The heart of Steve McQueen’s Mangrove is Frank Crichlow, and he is beautifully embodied by Shaun Parkes.
Frank was a man who only wanted time to open his new restaurant, The Mangrove. After his previous restaurant closed, his biggest desire was a place for good food and engaging conversation. This is a man who only wants to capitalize on his own passion. When McQueen lets us observe the atmosphere of The Mangrove, we can almost smell its food or hear the chatter around us. When the police continue to storm into Frank’s restaurant for no good reason, we stand with Frank and members of the community. One officer, PC Pulley, has a seemingly personal vendetta against Frank even though the patrons are simply minding their own business.
We feel Frank’s anger and his frustration because of Parkes’ intense performance. It’s one of the best performances of the year. Parkes allows Frank’s anger and his sorrow radiate through the screen to latch onto you.
Awards Daily: Frank mentions his last restaurant, The Rio, quite a bit throughout the film and I was wondering how much of his past you kept in mind? Especially since we find out that that restaurant also faced troubles.
Shaun Parkes: That restaurant was very different. I did some research and I found out that he was in a steel pan band. I didn’t do enough research to give any quotables because when I got the role I had 3 to 4 weeks to get an accent down and get a character.
AD: It was that quick?
AD: That’s impressive.
SP: Thank you. I was talking with a Trinidadian man the other day and he was like, ‘You didn’t do this or you didn’t do that’ and I normally would’ve gone away for a month or two and gone to Trinidad and hung with people. Knowing about The Rio, more than I knew, was not necessary.
AD: I thought it was haunting The Mangrove in a way.
SP: You’re absolutely right. There is a scene between an officer and myself where we talk about it and Frank says that this is a different place. There is a history between them that does play out. You’re right to bring that up because it was a factor.
AD: Do you think Frank ever considered representing himself in the case?
SP: These people who have passed away now…you really just want to sit down with them and talk about what it was like. I don’t know. I don’t think he wanted to but you go with what you know you have to do. You go with what the lawyer tells you back in those days. You have trust in those representatives.
AD: Something that I keep coming back to are the interactions between your character and Letitia Wright’s character, Altheia Jones-LeCointe. There is that emotional scene when Frank’s lawyer encourages him to plead guilty, but there are some scenes where she puts herself between you and some other characters. I was wondering if you ever considered what it would’ve been like if Altheia wasn’t there for Frank?
SP: It’s trust and understanding. You know each other’s strengths but you know each other’s weakness. In those contentious situations, more often than not, you do the best thing for the collective. As you’ve said, they are very harrowing scenes and Frank, unfortunately, was raided over 20 times in one year–I believe in 1968. You can only take so much and it was purely on his shoulders.
SP: I believe they all learned a lot from each other at that time but I think they all had each other’s backs. It is something, funny enough, to this day that I haven’t been part of. I haven’t filmed anything where the comradery, on this level, has someone asking me a question like that. It shows the levels that has been written and what has happened in real life. Even though they knew they were going into these situations, Frank couldn’t hold his mouth. He always had something to say and he always backs himself. You can only go down that path so many times before it gets ugly. Your voice is not being heard, so what do we do now? I think Altheia understood more than Frank when it came to how to do things.
AD: Your physicality in this is incredible. I’m always interested in how actors hold onto that because there are scenes where you are getting dragged out of the bar kicking and screaming and the demonstration sequence gets intense. The one scene, though, that keeps coming back to me is when Frank and Darcus get taken out of the courtroom and you’re placed in this small room. It’s backlit and the camera is almost on your belt. I don’t want to say Shakespearean but that’s what it felt like to me.
SP: Thank you very much. I knew what had to be done. Everybody did. The levels we had to get to. How did I deal with the physicality? I’m from southeast London (laughs). I’ve been in a few scraps, so I’m not afraid of argy-bargy, as they call it over here. That wasn’t a problem for me, but it was important to stay with Frank. To react as Frank as opposed to react as Shaun. Do you know what I mean?
SP: It’s not about just being angry because then we just see Shaun being angry. I see what you’re saying about the Shakespearean aspect. It’s a cry for help. It’s angst. It’s intense and Shakespeare does that.
AD: And being in that courtroom and not being able to flood out that frustration.
SP: Absolutely. You can use that because we did film a load of scenes set in the dock, as you saw. Then that scene did come about a week or two into us filming the trial and they are long days. We are kind of ready to explode anyway. Not as an actor but feeling the character. Injustice, for a lot of people on this planet, is a trigger. This whole trials a fantasy and then he sees Darcus, who is a highly educated man, being manhandled like that. A lot of people can lose it. That wasn’t easy but it was easy to understand what to do. But I don’t mind being physical.
AD: There is a quiet scene where Frank thumbs through a Bible and he sees a picture of his parents. How important do you think Frank’s faith was to him?
SP: When the situation is as intense as that–and sometimes it’s a seemingly life or death scenario because jail is death for some–going back to faith and going back to God you hear a lot about. There’s nowhere else to turn. It’s literally a Hail Mary. I don’t know if he was particularly religious but he would’ve heard his parents in his head. You’re lost and you have nowhere else to turn and no one else is giving good advice. He’s got no idea what to do. Where do you turn? I know that happens quite a lot and it felt right that Frank had a moments thought to look at his parents to be reminded of that strength.
AD: I have to tell you that one of the most powerful moments in Mangrove is when Frank is on the stand and the prosecutor is asking about his participation in the demonstration. Frank looks at him and says, ‘You don’t understand.’ Frank is answering his question, but there is so much weight behind that phrase, because the man questioning him is white. He will never understand what Frank or the Mangrove Nine have to go through, and it resonates so much.
SP: Thank you so much for that.
Mangrove, part of the Small Axe miniseries, is streaming now on Amazon.