I loved the rapport between writer/director Cary Fukunaga and his discovery, Abraham Attah. If there was ever a more impressive feature film debut than Attah’s in BEASTS OF NO NATION, I can’t remember it. This searing, heartbreaking adaptation of Uzodinma Iweala’s novel of the same name casts Attah as Agu, a normal, happy kid in an unnamed West African country suddenly caught up in a civil war, and enlisted as a child soldier. Attah holds his own, and then some, with co-star Idris Elba as the Commandant who takes Agu under his wing, singling him out for special treatment while also teaching him to kill and abusing the boy physically and emotionally.
When I spoke with Fukunaga and Attah on October 15, 2015, it was just before the standing ovation the actor and the film received at the Mill Valley Film Festival. I wanted to know what advantages Fukunaga, a native of Oakland, CA, found in being an outsider to the culture he was depicting on screen, and from Attah, I wanted to know if there were any long-lasting effects from having to act the part of such a traumatized character. We also talked about the hardships of filming in an African forest, the tricky necessities of having guns on a set, the inherent absurdities of practical special effects, and Attah’s love of rap music. We also laid a rumor to rest.
BEASTS OF NO NATION is based on the novel by Uzodinma Iweala and is about Agu, a child in an unnamed West African country whose childhood is interrupted by civil war that results in him becoming a child soldier as his only refuge. This is Attah’s acting debut, and a stunning one it is. Fukunaga directed from his own screenplay. His previous work includes SIN NOMBRE, a refreshingly new take on JANE EYRE, and the first season of HBO’s True Detective, which earned him an Emmy.