'Brother': Lamar Johnson celebrates showing off Scarborough, Ont. culture -- just 'like New York or Brooklyn'
"Scarborough is being lifted up," the 'Last of Us' actor says about putting his hometown on the world stage
While many fell in love with Lamar Johnson in HBO's The Last of Us, the Toronto actor relished the opportunity to lead Scarborough-based coming-of-age movie Brother (now in theatres).
“I think the biggest thing for me was just how parallel it was to my own personal life,” Johnson told Yahoo Canada. “Being from Scarborough, but also being first-generation Canadian, my mother, my aunts, my grandmother are from Jamaica. They're also immigrants as well and this is very much an immigrant story.”
“There was also that parallel that I connected with, just the community, the music. … I felt like I knew him growing up. I felt like there's parts of him that are me. So I felt connected that way, and the script and the story was just so good."
Brother, based on the novel by David Chariand, but adapted for film by Canadian writer-director Clement Virgo, tells the story of Michael (Johnson) and his older brother Francis (Aaron Pierre), sons of Caribbean immigrants, growing up in Scarborough in the 1990s. Raised by their single mother Ruth (Marsha Stephanie Blake), a tragedy unfolds that causes a shift in the family dynamics, unpacking feelings of immense grief and the process of healing, within the exploration of masculinity.
Lamar Johnson, Aaron Pierre willing to be vulnerable
The bond between Michael and Francis comes across as such a dynamic, fully realized relationship, but Johnson and Aaron Pierre didn't actually have much time to develop that connection. As Johnson revealed, they only met about a week before filming began.
“We took whatever time we had and we sort of just allowed ourselves to be vulnerable, and just share personal things about ourselves,” Johnson said. “Just kind of getting the true, full extent of who we are, not only as men, but as Black men in his world.”
“We sort of just got a very basic, root understanding of where we came from … so that we can just break that ice for one another because of this story, and how vulnerable and personal it is."
The speed at which the two actors were able to establish this connection is evidence of how authentic and universal the story and themes of Brother are.
“Even though this is a Scarborough story, it's a story that transcends to many different cultures and areas,” Johnson said. “Even Aaron being from the U.K., he also has very similar experiences, and if not for himself personally, he also knows people that have had this exact experience.”
“There's so many different parallels that we all pulled from this script. ... But also, just our willingness to be vulnerable with one another. It really starts there, ultimately.”
Showcasing the beauty of Scarborough
For Johnson, being raised in Scarborough himself, the actor loves that Brother allows people to get a "first-hand view on the experience of Scarborough,” an area of Toronto that has a history of being villainized.
“I think it's great that we really get a true depiction of the community and culture of Scarborough," Johnson. "There's a lot of love. There's a lot of culture and music and food."
"Scarborough is such a melting pot of just a very diverse group of people. I'm really happy that it's depicted in this movie. When people really get to see the amount of love that is present."
The actor added that Brother is also an opportunity for Scarborough to be shown on the big screen the way that places like New York City and Brooklyn are often seen in entertainment.
“I think it's great that Scarborough is being lifted up in this way and sort of showing you, this is also a community that is very diverse and something that a lot of people can connect to,” Johnson said.
Scarborough is very much like New York or Brooklyn where there's just a lot of community and culture. … I think Scarborough can have that same weight. … I'm really happy that with this movie we were able to showcase the beauty of this city.Lamar Johnson, actor