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The common takeaway from Joe Carnahan’s Copshop is that Alexis Louder steals the show, which is saying something for a movie that also stars action heavyweights Gerard Butler and Frank Grillo. In the action thriller, Louder plays a young police officer named Valerie Young, whose background in the U.S. Army comes in handy as her Nevada-based police station is under assault. Since 2014, Louder has been paying her dues in Atlanta and gaining invaluable experience on sets like Black Panther and Watchmen. Ultimately, Louder credits an audition for The Walking Dead as the key to her eventually landing Copshop.
“I auditioned for a role on The Walking Dead a few months before I auditioned for Copshop, and I didn’t even hear anything about that one,” Louder tells The Hollywood Reporter. “There was no callback or anything like that. I was just like, ‘Well, I did it and I did good work, so on to the next thing.’ But I guess [Copshop and Walking Dead casting director Sharon Bialy] kept me in mind for anything else that would come across her desk, and Copshop was one of them.”
Bialy did indeed have Louder on her mind still after her Walking Dead audition, and so she made the case to Carnahan that Louder should play Copshop‘s Valerie Young. Fortunately, Carnahan was immediately on board with the idea, however, there was another obstacle to overcome as the role wasn’t written for a Black actor. That meant that Carnahan would have to persuade the studio, as well as the financiers, that the role should be rewritten for Louder.
“It wasn’t written for a young African American actress, and typically when you have a lead role in a film opposite [Gerard Butler and Frank Grillo], there’s a list that the studio or people want you to explore, who mean something for foreign. It’s the same women over and over,” Bialy shares. “So I brought the idea to the table and said, ‘I believe [Louder] can carry it. Roll the dice. Take this chance.’ But without Carnahan backing that up and saying to the studio, ‘Hey guys, this is what I want to do,’ it would never happen.”
In a recent conversation with THR, Louder also looks back at her memories from the Black Panther and Watchmen sets. Then she explains how Ludwig Göransson’s Tenet score prepared her for her most climactic scene in Copshop.
The consensus among critics and audiences is that Copshop is a breakout role for you, but whenever a breakout role like yours happens, there’s a tendency for people to mistakenly think it happened overnight. So can you tell me about the last seven years of putting in the work until an opportunity like this came along?
Yeah, I moved to Atlanta in late 2014, and my plans were to do theater. I was like, “I’m going to do a little bit of a theater in Atlanta, and then I’m going to move to New York and be on Broadway.” And then I just found it to be really hard. The theater scene was very tight knit. Everybody knew each other, and I was new. I actually found it far easier to get on a film set. So I started doing background work and photo doubling, and then I got into some classes here at Drama Inc. where I started to build a community. The Atlanta scene, they want the market to be great, and so it’s very supportive here. Once I got into the community, I was referred to one of the more reputable agencies here in Atlanta, and I was with them for four years. And my very first TV role was a guest star on The Originals, which is rare, coming from Atlanta and being my first credit. So I was on The Originals for five episodes, and I had a really good time working on that show and working with those people. I was able to bring my mom to set a couple of times, and she really enjoyed the people that I worked with as well. She always prayed that I would work with great people and that I would be treated well, and so far that prayer has come to fruition because I’ve always worked with great people that just love what they do and treat me well. So from The Originals, I went on to do some co-stars and some more guest stars. And later on, I was noticed by my LA rep, Lindsay Whitaker from TalentWorks, and she reached out and wanted to take me on as her first Atlanta client. So, since moving to Atlanta in 2014, it’s just been like a grind and a hustle where you’re trying to focus on your craft while also taking odds-and-ends jobs on the side. I was nannying for a good while. I got work through TaskRabbit and delivered food with Postmates. But TaskRabbit was my favorite side job, though, because I was paid to do things that I could easily grasp on to; I’ve always been a handy person. I was like, “Oh, I just need to go do this job, make some good money and then focus on learning lines for class.”
Was there anything unusual about the casting process for Copshop?
