John Coffey is a hyper-sensitive soul who feels the suffering and pain people inflict upon one another. His gift of pure empathy means he absorbs hurt like a sponge and his ability to heal others is, in many ways, a curse because he has no off switch. Coffey is haunted by the collective history of humanity’s inhumanity and is condemned to carry that terrible weight upon his broad shoulders. Playing such a character was always going to be emotionally challenging and draining, and in “Walking the Mile: The Making of The Green Mile,” Michael Clarke Duncan credited acting coach Larry Moss with helping him to tap into the reservoirs of pain needed to play such a wounded and vulnerable character.
Moss advised Duncan that he’d have to find his inner five-year-old if he wanted to do justice to the character of Coffey because that was the mental age of the character. Moss told Duncan, “Tell me anything you can remember about growing up in Chicago, with your sister and your mother, with that kind of poverty, and no matter how painful it is I want you to tell me.”
Moss revealed that an emotional Duncan told him some real horror stories and knew if he could channel that sort of hurt, he would own the part. Moss explained that during a subsequent screen test, they did a close-up of Duncan’s face, and “In his eyes was the pain of the world, he had found that in himself. And the camera doesn’t lie that close.”