Drama doesn't preach

L.A.'s racial tensions give fuel to 'Crash'

Imagine two actors. One, a talkative veteran, who has been in publicity interviews many times before, is relaxing on a hotel couch, with well-combed and parted hair and wearing a leather jacket. He is very open and seems to be interested in discussion and generally expanding his knowledge. He's not quite sick of the press because he still has a lot to say.

The second actor isn't completely green but isn't quite as polished as the first. He wears a vintage Chicago Cubs shirt under a dress jacket and a messy mop of hair, and his image is a good visual representation of his youthful enthusiasm.

The first actor is Brendan Fraser, known mostly for his starring role in "The Mummy," and the second is Michael Pena, who has most recently had a small role in "Million Dollar Baby" and is a regular of the police drama TV show "The Shield." Both actors took a chance by starring in the deep racial drama "Crash," the directorial debut of Oscar-nominated screenwriter Paul Haggis.

Despite his recent comedic movie parts, Fraser, going against his typical character type, plays Rick, a district attorney in Los Angeles struggling with the city's racial mess without offending his constituents. To get into the role, Fraser talked to real-life L.A. District Attorney Steve Cooley.

"I told [Cooley] that I was playing an L.A. district attorney," Fraser said. "He looked at me and said, 'First thing you're going to have to do is grow gray hair and gain 40 pounds,' which made me laugh. Then I told him that Sandra Bullock was playing my wife and he laughed."

Pena plays an ex-gang member working hard to make a new life as a locksmith while also being a good father. Pena was originally drawn to the film because of its straightforward attitude.

"What really attracted me to this script, I wasn't sure that [director Paul Haggis] was trying to make a statement because he wasn't very preachy within the dialogue," Pena said. "[Haggis] wasn't like 'look at the way these people are, you should blah blah blah', it was 'look at the way it is' and that's it."

For Fraser, he said it was the myriad characters who make "Crash" so interesting.

"There is some dramatic structure in the movie 'Crash,' in that it parallels classic literature, in that there is a status and pecking order," Fraser said. "There's the D.A., who is clearly like the monarch. Below him is the queen, his wife, then his lieutenants, his generals, all the way down to the lowest of the low, the paupers, who is the poor woman who is strung out on crack."

In the end both actors wanted "Crash" to be something that people will enjoy but will also take something away from.

Pena said there is something about the movie that makes it personal.

"It's an emotional ride that a lot of people can relate to, you know?" Pena said. "Having miscommunication. Why does it have to happen?"

Fraser also commented on the fact the film pushes the audience to draw its own conclusions.

"It doesn't offer up any solutions, which is nice," Fraser said. "I don't like being patronized when I go to movies. Like, 'This is how you should feel!' I want to be left to make up my own mind and if I'm angry, confused, or conflicted about something, then that's an effective film. It's done something to stimulate the dialogue, and that's what this is about. The desire of this film is [to] start conversation. You can't walk out of this complacent"

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