Actor Tory Kittles Addresses That White-Face Scene in Mel Gibson Thriller

"I have no interest in being white," Tory Kittles said during a Q&A after the opening-night showing of their indie film, 'Dragged Across Concrete.'
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There's a bank-robbery sequence in the thriller Dragged Across Concrete, the Mel Gibson, Vince Vaughn starrer from gritty indie auteur S. Craig Zahler (Bone TomahawkBrawl in Cell Block 99), in which actors Tory Kittles and Michael Jai White put on white-face.

The racially tinged drama, revolving around a pair of cops who descend into an underworld of sorts alongside violent criminals after getting suspended for roughing up a Latino suspect, was shot well before the most recent blackface scandals (the Virginia governor's yearbook photos; Gucci's "blackface" sweater) but the Colony star, in particular, still had questions before slathering paint of any color on his face.

"I asked Zahler, 'What's the idea behind the white face?' " Kittles, 43, told a packed crowd during a 45-minute Q&A (moderated by Collider editor-in-chief Steven Weintraub) at the Arclight Hollywood following a March 21 screening. "He said, 'How else could you walk into a bank with a gun and nobody pays attention to you?' That's about right." 

For Kittles, at least, it's been a valuable lesson. When asked what he took away from the experience of shooting the film, he quipped, "I have no interest in being white."

The movie stacked up positive reviews following its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival in September, but Lionsgate decided to release it only in 34 theaters before rushing it to VOD. While the film nods to heavy subjects like racism, violence, drug addiction, disability, prostitution and even postpartum depression (via an emotional scene starring actress Jennifer Carpenter), Vaughn says there are no answers and that’s precisely why he likes Zahler’s work. (The two previously teamed on Brawl in Cellblock 99.)

“It’s so rare, sadly, that there are unique pieces [like this]. If you don’t want to make a three-minute pop song, it’s really challenging nowadays. Zahler doesn’t test [his] movies; they show it to like 10 people and the only thing he asks is where are you confused,” Vaughn explained to the sold-out crowd. Zahler is not interested in telling a story that is universally liked or even a story that is “going to change the world,” Vaughn added, revealing that he is set to reteam with the filmmaker on an adaptation of his novel Hug Chickenpenny, a PG, black-and-white kids movie about an animated orphan.

“It’s fun and it's refreshing to go to work with someone who is really trying to tell a very unique story that he’s passionate about," said Vaughn, who, like Kittles, starred on a season of HBO's True Detective. Of Hug Chickenpenny, he added: "It's a very, very long script. It’s not a very obvious choice but it's quite beautiful — really, really, really well done."

Speaking of well done, Kittles — a Lawtey, Florida, native who next appears in Kasi Lemmons' Harriet Tubman biopic, Harriet, starring Cynthia Erivo and the Tara Miele-directed Wander Darkly — got plenty of attention during the Q&A for the opening scene in Dragged Across Concrete. Or, rather, his naked body got plenty of attention. 

"My man keeps it tight — you look good," Vaughn joked about his pal, who appears nude in a sex scene with actress Vivian Ng. Asked to dish on the details of disrobing, Kittles said that the location that day was "a tight space" that led to some awkward encounters with a script supervisor named Barb. 

"It was a closed set," he said. "Video village was right behind me and our script supervisor [Barbara Abelar] was the only one there. What I realized is that when I laid down on the bed, she had an eye full of ass — mine. And, uh, we started shooting the scene and she walked over to Zahler and whispered in his ear. Apparently they were having some problems keeping some things out of the shot. [Vivian and I] worked it out a respectful way that we could move things around so that they wouldn’t fall into the frame."

A version of this story first appeared in the March 27 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.