What I thought was unusual was that [casting director Sharon Bialy of Bialy/Thomas & Associates] reached out to us directly. Usually, it’s an assistant or something that sends a breakdown, or they reach out to the breakdown services, and then I audition. But Sharon Bialy emailed my reps directly and said, “Hey, can she get this on tape?” And it was 16 pages within two or three days. (Laughs.) It was the heavier dialogue scene. So I just spent all day with a friend of mine taping those scenes. I knew that Joe Carnahan, Frank Grillo and Gerard Butler were attached, so I was like, “I think they have the wrong Alexis, but let me hurry up and get this on tape before they figure it out.” (Laughs.) But yeah, that was a really neat process. And then they contacted me about the callback, and that was over Zoom because, you know, pandemic. And Frank was actually on the Zoom call, reading the scenes with me, and I thought that was really neat because that’s not the norm. Even if your scenes are not with another lead, you’re usually not going to be able to do your callback with whomever you have your scenes with, regardless if that person is cast already. So that was really nice to be able to get to know Frank and Joe a little bit over Zoom. And then an hour after the callback, my rep called me and let me know that Joe would like to have breakfast with me the next morning. And I was like, “Okay.” (Laughs.) So we had breakfast the next morning at this little spot in Decatur with really good lavender biscuits. (Laughs.) And we talked about life and a little bit about what we thought individually about Copshop and Valerie. But we mostly just sat there getting to know each other and how each other’s minds worked. So it was a really good conversation. There wasn’t a moment where it was, like, “Okay, is somebody going to get the ball rolling on this?” I could tell that I was going to work well with him if I were to get the job because at that point, I didn’t have it just yet. (Laughs.) So I left that breakfast just feeling really confident about my abilities and the relationship that I just started. Even if I didn’t book the role, I just had a feeling that our paths would cross again. Maybe something later down the line would be a good fit for us to work together because sometimes that’s just how it is in this business. You may not get it the first time you meet someone, but you’re on their mind to think of you in the future, which I think is what happened with Sharon. I auditioned for a role on The Walking Dead a few months before I auditioned for Copshop, and I didn’t even hear anything about that one. There was no callback or anything like that. I was just like, “Well, I did it and I did good work, so on to the next thing.” But I guess she kept me in mind for anything else that would come across her desk, and Copshop was one of them.
[Writer’s Note: I reached out to Sharon Bialy — casting director for Copshop, Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul and The Walking Dead — for her perspective on casting Louder.]
So Alexis assumes that you remembered her from her The Walking Dead audition. Is that correct?
Sharon Bialy: She assumes correctly. Alexis did an audition for The Walking Dead that I thought was spectacular. If you have a lot of readers who are actors, it’s just a note that you don’t get every job, but when you do great work, a lot of people remember. So it’s my job to remember and keep it in the files of the brain, and Alexis just really struck me as someone really special.
She also mentioned that you reached out to her agent directly, which seems to be quite rare.
Sharon Bialy: Yes, I did call her agent myself. When you’re dealing with the lead in a movie, it’s my job to call, not my assistant’s job. I wasn’t setting up a lot of people like you would for a television pilot where you might see 65 actresses. This is a different situation because you’re looking for someone who you believe can really hold the screen opposite Gerard Butler and Frank Grillo, and can be in that world with Carnahan, and can have screen presence and not be afraid. So I thought she had all of that.
How was the role of Valerie Young originally described in the casting breakdown?
Sharon Bialy: It wasn’t written for a young African American actress, and typically when you have a lead role in a film opposite those two guys, there’s a list that the studio or people want you to explore, who mean something for foreign. It’s the same women over and over. So I was so excited that Joe Carnahan responded so enthusiastically and had the courage and the balls to say to the studio, “This is who I want. She’s amazing.” So I brought the idea to the table and said, “I believe she can carry it. Roll the dice. Take this chance.” But without Carnahan backing that up and saying to the studio, “Hey guys, this is what I want to do,” it would never happen.
She was also surprised that Frank was present on the Zoom callback.
Sharon Bialy: I’ve done that with Frank before for the movies that we have done, but look, she’s the lead in a movie. Frank is not just an actor in the film; he’s a producer. So he was doing everything he could to support her getting the part, and when you have to show someone’s audition to a studio, you do everything you can to help her have the best audition. And that’s where Frank’s generosity came in.
[Writer’s Note: Thank you for your insight, Sharon. Returning to Alexis…]
Since Joe, Frank and Gerry (Gerard Butler) are an intimidating group, do you think those prior meetings with Joe and Frank made you more comfortable during your early days on set?
Alexis Louder: Yes, I do think that. I try to walk into a work environment believing that we’re all coworkers, human beings and that we just want to do a good job. And when people step on set, it’s Frank Grillo, not the Frank Grillo, you know? And the four of us actually had the opportunity to have rehearsals for some of those cellblock scenes. So you could test the waters a bit and see what someone’s sense of humor is like, what the dynamic of the room is and how each person interacts with each other. They’ve already known each other for a while, and I was the new one. (Laughs.) So I was able to meet Gerry before getting on set for our rehearsals, which was a really good icebreaker. But I do try to step on set and have confidence in my own abilities. The decisions that people made to get me there meant that I have something to bring to the table, so I did not question that because it would only be doing a disservice to myself and the project. So I try not to get intimidated.
