Reading "Monster's Ball" for the first time I had the immediate impression that I was dealing with a story of interrupted silences - that this would be a film that did not rely on a lot of exposition or dialog to establish its characters. The silences I am talking about come from the characters' interior life and personal conflicts; the drama would arise from the times when their own perception of their stance in the world is exposed. Leticia knows that she is trapped in a prison as much as her husband is, and her violence towards her child arises from self-hatred that comes when she recognizes that she cannot change their situation. Hank, too, sees himself trapped in the shadow of his father and a legacy of hate - but it is not until the death of his son exposes the legacy that he can change his perspective, that he can change his destiny.
I approached the material - which was heavy on incidents but not on dialog - by focusing on how characters reacted to what was going on around them. This means that I encouraged the actors to present their characters in all their desperate humanity, which I hoped would make labels like "sympathetic" or "unsympathetic" seem entirely beside the point. Most of the characters in "Monster's Ball" have those vulnerable, vicious, misunderstood and unforgiving traits that all flower from the same root, the absolute need to be loved. Hank and Leticia must experience great loss in order to realize this. For Hank, it is not a sudden moment of understanding: he recognizes his need to be loved when he ultimately recognizes his recurring need to care for someone after years of hard work to not care for people, placing more importance on ritual. For Leticia, the moment she recognizes her need to be loved comes instantaneously, when Hank exposes his emotions late at night, in a parked car. Hank is by nature reticent, prone to internalize everything; Leticia, after years straining to hold everything together, is easily moved to emotional outburst.
My hope with "Monster's Ball" was to make a film that lead with emotions rather than action;
I was looking for uncompromising emotional honesty from my actors in hopes that we could tell a story of loss and redemption with the same resonance achieved by some of the great films of the 70s. Yet I was also after a contemporary aesthetic: to render a sense of isolation in a world crowded with complexity, full of characters struggling to transcend the compromises of their condition.