Lonnie Chavis had a tall task taking on as the lead in David Oyelowo's feature directorial debut in The Water Man for RLJE Films and Netflix. The young actor plays Gunner, a boy who sets out on a quest to save his ill mother by searching for a mythic figure said to have magical healing powers. I spoke to the star on how the film was a dream project to take on, how Oyelowo is on set, and working with his more seasoned co-stars in Mario Bello, Rosario Dawson, and Alfred Molina. When Chavis was offered the Emma Needell script, it was an easy sell. "When I first got the script, I was an 11-year-old kid," he said. "What intrigued me is 'What wouldn't intrigue any other 11-year-old kid of the action, the adventure of the graphic arts, the magic, and the supernatural theme on the set? When I dug deeper, I realized that this is something anybody can relate to, especially me. I would do anything to save my mom." With the Chaos Walking star's over 20-year experience in front of the camera, Chavis was comfortable with Oyelowo's organic transition as director.
"It is amazing working with Mr. David," Chavis said. "He definitely made it easy for me in so many ways. He set a tone on the set when I got to the set at first. I was basically already in character. He did set everything up so perfectly that you can just be in character all the time. You would think it'll be hard for somebody who's an actor and director to manage a movie because you have so many things that have a grip on. You have to worry about the camera angles, people's costumes, lines, makeup. There were so many things to manage. Mr. David had a grip on every single one of them, and he never bumps to transition every just like a walk in the park honestly." In addition to directing, Oyelowo also played Amos Boone in the film.
The Camaraderie on Set of The Water Man
The This Is Us star said the experience working on The Water Man was unlike anything he ever did before. "This movie honestly challenged me as an actor and as a person," Chavis said. "It pushed beyond my limits of what I can do and what I can portray on the screen. I felt like I'm a better actor than before and a better person." The actor also remembers the comradery fondly on set with Bello, Dawson, and Molina. "I learned from not only them, but everybody on the set," Chavis said. "Everybody was so kind behind the scenes. There was a lot of love there. There was the real magic behind the scenes that it was so easy to film with these people. They treat each other exactly the way that you ought to be treated. Rosario and [co-star] Amiah [Miller]…we laughed all the time about the dumbest littlest things. It would be like to look a bridge like we would laugh off of the stupidest things ever. When we filmed, we would all just snap right back into character. I swear. They're true professionals. I love working with them and had real chemistry." He also recalled having a fanboy moment meeting the Spider-Man 2 (2004) actor, who will reprise his role in the upcoming Spider-Man: No Way Home.
"Mr. Alfred, I forgot that he was Doc Ock," Chavis said. "I didn't realize that he was going to be playing the role that he played in [this] movie. when I first met him, I asked my mom if that was him, and she was like, 'Yeah.' That is I was like, 'Whoa!' Alfred's a really cool guy." The actor remains hopeful he will play a Black superhero in the near future. When it came to action sequences, there was a scene he had to overcome his fear of heights. "There was a log scene you see in the movie," Chavis said. "There was an actual log that was almost across the river, but it was split apart. I was afraid of heights at the time. I had a lot of things going into this movie, and this was one of them. I had to act like I was going to climb on top of the log. I did it for safety reasons. It was pretty high up, and when I had gotten up there, I did not at all when to get down. I'm just looking at everybody's faces, and I could just see that everybody was expecting me to do something. My mom came over. She tried to calm me down, but she couldn't really help me, and then Mr. David got me back in the mindset of my gut is doing this. He's doing this for the love and the passion." The Water Man is currently in theaters.