Whether it’s the scarf and glasses or the bulletproof vest, there are numerous moments in this movie where you look incredibly cool as Valerie Young. When you watch, are you able to buy into Young’s level of cool and forget it’s you?
(Laughs.) The coolness for me usually comes from watching it come together as a whole. I’ve seen some of this stuff in playback and video village, and I was like, “Oh my gosh, that shot is really cool.” But then getting the scenery and the graphics together and seeing it on the big screen, and then the idea that it’s me, is the coolness of it. (Laughs.) Fun fact, that scarf was actually my bib for makeup to make sure I didn’t get makeup on my collar while we were filming and between shots. Joe saw me on set with it one day; I was just walking with a coffee or something and he was like, “That scarf is really cool.” (Laughs.) And I was like, “Thank you. Thank wardrobe.” (Laughs.) He was like, “We’re going to use that,” and I was like, “Really?” (Laughs.) So when the whole look came together by the cliffs, I was like, “This is cool. This is really cool.” So when I actually see the movie in theaters with friends, the cool part is that we actually did it. It’s come out. People are able to enjoy this. My friends and family are actually enjoying this, and my hard work was well spent.
Was Valerie wounded in the Army? When she first noticed her wound in this movie, it looked like there was existing scarring in that same area.
I get your question, but I don’t know that any other wounds were shown on screen. But I do think that she was injured in the Army because of her ability to muscle through and mentally work through the wounds she currently has. I think that’s something you usually have through experience. So I do think that she acquired some injuries from serving in the Army.
I love the line, “So I’m feeling a little rambunctious.” What can you tell me about shooting that entire monologue? How many takes did you do?
(Laughs.) I want to say maybe three. I don’t think we did it a lot. I remember before we got into the actual monologue, Joe had me just sit in the seat. He was like, “I’m just going to push in on you sitting there while we play this music.” And I believe it was the music from that Robert Pattinson and John David Washington movie, where they’re going in the future and the past. (Laughs.)
Yes! Tenet. So I believe he was playing music from Tenet as I was sitting there and he was pushing in on me. (Louder imitates the Tenet score.) “Brrrrrrrrrrr, brrrrrrrrrrr.” So he actually pushed in on me for maybe a whole two minutes, and that really got me in the zone. And then he was like, “Okay, we’re going to go into the monologue now.” And I was like, “Yes, I’m ready.” (Laughs.)
So I have to assume you did weapons training, but did you also get some quick draw lessons?
I did from Anthony Nanananananer. (Laughs.) I call him Nanananananer because his last name is very difficult for me to say [Panuvat Anthony Nanakornpanom]. And he thinks it’s adorable that I do that. (Laughs.) But he is a gunslinger, and he taught me how to do my gunslinging and cylinder changes, which were very difficult because it’s a tedious and meticulous weapon, the 45 Blackhawk. And the props team made me replicas of the Blackhawk so I could take them to my hotel and practice my twirls. I practiced a lot. I would do it while I was brushing my teeth. (Laughs.) So I would have a replica gun in one hand and a toothbrush in the other. (Laughs.) But in the early stages of it, oh man, it was difficult. It was so hard because I’m not used to using those muscles in my fingers and my hand like that. There was one time where my hand just gave out and I was like, “I have to drop it. If I don’t drop it, I’m going to pull my finger out of place or something like that.” And I dropped it on my foot. (Laughs.) I was like, “Well, I saved the hand. That’s what matters. That’s what’s going to be on camera.” (Laughs.)
Did you guys talk about where the story could go? It certainly leaves us wanting more.
For my own motivations as an actor, we did talk about where Valerie was possibly going, but I’ll leave that up to the audience to wonder about and come up with theories. If we do happen to do a sequel, which has not been discussed… I don’t want to put that out there that we’ve talked about it or anything like that, but if one were to arise, I would certainly love to step back into Valerie’s shoes. And I would want it to be a complete surprise as to where we go next with her.
Watchmen introduced a lot of us to a tragedy that we didn’t know about already but should’ve known already. And you played Will Reeves’ mother, Ruth Williams, during the pilot’s depiction of the 1921 Tulsa Massacre. At the time, could you feel how important that show would end up being?
