing a cop, then I'm happy to do it. And, you know, I would actually really ask that same question of Dom even though she's not the one playing a cop. She's playing a friend of a cop.


GORDON-LEVITT: So what do you think?

FISHBACK: Actually, Eric Garner was a part of my family. His...

GORDON-LEVITT: I did not know that. Really?

FISHBACK: Yeah, Erica Garner was my cousin. She passed away after, you know, a heart attack at 27. But yeah. So it hit me just close enough where it didn't cripple me. It just, like, gave me more fire. And it never really registered to me that I was playing in front of a cop because I felt so separate from the idea. And the fact that it's not like he's swooping in and saving this young girl in a way where she can't save herself or she has no other Black male influence saving her, as well or, you know, or teaching her, as well. So yeah, but I'll think about that more.

GORDON-LEVITT: I would love very little more than to contribute in some way to help with what's happening in the wake of the tragedies of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and everything - you know, so many more names that go unspoken. But I'm probably not alone in saying, like, sometimes, I don't know exactly what I can do. And so if I can just, like - if I can help somehow, I would imagine probably, you know, Dom getting to talk on the radio about it is more productive than me getting to talk on the radio about it. So that's why - you know, turn it to you.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I really appreciate that, and now you both got to talk on the radio about it.

GORDON-LEVITT: (Laughter).

FISHBACK: Yeah, so it opens a dialogue, right? And that's what we're all learning right now to be able to have a dialogue with each other and not be afraid of the subject. So I appreciate that we both got to answer and got to have that conversation. Yes (laughter).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Dominique Fishback star in the new Netflix movie "Project Power." This was delightful. Thank you both so very much.

GORDON-LEVITT: Thanks a lot.

FISHBACK: Had a great time. Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.