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'Devotion' Director JD Dillard on Jonathan Majors' Stoppage Scene: 'It Hurts to See It Hurt'

[This story contains “spoilers” for a Korean War historical drama Devotion.]

Dedication Director JD Dillard knew it would happen when Jonathan Majors was scheduled What delivered his most powerful scene in a Korean War drama, but the show still hit harder than anyone expected.

Devotion Documented first black Navy pilot Jesse Brown (Jesse Brown)( Major) heroics in the Korean War, and his relationship with his beloved wife Daisy (Christina Jackson) and wingman Tom Hardner ( Glenn Powell ) relationship. Before every flight, Brown performs a ritual where he looks in the bathroom mirror and recites all the horrible things that have been said to him in his life.

The most important thing for Dillard was for his actors to feel safe in the eerily quiet scenes.

“That scene hurts, man, it should hurt,” Dillard told The Hollywood Reporter . “It’s one of those scenes where you love your actors and you know it’s a show, but it hurts to see the injuries. So there’s this weird shift where I need to be not just as a director but as a friend and as a security net, even if he doesn’t need it.”

Dillard is the son of Bruce Dillard, the second person to fly with the Blue Angels A black Navy pilot, with his father serving as a consultant on the film, JD was able to draw closer to his father by telling Jesse’s stories, some of which he even recognized at the script level.

Then also immediately felt how much overlap there was between Jesse and my dad 01 Years later, “So I found myself with this really strange but overwhelming opportunity to not only honor Jesse and Tom, but to tell my dad’s story in a way I never thought possible,” Dillard said. ”

In a recent conversation with THR, Dillard also discussed his time with JJ Abrams Experiences in Star Wars: The Force Awakens Get ready for the bigger scale of his third feature film.

So the Korean War is called the forgotten war and it is also mostly ignored by Hollywood compared to many other wars. Why do you think this is?

I think it’s for a lot of reasons. It’s in the middle of two very, very loud wars in history, and the US has a darker relationship with it. So in It’s hard to celebrate that aspect. Between those two things, it’s hard to draw a story from that world, but when you introduce Jesse and Tom’s story, you realize how much of it hasn’t reached the masses. There’s a lot to this story Aspects are stranger than fiction, but no matter what war it originated in, it’s a story that must be told.

Devotion BTS

JD Dillard and Jonathan Majors on the set of Devotion Columbia Pictures Devotion

You’re the son of a Navy pilot, so do you know who Jesse Brown is?

I only know his first name, but obviously, after three and a half years of working on the film, I know a lot more about Jesse than I did before. My dad [Bruce Dillard] was the second black pilot to join the Blue Angels, and he only A year later than the first black pilot [Donnie L. Cochran] to join the Blue Angels. I heard Jessie’s name when I was surrounded by the first and second conversations, but that was many years ago .

So when When I got the script for the first one, there was that, “Oh, Jesse Brown. Yes, of course, Jesse Brown. ” As I cried through the script, turning page after page, I was not only overwhelmed by the incredibleness of the story itself, but immediately felt how much overlap there was between Jesse and my dad Years later. So I found myself with this very strange but overwhelming opportunity to not only honor Jesse and Tom, but to tell my dad’s story in a way I never expected .

Jonathan Majors and Glenn Powell’s careers have taken off since you signed on to direct. Is it impossible not to be caught by it Intrigued, how does it benefit your film?

It’s funny, man. It’s an afterthought I recently saw The Last Black Man in San Francisco and Lovecraft Country when I started filming. Then for Glen, I saw Everybody Wants Some!! and knew he was in Top Gun: Maverick. (laughs).) So I’m happy and grateful that I have two really good actors. Of course, I know Top Gun will be a thing at some point, and I hear Jonathan is working on all these other things. But it’s been so much fun watching these two explode so fast since the movie was made. Literally every time I log on to Twitter or stop by a newsstand, they’re there and it’s like a trip. But yeah, I’m lucky to have two still rising stars, in the same movie Standing face to face.

DevotionDevotion BTS Jonathan Majors as Jesse L in Devotion . Brown) Everett

When Jesse looks in the mirror and prepares to fly he recites all the horrible things people have said to him in his life, it’s a shocking experience Amazing scene. In these shots, do you get the feeling that everyone on set is getting knocked out?

That scene hurts, man, it should hurt. Without this following an ultra-traditional structure, the first 15 A few minutes of the film sees Jesse accomplishing his goal, his dream, that, one way, flashback . It’s like, “This is how he got here,” and it’s all done in a split second. That scene was our second or third day of filming, which is a testament to how prepared Jonathan was. Even on day one, Jesse was built, implemented, and alive, so for Jonathan there was no difference between doing that scene on day two and day two . It’s getting ready to go.

