Skylan Brooks Talks 'The Darkest Minds,' Working With Amandla Stenberg & Young Activism (Exclusive Q&A)

While you might already know Skylan Brooks from his role as Ra-Ra Kipling in the binge-worthy series, The Get Down, Brooks is now bringing Chubs (i.e. Charles Meriwether IV) to life in our new favorite book-turned-movie, The Darkest Minds.

Like the young adult series, The Darkest Minds film focuses on a dystopian landscape, where the government actively imprisons and “rehabilitates” anyone under 18—because the young people of this realm have super-powered abilities. Though the rebellion of the on-screen (and page-bound) teens is an evergreen theme for young activism and standing your ground on your ideologies, The Darkest Minds also serves as a reminder that, particularly today, young people are an empowering force, especially when they culminate their collective abilities and knowledge.

Beyond the inspiring reminder that The Darkest Minds film illustrates, Brooks talked to us about the importance of young activism, working with Amandla Stenberg, and what it was like to play Chubs (who, btw, is a critical character in both the books and the movie).

Her Campus:  You portray Chubs in The Darkest Minds, who plays a vital role in Alexandra Bracken’s original books. Is there anything that you’re especially excited for movie-goers to see or learn about your character and his journey?

Skylan Brooks: I would definitely say his relations and how alike I portrayed him to the book, because most of the scenarios in the book are alike to the movie. I would be most excited for people to see his comedic sense and how he’s very protective of his friends, but very comedic at the same time. The way it comes across, to him it’s pretty normal, but to outsiders, like in the book, he’s very watchful of them.

HC: Definitely, I know Chubs has a lot of trust issues from what he goes through in the book, and I’m sure you portray that very well on-screen. I’m excited to see that!

SB: Ah yes, I can’t wait for you to see it. The movie is good—it’s great actually.

HC: Were there any unique techniques you used to research your role as Chubs?

SB: At first when I auditioned, I actually didn’t know anything. I didn’t know it was a book; it was just kind of spur of the moment. And they just pulled me when I got off work and they’re like, ‘Hey, we want you to audition.’ And I was like, ‘Huh? Okay.’ I auditioned, and I had no idea what I was doing. But because I didn’t know the book or anything about it at first, I kind of did my own thing. I just tried to relate to the lines and say them as I would say them, just to put my touch on it. Then I found out that this was a book and that people respond to this like how they respond to The Hunger Games or Harry Potter. This is like a fan-based type of thing. I really tried to stay away from reading the book as much as possible because I wanted to be surprised, too. So when I read the script, I kind of got a feel for this character, but I also looked in the book a little bit to see where Chubs is coming from personally. So I kind of infused both, but it’s still organic.

HC: I think that sense of not having any, or not too many, outside influences to distract you from portraying Chubs help put your own influence on his character.

SB: It really did. It then gave me a lot of perspective on his headspace, too. A lot of just factoring in the things that matter to him the most.

HC: Absolutely! What kind of advice, if any, do you think you would take from Chubs and adapt into your own real life?

SB: You know what, he says a lot of smart things. Well, he says a lot of smart-alec remarks. But, stick together, honestly. I guess, the importance to him of having a supportive group or people you can rely on and trust. In a sense, just wanting to be together. I find that in real life, it’s very hard nowadays because you can have a lot of trust issues, and it’s kind of difficult because everybody’s life is moving a million miles a minute, and we all get caught up in it. We all just kind of want to have something that holds us down, so definitely that.

HC: Kind of that theme of found family throughout the film and adapting that to your own life.

SB: Yeah, 100 percent.

 

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HC: You also star alongside Amandla Stenberg in The Darkest Minds. What was it like to work with Amandla? And do you have any favorite moments about working on the set of this film?

SB: Honestly, Amandla is one of the humblest, most chill people I’ve ever worked with, actually. It was really cool getting to actually see her after hearing a lot about her work and to just see the process. She’s very genuine with everything that she does. She’s a very, very caring person. To me, she kind of has like a mother figure role because she just watches over us. But my favorite moments were just some of our scenes together, or just behind the scenes, where there’s not a lot of footage. Well, there’s a B-roll out, where you can see some of it, but it’s just the little inside jokes that we’d all be cracking, and we’d have it while we were in the car shooting the Blue Betty scenes. So basically, it’s just a lot of our personal lives that build along the way, and music references.

HC: That’s amazing. And it kind of develops another layer of chemistry, both on and off set with you and your co-stars.

SB: Oh yeah, it was definitely easy to go from being in a scene and then being able to just be like, ‘Yo, so what’s going on after this?’ It’s just like a regular conversation—there wasn’t any static, or it wasn’t hard to focus on each other. It was really, really amazing.

HC: That’s amazing. Since The Darkest Minds focuses on a group of young people who are physically resisting the government, is there any advice you’d give to young people who are currently trying to balance their own emotional and physical well-being while they’re using their activism and voices to resist problematic issues in society?

