Three Billboards star on change and tolerance


Clarke Peters is one of the stars of the Golden Globe winner for best drama, which tackles racial tensions in the United States.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is the movie of the hour. It not only picked up best drama, screenplay and actress for Frances McDormand, but it managed to tackle race and gender issues in one go.

Peters stars as Abercrombie, a police officer working in a small town where authority and racism walk hand in hand.

Speaking to Sky News, Peters said he believes that, when it comes to race and gender, we won't see real change anytime soon.

"We won't know for years to come whether anything has changed," he said.

"I doubt that it will, because I look back to 1776 in America's history and I see the same issues being dealt with then."

The 65-year-old actor became one of the most famous faces of HBO during a golden age for television drama.

He played suave Baltimore detective Lester Freamon in The Wire and Hurricane Katrina survivor Albert Lambreaux in Treme.

Peters is an American who has lived in London for years. Travelling to the US became something he did only for business, ever since he first got to the UK when he was 21 years old.

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While shooting The Wire, Peters would spend filming time in the US, then return at the end of each season, meaning he did not see the whole show until years after it finished.

"I would watch the first two episodes of every season and then I'd have to leave. Never the whole season," he said.

"And I'd come back and ask myself 'why are people staring at me?' And of course they had been watching the show and I hadn't. I didn't see it myself in its entirety until four, five years ago."

Peters believes the show helped shape television drama, but that some of what came after was sub-par.

"I think that the show creator David Simon and HBO were on to a really good thing whether they knew it or not," he said.

"And being a part of that experience can only be defined as what a blessing is about.

"I was told to go to Hollywood because of The Wire, and that after the success of that I would find more work. But the material that was coming to me, I just felt was so below the benchmark that it actually depressed me."

The show was also one of the first mainstream hits to feature a mostly black cast, but Peters dismisses it as being a black show rather than about class and education.

Three Billboards
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"Large parts of the drama that takes place in that city is in the black community but because it is the poor communities," he said.

"What you have is these two authors who are sending a love letter to their city. And the city is what it is about."

Peters believes that, to tackle race and gender problems, we have to "rise above that" or we will be "treading water for the next 50 years".

"In hindsight, we will know whether there is change or not. Right now there's what I call an infinite regression – where we get caught up in little sub sections of the main issue," he said.

"And now in America it's about sexism, racism and equality. When I say things haven't changed, I actually mean that."

The Three Billboards star believes race and gender issues have "become more tolerable because we are dealing with them". But that is not a good thing, he says.

"Tolerating something isn't the same as accommodating something," he explained.

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"When we accommodate it, we accept it as part of existence and we deal with it and that's what we need to do."

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri opens in UK cinemas 12 January.

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