Stephan James and Taylor Kitsch in a scene from 21 Bridges.
Stephan James and Taylor Kitsch in a scene from 21 Bridges. Supplied

Actor left in 'zombie mode' filming 21 Bridges

THERE are no zombies in the new cop thriller 21 Bridges, but Taylor Kitsch felt like he could have played one of the undead.

The Canadian-born actor, best known for his breakthrough role as a high school quarterback in the gridiron drama Friday Night Lights, stars alongside Black Panther's Chadwick Boseman, J.K. Simmons and Sienna Miller in director Brian Kirk's new crime drama.

Taking place over one chaotic night in New York City, the film follows embattled NYPD Detective Andre Davis (Boseman) as he is thrust into a citywide manhunt for two cop killers.

J.K. Simmons, Chadwick Boseman and Sienna Miller in a scene from 21 Bridges.
J.K. Simmons, Chadwick Boseman and Sienna Miller in a scene from 21 Bridges. Supplied

That meant weeks of shooting at night, both on the streets of New York and Philadelphia, for the cast and crew.

"No joke, you start to get into zombie mode at 4.30am in the morning," Kitsch says. "Then they go 'All right we're going to do that dialogue scene at 5.30am' and your brain is trying to compute.

"You go to bed around 8am, get up at 2pm, try to get in a work out to wake your body up. Then you go to set around 4pm, go through wardrobe. The second it hits night time you're shooting, so from 7pm to 7am. Even on your off days you don't want to get off the program, and you do that for seven weeks.

"But I love that tone of everything at night. It just really helps the process."

The film is named after the 21 bridges that have to be closed to seal off the island of Manhattan for the manhunt.


Chadwick Boseman stars in 21 Bridges.
Chadwick Boseman in a scene from 21 Bridges. Supplied by Roadshow Films. Supplied

Trying to avoid the searchlights and cross hairs is Kitsch's character Ray, a former military man who turns to crime. When he and his sidekick Michael (If Beale Street Could Talk's Stephan James), the younger brother of his best friend killed in Afghanistan, stumble across 300kg of pure cocaine, they think they've struck gold.

But when a handful of cops interrupt the robbery, the men must shoot their way out of the situation and are forced to go on the run.

"That relationship with Stephan's character is the anchor of Ray," says Kitsch.

"The loyalty and how far he'll go to honour that is obviously as far as it takes. He's come from absolutely nothing, living in the Bronx and going and serving and losing his best friend, Stephan's brother, so he's carrying that guilt and trying to stay sober. When you get to that last point (of being surrounded by the cops), violence is the first and last thing you're going to use to react to these circumstances. You try to infuse that humanity as much as you can (into the performance), otherwise it's a cliche and boring to watch. There's a lot of reprehensible stuff he's doing, but you sort of awkwardly feel for Ray.

Taylor Kitsch and Stephan James in a scene from 21 Bridges.
Taylor Kitsch and Stephan James in a scene from 21 Bridges. Supplied

"Michael has way more of a moral compass than Ray. I love the dichotomy there and that they argue."

Detective Davis's pursuit of the criminals soon uncovers a much wider conspiracy, which has the experienced investigator wondering who he is hunting and who is actually hunting him.

"I grew up with movies like Heat and Mean Streets and Fugitive, and all these sorts of movies just don't really get made any more," Kitsch says. "To me that is a f------ sad thing. When this came it was a grounded cop thriller with a cool twist. I love that sort of stuff and to play Ray was a no-brainer.

"The beauty of Ray is he could really do anything and you'd understand it. He's the wild card of the whole thing. He's very unpredictable and to root yourself in that is a lot of fun."

21 Bridges opens on Thursday.

STARS: Chadwick Boseman, Sienna Miller, J.K. Simmons, Taylor Kitsch, Stephan James.

DIRECTOR: Brian Kirk


REVIEWER'S LAST WORD: This cop thriller pays homage to the classic films of the genre, building to a clever twist while not overcomplicating an action-packed cat and mouse game.