SB: That’s a good question. Definitely, in this film, I think that a lot of it is about just reminding us and empowering ourselves first in any way shape, form or capacity, and reminding us that we do have the power because a lot is being thrown on us now. I see that we are the change. The really cool thing about it is that, from what I’ve seen from my generation so far, is that we are very rebellious to causes that do not fit us. And we’re very outspoken about them. I think that’s a great first step into bringing in what change everybody needs, because of a lot of our youth today, and including Amandla, we talk on topics of things that affect the elderly or just everybody in general. We have a general care for everybody. A lot of that is just giving us the strength or the idea that it’s okay to not be okay sometimes. And that it’s safe to figure things out. So, there’s been so much of that, and I could go on forever. But just in general, I would round it off to giving each other hope, which is a big part of the film, because everything can seem really desolate at times—and it’s our reality. But if we don’t come together and try to sort things out and put up a resistance towards the oppression, then there would be a lot of sadness and depression everywhere, and everyone would be affected.

HC: Absolutely. I think that it’s nice to see this vital film playing a critical role in inspiring people to continue their activism or to start new activism.

SB: 100 percent, it’s very needed. Also, Amandla has been in The Hate U Give, and that’s another one—with all the racial bias and things that are going on in society right now, and how politics play such a big part in it. It’s just needed, this is needed. I think the big part of it is there’s so many parts of social media, I’m sure you see, everyday that have nothing to do with anybody that aren’t actually getting to the roots of problems. I think we all just need reminders a lot of the time: what should be more important? Because life moves so fast nowadays.

HC: Exactly. And those reminders [can] kind of dissolve a lot of the chaotic news cycle.

SB: Yeah, 100 percent. It’s out of hand at this point.

HC: So the film also highlights some important themes of found families between these teens who’ve escaped or are avoiding rehabilitation camps. Do you have any advice for young people who are currently trying to find their own support systems amid a toxic situation in their lives?

SB: I would say the most important thing—because as I’ve learned and a lot of my friends have, and this shouldn’t be anything new—is doing your research. Knowing is, as they say, half the battle, and collectively you can always bring information to the table. But it won’t mean anything if anybody else doesn’t exactly care or doesn’t hold that as or deem that as important. For those who are trying to get to that level of changing the game, I think one thing that’s being forgotten is that everybody is fighting for a cause. But we have to change the law or change the constitution—something that’s set in stone for us all to be on one accord. And there are consequences to the things that we do, so we got to hold each other at a better standard. I’m glad that some very young people in my generation, that I see on social media or wherever, know that the biggest part is knowing, researching and not always taking everything for face value. This kind of life lesson that I was taught expands your mind and keeps you open-minded. You know, just being a really good researcher and really help pave the way for what you want to do.

HC: Absolutely—and finding those people who help you along the way with that mission and withstand that mission.

SB: Not only that, but when you do find like an offense, you build up who you are. When you know so much, you know what’s right or you know what’s wrong, and you know what needs to be discussed and start to become a leader in your own right. People will see it and follow it and understand, and you help them understand your cause. People gravitate to energy and to people who are of higher-self and ascension. People—we all naturally want to help each other. That’s the coolest thing about it: we all want to help everybody be better.

HC: Switching gears slightly, if you were to form your own resistance group to fight the government and simultaneous imprisonment in The Darkest Minds realm, who would you recruit on your team? Whether they’re a real-life person or a fictional character.

SB: And they would have their own type of power too?

HC: Yeah, they can have their own type of power—it’s up to you.

SB: Well, I can’t skip out on my own crew, which is the Blue Betty crew. But, I’d have Liam [portrayed by Harris Dickinson] and Amandla [who portrays Ruby] and I’d have Miya [Cech, who portrays Suzumme, a.k.a. Zu] automatically. Like in real life, it would have been really cool to have my grandfather. He was a symbol of knowledge and kind of a leader to me in my life. He was a very wise man. So he would have been a green, but he would have been a very powerful green. So, we would have been the lead green. I think, the Blue Betty crew’s got it figured out. They do pretty well together.  

HC: Have you learned anything about yourself from your experience portraying a variety of on-screen characters?

SB: I’ve learned, and I’ve known, but now I’m more confident in my abilities by playing different characters, that I’m able to do so much more or contribute so much more to the screen or whatever it may be in my imagination. And I’m not trying to sound cocky or anything, but that there’s no capacity to just how great I can be. I guess in a sense, I can do anything in my head, basically. In doing Chubs, I realized that. Usually when I was doing other films, I was always either transforming into this character’s headspace and I was kind of taking away myself, or I was kind of adding a little bit of myself and trying to turn to create the characters and give it life in a way where people can relate or see it in a realistic sense. With Chubs, it was a little bit of adding more of his priorities in his attitude and a little bit of my sarcastic kind of comedy that I use in my real life. But the one thing is that you’re always on set. It would be like, ‘Work, work work, work, work. Focus, focus, focus.’ It would be kind of an intense, intense workout session when you’re on set. You’re very in it, and nothing else matters at the time. But when it came to The Darkest Minds and Jen [director Jennifer Yuh Nelson], she just has this very zen feeling moment kind of thing and it was very serene. I guess the energy was very serene. It was like working under those circumstances with a complete 180 for me. Knowing that I can still perform at a high level, but still being in a very calm state and still being in my character and giving him that respect that he deserves, I truly do believe and feel that I can do anything under any circumstance—anything. I just add it to the long list of things I’ve done.

The Darkest Minds is currently playing in theaters.