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Interview: Lonnie Chavis on His Water Man Experience

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Interview: Lonnie Chavis on His <I>Water Man</I> Experience

by Kit Bowen 07 May, 2021

In his feature directorial debut The Water Man, David Oyelowo crafts a very touching and imaginative story about love and family.

Oyelowo also stars as Amos Boone, who moves his family to a small mountain town for the health of his wife (Rosario Dawson) who is battling cancer. Their son, Gunner (Lonnie Chavis), an aspiring graphic novelist, tries to cope with his mother’s illness – as well as his father’s lack of affection and encouragement.

In hopes of finding a way to help his mom, Gunner sets out on a quest to find the mythical “Water Man,” who supposedly roams the nearby forest and is said to have healing powers. Gunner hires a local teenager, Jo (Amiah Miller), as a guide because she purports to have met The Water Man and can find him. Naturally, the journey does not go smoothly, as the two young people face dangerous terrain and obstacles on their quest, only to discover what the true meaning of friendship and family.

ScreenPicks recently spoke with Lonnie Chavis about making The Water Man, how it tapped into his own imagination and working with the amazing David Oyelowo. 

Q: How did how did this opportunity come to you?

Lonnie Chavis: When they gave the script to me, I wanted to be in it for the adventure. You know, the magic and supernatural theme in it, but then when I got deeper into the script, I realized this is something I can relate to. I would do anything to save the people I love, especially my mom and I know you would, too.

Q: How did you tap into your character and his imagination?

Chavis: It was honestly really, really easy to portray the character Gunner because like I said, I really see myself in him. And when I got on the set, Mr. David [Oyelowo] always made sure that I was in the mind space of Gunner. Seeing that and everybody else, he made sure nobody was distracting me. I mean, he just set up everything so perfectly to where I can portray this character.

Q: Are you a very imaginative person?

Chavis: Yes, ma’am! I draw, ride my bicycle and play video games all the time. And read. I just love those type of books that take you to a different place. Those that really just lift you up and make you feel like you can fly those type of magical books. Those are awesome.

Q: What did you learn from working with David Oyelowo? 

Chavis: He just sets up a big example for everybody! Being on the set, and seeing how he goes about things, you can see that he is a leader. Mr. David never skipped a beat. He always has made it like a walk in the park smoothly, flawlessly.

Q: Talk about working with Rosario Dawson as well…

Chavis: Rosario was awesome. Between every single take, we would laugh about the dumbest, stupidest things! The minute they’d yell action, we’d go back into character. Just so much fun and also so professional. She’s also one of the sweetest and kindest people I’ve ever met.

Q: The subject matter must have been tough, though, having to get in that headspace, right?

Chavis: It was, but everything was set up perfectly. I mean there was just love and magic behind every single detail. Like the lullaby Rosario sings to me is the same lullaby Mr. David sang to his children.

Q: What do you think was about the story that spoke to David?

Chavis: Watching those movies growing up, like E.T. and The Goonies, he said that this is a film that he wanted to make for his children. He wanted to make it as if he was a kid and he would watch this film.

Q: Any stories about having to work in the great outdoors like that?

Chavis: There was this one scene that took place on a really steep edge. My mom hated coming to that set every single day we were filming there. It was so hot some days or so cold some days, like, so many different things that we had to go through in those woods. It was honestly an adventure inside of an adventure. Oregon is such an amazing place. I could have stayed there longer, to be honest. I live in L.A. and you are always in a rush to do something. But it’s a slower pace there.

Q: One of my favorite scenes was when Gunner and Jo are being chased by the wild horses in the forest.

Chavis: Those horses were real! I got to the set that day, and there were horse trainers on the side, and I thought, “Hmm, that’s strange.” I hit my mark and they had a dune buggy that I was strapped to, to make it look like I was running and that I wouldn’t fall. I was a little confused, but then I heard Mr. David yell “Action!” and look behind me and there were horses chasing me! When you watch the movie, that was real fear in my eyes.

Q: Is this the most challenging thing you've done so far in your career?

Chavis: This definitely challenged me as an actor and pushed me beyond the limits of what I can do and what I am able to portray. I thought it made me a better person and definitely a hundred million percent a better actor. 

Q: How would you compare this to working on This Is Us [Chavis plays the younger version of Sterling K. Brown’s character]?

Chavis: The experience [on This Is Us] has been great. It has definitely impacted my life, and a lot of people recognize me now. But I can't wait for The Water Man to come out so people can see what else I can do!

Q: What do you hope audiences will take away from this film?

Chavis: There’s a lot to identify with, first. There’s action, comedy, adventure in this film, but there's also love and hope and faith and sacrificial love and family and friendships. I hope people truly take away is that to not take time for granted -- and I love has no limits.

Check out The Water Man in limited theaters Friday, May 7!