But it’s hard and it breaks my heart to see Jesse do it to herself. So the best thing I could do was create an environment on set where people felt safe, trusted, and had the quiet that Jonathan needed. It’s one of those scenes where you love your actors and you know it’s a show, but it hurts to see the injuries. So there was a weird twist that I needed to be not only a director but also a friend and a safety net, even though he didn’t have to. That’s where I feel like I have to stand up and make sure we can do this and do it honestly. [Author’s Note: I encourage you to also read Jonathan Majors’s detailed description of this powerful scenario. ]

We’re watching one of the greatest actors of all time, right?

Uh-huh. While visiting this film at a film festival, I had the opportunity to commend Jonathan’s portrayal of Jesse Brown several times. They both have such a presence, but at the same time, Jonathan Majors disappears and the character he plays stands there. So that’s one of the great things about him, being able to thread is a very rare thing. Sometimes, you get great character actors to do that, but maybe not with that presence. And then you also have a lot of people on set, but it’s that actor. ( LOL .) So Jonathan was able to do both with the way he worked, his skill, his attention to detail, and his god-given charisma. So when I watch Devotion, don’t see my brother J; I see Jessie, which is a hard trick to pull off.

between your father and Devotion Powell air experience, did you get enough advice in advance?

Yeah, it’s great to have Glen involved in the process and to be in the backseat of a fighter jet. As it turns out, this not only worked for me, but also for Jonathan. So we just discussed how best to achieve this. My dad also came over for over a month and served as a consultant on the film, not just in the obvious way, “Hey, when you pin your hopes on getting closer to…”. Yes, there’s that stuff, but there’s also something like, “Hey man, what’s it like telling mom you’re going on a cruise for four months for the first time?” Actually, we need emotional counseling too. So between Glenn and my dad being split in half as a pilot and husband, I felt like I could tell the story honestly.

Jonathan Majors and Glenn Powell at Devotion Columbia Pictures Devotion

This movie shouldn’t be released so close to Powell’s last movie, Top Gun: Maverick , he’s in it Also played a Navy pilot, but I quickly forgot about Hangman and only saw him as Tom Hudner. But while filming, could you sense that Glenn was a little self-conscious about not wanting to repeat himself?

Honestly, no. Glen discovered the book [Devotion: An Epic Story of Heroism, Friendship, and Sacrifice by Adam Makos] and started the process of making it a reality over six years ago Journey. So he’s put up with this story for a long time, and he’s put up with it longer than his other performances as a Navy pilot. But I didn’t know until I saw another of his films and saw how different they were. Even the people he plays are so different. Tom Hudner is a serious guy who wants to be understood and to do the right thing, but he’s having a hard time finding his footing with his wingman, Jesse. It’s a very subtle showing, but it has to happen opposite Jesse.

So I never felt any tension from Glenn, and the focus of our attention. The great thing about me sharing this movie with the Navy and other pilots is that when you are with It makes a difference when people’s heritage works together. This is the legacy of the Brown and Hudner families. This is a legacy the Navy has, and the care and responsibility for it just puts the whole experience in a very different realm. So we’ve felt that since we all started working on it.

You have been in mix For some of the big movies of the past few years, While this is a big step up from your first two films, it’s not those $78 Ten thousand-headed behemoth. So are you happy that you fall somewhere in between the two extremes?

In a way, yes. In the abstract, yes. I’m a big proponent of steady growth, but at the same time, I’m really grateful that working for JJ Abrams demystified a big chunk of the business for me early on. I went from the biggest set I’ve ever been on in my life, being The Force Awakens , to the smallest set I’ve ever been on my life life, being Devotion Sleight, my own movie. But what really calms me down seeing JJ’s artistry at work is that it doesn’t really matter how many zeros there are at the end of the budget. Work is still the same. The job is still to tell a compelling, moving, and entertaining story on this little monitor you’re sitting in the back, no matter where you’re shooting. So, to evoke a feeling, this is the job, and JJ is very good at that. Watching him work I was so humbled and inspired so I tried to carry as much of it as possible to Sleight, to Sweetheart, to TV, now, eventually, to Devotion.

Look, it’s nice to have more time to shoot, more toys to play with, and more help; that’s for sure. But I’m entering a phase that is agnostic to scale. I just need enough time and resources to tell the stories I want to tell, whether on a tight budget or not. You just want to be able to tell the story right.

Was it a rather strange experience playing the role of Elizabeth Taylor?

I must thank my fiancée here. I worked with Serinda [Swan] on an episode of The Twilight Zone , Around that time, I just started reading Devotion. I remember saying, “Who does she remind me of?” There’s just one quality that I can’t pinpoint. A few months later, my fiancée said, “Oh my god, that’s your Liz Taylor,” and then suddenly, it clicked. I was like, “Yeah, that’s great!” So, Serinda just wanted to play her, and she’s an amazing actress.

