Michael Ward on Empire of Light starring Sam Mendes, Olivia Colman

“I say ‘Whoa,’ just like Stephen was looking at the theater when he walked in, ‘This is crazy!'” Ward told IndieWire.

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Star Micheal Ward, after rushing to get into the ballroom in time for a Q&A following the screening of “Empire of Light” at the Middleburg Film Festival, caught his breath as he settled into his director’s chair and noticed a crying woman in the audience , after being moved by the end of the Sam Mendes film. “It’s such a great feeling to know that someone understood something from the film,” he told the audience.

Despite winning fans worldwide by helming the Netflix relaunch of the groundbreaking British crime series Top Boy in 2019 and even winning a BAFTA Rising Star Award in 2020, Ward, 25, is fully aware that he’s at the side Best Actress winner Olivia Colman introduced him to a whole new audience in a romantic drama written and directed by Academy Award-winner Mendes, and he can’t help but be grateful.

Describing how collaborative it was working with the filmmaker and finding out who his character Stephen was, Ward later mentioned to IndieWire how Mendes said in interviews that “every question I asked was important to the film,” which was what I thought it was nice because he doesn’t have to say it [that]. He has already given me an opportunity that will likely change my life and career forever, which I appreciate very much. So he doesn’t have to do any of that. But if he’s honest, I just feel more comfortable doing what I can do and being on set with these amazing people that he’s handpicked.”

The film stars Ward Stephen, a young black man living in a British seaside town in the 1980s. He aspires to study architecture and soon begins working in the same cinema as Colman’s Hilary. As an unequal duo alliance, he helps her feel less alone. Although he was part of the development process with Mendes, he met with the director to answer questions like, “How did I find the script? What would I like to see there? What kind of stuff do I want to see removed?”

Ward said he would still help his peers who wanted to audition for the role, “because I was like, ‘If I don’t get it, I’d love for one of my friends to get it.’ So everything I spoke to Sam [about]I told them.”

When he booked the project and eventually met Colman on set, Ward felt life was imitating art. “Stephen and Hilary’s relationship is in a way like mine and Olivia’s relationship. Olivia has been doing this for a long time. She obviously works and plays a lot. When I come on set and I see Sam Mendes and Roger Deakins, I say, “Whoa,” the way Stephen was looking at the theater when he walked in, “That’s crazy!” And my eyes are so big,” the actor said. “And what also helped us was that we filmed it chronologically. A lot of the scenes you saw in the beginning had me literally in Margate waiting to be on set, like an itch. So the smile you saw when I was first introduced wasn’t fake. I was so excited to be on set.”

The only difficult time Ward had was filming a scene midway through the film, after things got romantic between Stephen and Hilary, where an old white moviegoer, played by Ron Cook, was clearly discriminating against his role as a ticket taker behaves and is still welcome to the cinema according to Hilary.


“Kingdom of Light”

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He found it even more traumatizing than Stephen when he was attacked by a white mob towards the end of the film. “The physical is more about understanding physically how the body reacts to things like that. And actually just going through the motions,” Ward said. In the scene with Colman and Cook, he thought as Stephen, “We actually did have sex a couple of times, so you can certainly step in and say, ‘Yo, that’s not right. You have to go.’ And that’s all the blacks want [is] This support from white people often because it changes their perspective. If you try to tiptoe around it, they start thinking it’s okay, and it’s not okay. I think that’s what Sam said in that scene.”

These scenes in particular are often mentioned in criticism of Empire of Light, which has received mixed reviews so far, mostly for how it tries to tackle big ideas about race, mental health, and human connection, but doesn’t put enough effort into it achieve true sharpness. It’s criticism Ward got wind of months before the film’s release.

“You’re going to get negative comments for anything you do,” the actor said. “You have to learn from the work you do. but [I’ve heard] nothing to do with my performance. Although sometimes I wish I was so I can understand how I can get much better, but working with Sam has made me better. I’m always learning anyway, so it doesn’t matter. I’m so proud of the film.”

Micheal Ward and Olivia Colman in the movie EMPIRE OF LIGHT. Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2022 20th Century Studios All rights reserved.

“Kingdom of Light”

As he reflects on his upcoming career, now that he has another major starring role under his belt (one that even earned him the Spotlight Actor Award at the Middleburg Film Festival that same night), Ward recalls some advice he got from ” Top Boy” heard. Executive Producer Drake.

“[He] said, regarding his success, just try not to invest yourself too much in the ups or downs because the downs will come. And it’s not like I’m prepared for that, but at the end of the day, when I’m in the lows now and I’m just like, ‘Oh man, I remember the days when my name was in the Oscar talks, it’s like that doesn’t really validate me as a person,” the actor said. “What validates me is the work I do for myself and the reason I was telling these stories that I wanted to tell.”

Ward added: “It’s so important for me too to move forward, any story I want to tell, I just want to be passionate about it bro. And I want to be passionate about the character I’m playing and hopefully not have to do anything for money or clout or fans or anything like that. I just want to do it and everything else will come, which is super, super important.”

Searchlight Pictures’ Empire of Light is now in theaters in New York and LA.

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https://www.indiewire.com/2022/12/micheal-ward-empire-of-light-interview-sam-mendes-olivia-colman-1234791196/ Michael Ward on Empire of Light starring Sam Mendes, Olivia Colman

Lindsay Lowe

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