I did. And it was something that I didn’t know about either until the year that I was cast. It’s so crazy how the Lord works because during the audition process, I was actually doing a play called Deep Greenwood that was about the Tulsa Massacre, how they rebuilt and then were torn down again. It only ran for a weekend, but I was so invested in this play. And when I got the audition for Watchmen, they didn’t tell us anything. It was just Untitled Project. So I did my best work in the audition, but I didn’t make it a priority because I was like, “I want this story [Deep Greenwood] to be told. I need this story to be told. I need people to know about this.” And then I got a callback for Watchmen and I was like, “Well, I have to be backstage [on Deep Greenwood] during the time that my callback is. If they can reschedule the callback, then I can do it.” And they were able to reschedule it. So I went into the callback and I did the scenes. And Nicole Kassell, the director, was there, and she was like, “Do you know what this show is about?” And I was like, “I have no idea.” And she said, “Well, it’s about the Tulsa Massacre.” And I was just like, “You have to be kidding me.” And she was like, “No.” So I explained to her that the reason my callback was rescheduled was because I was doing a play for this very topic. And we just started talking about different things and how the education system has never breathed a word about it. Not even in Oklahoma is it a part of their curriculum. And so on set, they had a pastor come and bless the set because the stunt people and the background were actually experiencing these things that come directly from the book written about the massacre. And Nicole was very adamant about having those visuals in there. So as you see from the show, me and my character’s family were running through and running past these things. And we were seeing it. So it was just some heavy stuff to experience. And it was great that they had someone come and bless the set and remind us to remember, but not take it home. That was another set where it was beautiful to work with those different people because they had such respect for what was being discussed and such respect for the actors and the talent involved in bringing this to fruition.
You also appeared in Black Panther‘s Sambisa Forest scene, which was another meaningful set. What did you observe during that time? What’s stuck with you?
It was a behemoth of a set. We spent a whole day on that one scene with the convoys. And then any time you have action involved, you have to really break it down into different pieces and elements for everyone’s safety and for it to come out very clean on camera. So I just remember there was a wall of cameras. I’m used to being on sets where it’s one, maybe two cameras. I think they had four or five going whenever they were facing a particular direction. (Laughs.) And I was like, “Wow, this is big,” which, on a Disney set, is what to expect. (Laughs.) They put a lot into their stories, and I’m a huge fan of how they work and the thought that goes into making everything come together so seamlessly. It’s like, “Who is thinking this far ahead?” But I just observed people working in excellence, who wanted to do a good job and do what was best for the piece. I don’t want to say there was pressure, but there were expectations for Black Panther. And I don’t feel as though Ryan Coogler was letting that ail him in any way. It probably fueled him more so because he was very intentional. He would come up to me to give me notes for my part, and while I wasn’t asked of much, I also did not know what I was doing until I literally got on set with the cameras. I had auditioned for a couple of roles in the film, and my rep called and said that casting wanted me to do this non-speaking principal role and if I mind. And I was like, “I don’t mind. I’ll be there.” And they were like, “Well, call is tomorrow, 6 a.m.” And I was like, “Okay, I’ll be there.” (Laughs.) But I had no idea what I was doing. I just knew I was “Nigerian Woman #2.” (Laughs.) And it wasn’t until I actually got to speak with Ryan that he told me what was happening: “You’re being held at gunpoint.” So I was very dazed. It was a very surreal experience because that was my first union booking. So that was a pretty cool project to be involved in. I’d like to say that I’ve been involved in some pretty cool projects as my career has grown and as Atlanta has grown at the same time. I feel like I have this symbiotic relationship with Atlanta, and the projects that have come my way are very interesting and thought-provoking. I’m just over the moon blessed to be involved in what I’ve been a part of.
Between The Tomorrow War and The Terminal List, you and Chris Pratt seem to like things over at Amazon. How was your time with Chris and Antoine Fuqua on this latest project?
It was amazing. I was able to play an FBI agent, and we’re chasing down Chris. It’s fun to work with people you know and that you’re friends with. I didn’t feel like the new kid on this project because a lot of the people from Tomorrow War were then on Terminal List. So that was really neat to go in and be like, “I know these people. What’s up?” (Laughs.) So we had a blast and had fun out in the dirt and in the city of Los Angeles. We shut down streets and stuff, and got yelled at by pedestrians. (Laughs.) I had a really good time out there.
Copshop is now playing exclusively in theaters.
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