Exclusive Interview: KJ Apa Talks Importance of 'The Hate U Give'

In the recently released, The Hate U Give, KJ Apa, who is popular for playing Archie Andrews in Riverdale, stars as Chris, the boyfriend of Amandla Stenberg’s character Starr. Fangirlish had a chance to speak to him about his role, and why he thinks the film is important.
Based on the novel by Angie Thomas, The Hate U Give tells the story of Starr Carter who is constantly switching between two worlds – the poor, mostly black neighborhood where she lives and the wealthy, mostly white prep school that she attends. The balance between these two worlds is shattered when she witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend at the hands of a police officer.
Read on for our interview with Apa:

Why do you think that it’s so important that this book becomes a movie that so many people get a chance to see?

KJ Apa: I think it’s because it’s such a unique movie, it’s told from the perspective of an African American female which is quite rare, there are not many movies which are told from that perspective so it kind of individualises it a bit. I think it’s definitely an important film for today’s society. I think a lot of people can relate to it, it’s a story for anyone who spent time trying to work out who they are and who they want to become.

And obviously the story addresses an important issue when it comes to race and police brutality, how important was it for you to be a part of a project like this?

KJ Apa: I was super excited when I found out about it, I was sent the script and I read it, I read the book. Immediately after I read it I knew it was going to be a powerful film and I was excited because the character that I’m playing is pretty important in his relationship with Starr and is one of the most important relationships in the film.

Can you talk about the dynamic between Starr and Chris in the film?

KJ Apa: It was awesome and I was able to relate to Chris in many ways and at the same time I didn’t relate to him in a lot of ways. The reason I think their relationship is so significant is because it’s so different, they could not be more different but yet they still love each other. I mean he’s white, she’s African American, he grew up as a perfect example of white privilege, he benefited socially, economically in ways that he has taken for granted and being around Starr has opened his eyes in ways he didn’t consider before and I feel like that is one of the most important parts of their relationship is how different they are and their upbringings are.

What was it like working with Amandla and being able to bounce off of each other?

KJ Apa: She’s really cool. I met her really briefly for a movie called Darkest Minds a couple of years back so I definitely remember who she was and I think she remembered who I was. But we definitely had good chemistry and we hung out a lot, we rehearsed a lot with George Tillman Jr, our director. And that rehearsal time I feel really gave us what we needed in order to get our performances as good as we could.

How does Chris fit into the story as an individual, anything you can tell me about him?

KJ Apa: Chris is Starr’s boyfriend, they go to the same school. The film kind of shows that initially he isn’t aware and he doesn’t understand the challenges that Starr faces being an African American female and I feel like he represents a lot of white males out there who are ignorant of African American culture and who feel like the way to overcome racism is to forget about it. Instead we should be talking about it, we should be embracing it and understanding it. Although Chris and I may not relate because it’s impossible to relate completely to an African American, you can’t relate to someone who is black if you are white but we can respect that and embrace it as much as we can and I feel like that is the trajectory that Chris is heading in.

What did you learn while filming this movie?

KJ Apa: I also learnt so much about African American culture. I mean like growing up in New Zealand and coming over to the States. We have our indigenous people in New Zealand, the Maori people and I feel like that was also awesome to be able to learn about the African American culture and to be able to portray the contrast between European and African American.

Would you say that the movie does the book justice?

KJ Apa: Absolutely, I think people are going to be very happy with the outcome of the film. I’m used to fans who were already fans of a book or comic being on the show I’m on [Riverdale.] And I know it’s important how we portray a character, people already have an idea of the character, it can add more pressure to how you perform or how you perceive the character, just because you want to do it justice and you want people to be happy with something that they already love so much.

Is there a particular scene that you are eager for audiences to see come to life?

KJ Apa: Probably the most important scene for me is where Chris and Starr are talking in the limo at prom because it’s when they come to terms with each other and where Chris’ is trying to convince Starr that race doesn’t matter and everyone is all the same and to stop talking about it, which is his way of dealing with it. And Starr tells him we’re not all the same and I feel like that’s kind of the end of that mentality for him and where he finally sees the light and his love overcomes his blindness.

What was it like working with George Tillman Jr, your director?

KJ Apa: He’s awesome. He had a clear vision of what he wanted and he is so passionate about and he is literally in every part of this film. He is never not working, he is always thinking about the film and I feel like I was really lucky to work with him.

What was the most rewarding aspect of filming this movie?

KJ Apa: Knowing that apart of such an important story in this day and age. Playing such an important character, to portray those issues that the character is dealing and the issues that he is overcoming.

What was it like working with the entire cast and crew on this film?

KJ Apa: It was great, obviously I didn’t get to meet all the cast, I was just working with Amandla and Lamar Johnson and a couple others because of the reshoots but the crew was great.Everything happens for a reason, I believe, and I think we created something amazing.

Why should people go see this movie?

KJ Apa: I think people should see this movie because everyone can relate to it. I feel like it highlights a duality that many teenagers can relate to, putting on different faces for different aspects of your life and being self conscious or self aware of how you are perceived. I feel its relatable to anyone who has spent time working on who they are and who they want to be, everyone literally goes through that process.
The Hate U Give is now in theaters.

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