This moment in the movie does seem weirder than in the novel. The Sailors do actually meet Liz Taylor, but there’s a balance to be had there. You don’t want it to completely pull you out of the movie because it feels crazier than life, but you still want to double-think, “Oh my gosh, we’re standing in front of someone very famous.” So Serinda put it Well dialed, and in an interesting way, it ends up being more about commanding a presence than playing a Liz Taylor impersonator. You just want to feel the presence of someone outside of our world, and Serinda was born with that energy.

My dad is a Vietnam vet, and when he does some R&R at some point, he wants to find some kind of silver lining to his horrible experience . So his version is to buy reasonably priced Rolexes in Hong Kong, which is where they spend their holidays. He still has. So my favorite scene in Devotion is when Jesse is presented with a Rolex watch by the other black servicemen on the carrier.

It’s incredible.

Can you feel the impact of that scene on the day?

I think I did it, man. There is one very interesting thing about Jesse’s journey. As the only black man in the wing, he was so isolated. He was also segregated where there were no other black officers. So all the other blacks on the ship were recruited, but they were elsewhere. So at every step, he was away from everyone, but that scene happened for real. For the story of the movie, it was an opportunity to bring the world together and honor the fact that there were so many other black people on that ship. As much as Jesse is going through it so personally and viscerally, this is an opportunity to tangibly show and actually feel what he means to others.

There is always something interesting for me. When you’re chasing a dream, you’re rarely guided by its groundbreaking aspects. You chase it because you have some kind of emotional need to be there. And then you start looking around you, and you realize, “Oh, this actually means something to more people than just me.” Suddenly, your actions matter more, and they have more meaning. Multiple backgrounds. So it’s important to remind Jesse of that. That moment in real life, and of course in the movie, touched Jesse deeply. He sees that others are rooting for him, and no matter what he faces in the squadron, people are proud of him.

Devotion BTS JD Dillard and Jonathan Majors on the set of Devotion Columbia Pictures

What is your favorite shot you achieved with DP Erik Messerschmidt?

I’d make two if I were allowed to. Not so crazy, but Jonathan in the mirror. The switch between entering his world and leaving his world speaks volumes for that moment and that hurt. We’re with him, kind of complicit in what he’s going through, and then there’s a moment where we have to hand it over to him. He has to do it himself, and I’ve always loved the transformation. It’s just an old school camera trick.

Then Tom’s crash as a person is just a really fun thing to do from a practical aerial device and push into the motion controls of the LED volume, and transitions smartly to the anti-collision devices on the frozen tundra set piece. And do your best to hide those seams, which is one of the parts that makes the movie so interesting. You know what magic you want, but now, you have to figure out how to make it happen. There’s always one thing you want to sneak up on and tell the bros, “How did they do it?” So it’s fun to have some of those.

1235156802 Jacob Latimore and Seychelle Gabriel at Sleight

Speaking of magic, how about [ What are ] Bo , Tina and Holly in Sleight doing?

(laughing Everyone is great! Already have Haven’t asked about them in a while so I really appreciate it. Man I love those movies and it’s funny that they’re so different. I don’t think anyone in my circle expects me to make one next Time war drama, but what I’ve really felt lately is Bo [Jacob Latimore] from Sleight, from Sweetheart Jenn [Kiersey Clemons] and Jesse is Black from Devotion wish fulfillment. It’s like, “I don’t care what people tell me I can do; it’s who I am To do,” for me, is a theme that is very loud in all three films. Maybe that’s all my films.

Will you show us Bo’s new trick, or your Pulp Fiction Briefcase?

(laughing) it is in the Pulp Fiction Briefcase. Maybe one day we’ll show other things Bo can do, but for now, that’s the golden light shining on us from the briefcase.

Decades from now when you recall Devotion, what day might you think of first?

I’ll remember our last day of filming. I’ve never cried so much on set like I did on Devotion just because Jesse, Tom and Daisy [Christina Jackson] means a lot to me and what it means to have my family involved, the responsibility of the story and having the family with us. So there are so many things that make this experience truly unique, but we are The last thing we shot was the voiceover of Jesse’s last letter to Daisy. We just finished the car scene in the LED volume between Jesse and Tom. We wrapped it up and we turned boom.

So Jonathan got out of the car and walked over to this light so he could read the letter and the whole crew they kept their heads down and just listened to Jonathan say this letter of faith several times. On the one hand, it was me saying goodbye to Jesse. Hearing his last letter, it was like his funeral for us. It’s also a farewell to the film, and having filmed it during a pandemic, there’s no wrapping party or official end. So, in a strange, heavy way, we say goodbye. I was able to hug Jonathan and Glen after that and we were so excited about what we were able to find and do together. For me, that totally sums up the Devotion experience. I’m trying not to cry now, but that heavy feeling changed me forever.

12351568021280459 Devotion is in progress Available in theaters. This interview has been edited for length and clarity .

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