In between Sarah Wayne Callies' stints on Fox's Prison Break and AMC's The Walking Dead, the actress shot an independent film from acclaimed Nigerian director Jeta Amata entitled Black Gold. The film, which is loosely based on actual events, follows the people living in Nigeria's Niger Delta, fighting to reclaim their devastated homeland from their own government and a massive oil corporation. In 2012, over 60% of Black Gold's scenes were re-shot, with new scenes also included to make the film more current, which resulted in an entirely different movie entitled Black November.
The film received a miniscule theatrical release in 2012, after it premiered at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C., although it actually inspired two Congressmen to pressure the Nigerian government and oil corporations into cleaning up the Niger Delta. Starting today, Black November has finally been given the release it deserves, with Entertainment One rolling out this gripping drama in theaters and on VOD. I recently had the chance to speak with Sarah Wayne Callies about her character Kate Summers, a journalist who becomes far more involved with the Niger Delta movement than she initially bargained for, her experiences shooting in Nigeria and much more. Take a look at what she had to say below.
This film certainly had an interesting road to release. I believe you shot the original film, Black Gold, in 2010. Was that before or after you shot the first season of The Walking Dead? Can you talk about how you first heard about this?
Sarah Wayne Callies: Well, I actually shot my portion of this in 2009, I believe. I'm not entirely sure, but, I think it was '09. I was involved when it was just a Nigerian film. There was no Mickey Rourke, there was no Kim Basinger and Anne Heche and all those amazing people. I flew over and spent five weeks, I think, in Nigeria. We were filming for, I think, three weeks, and, for a week and a half, we were waiting for the Nigerian government to give us back our camera equipment. They confiscated it when we came into the country. There was a little bit of time just spent at the hotel compound, with all of the cast and crew, and, in a way, it was nice, because we all got to know one another and Jeta and I actually spent quite a lot of time working on my direct-to-camera monologues. He was educating me a lot about the history of the Niger Delta and the oil industry and the Nigerian government. It was a great education period for me, actually, but, yeah, it was awhile ago. I'm so thrilled that this film is finally getting the life that it has, because it does deserve it.
I read that 60% of the original film was re-shot, to make these scenes more current. Was there anything specific that changed about your character, Kate Summers? Did you have to come back for these re-shoots?
Sarah Wayne Callies: Well, unfortunately, by the time they were doing the reshoots, I was so involved with The Walking Dead that I wasn't able to participate. Everything you see me in is on location in Nigeria. There were changes to it. Things were re-edited, we had to lose a few of the scenes between Kate and Ebiere (Mbong Amata) because they were a part of a different narrative. In light of everything that happened, I think that Jeta decided, quite wisely, to recalculate a little bit of the film's trajectory. But, you know, my primary purpose in the movie, I think, was being a link between Nigeria and Los Angeles, where the rest of the film takes place. She's from the States, and works for the States, but she's in Nigeria, and I think that her time in Nigeria might be spent, if not better, than at least as well, working with this peaceful insurgency, than maintaining the journalistic standards that would be expected of her.
Can you talk a bit about your experiences of just being in Nigeria? Just the things you saw and the things you learned from being there?
Sarah Wayne Callies: Yeah, it was a trip. So much of the heartbeat of Nigeria is Lagos and Abuja, which are the capital city and the largest city. I never set foot in Lagos, and I was in Abuja for about a day and a half, so most of my experience was, we filmed in Makurdi, we were out in the bush, staying in these hotel compounds. You know, things are done differently. These hotels have 20-foot walls and razor wire. We had to go down to the bodega, but I was welcomed and taen care of so beautifully. Mbong Amata, who was married to Jeta at the time, and many of the other cast members, were staying in the same hotel, staying right across from one another. They took me into town and took me to the market, where I was introduced to the word "oyibo" for the first time, which means "white lady." It was like a chorus of birds, wherever I went, all these little kids going, "Oyibo, oyibo!" A lot of these kids have never seen a white lady before in person, and a few kids would run up to me and try and rub it off my hand. I'm like, 'I'm sorry, you're stuck with what you see.' As I've found where I've traveled almost anywhere in the world, people are really friendly. A lot of people took a look at me and went, 'Well, you're not from around here, so, let's talk. Let's haggle over tomatoes. Let's engage with each other.' The interesting thing to me was I expected Nigeria to be quite different. In a lot of ways, it is, but Nigeria is tropical, and I grew up in Hawaii, so the first time we went to the fruit market, with Mbong and the rest of the crew, all of the fruit was the same fruit I had grown up with. It was papayas and pineapples and guavas. It was so familiar that, very quickly, the women I was with in the cast, went from, explaining to me how you pick a good pineapple, to just being, 'All right, you're on your own. You know what you're doing.' We haggled our way through, and I told them what I paid and said, 'How badly did I get ripped off?' They're like, 'No, far less badly than you could have.' It was a lovely exchange. People were so warm and welcoming. The government never shut us down, which was great. I think there were threats, a few times, but they never found us.
They just delayed your cameras.
Sarah Wayne Callies: (Laughs) They held our cameras hostage, briefly, but that was because we were traveling under journalist visas. When we landed, they thought we were these journalists who come to do a piece about the government, and they didn't want us to do that. So we had to convince them, 'No, no, we're just actors.'
Is there anything you can say about Pay the Ghost? There is a really great cast, and the story really intrigued me when I first heard about it. Is there anything you can say about your character and your experience on the set?
Sarah Wayne Callies: My experience was a great one. Toronto is a great city. I had an awesome time. Nic Cage is a legend, and working with him as close as we did, I got to know him a lot, and he's the most prepared, most professional person on any set. We had a great time, and we wanted to evolve a really quirky marriage because, I think thrillers and genre movies tend to be as interesting as they are, honest and human, and we wanted to create a marriage between these two people that felt real and felt funny and awkward, as well as all the other things that go along with a story about an abduction. But yeah, I haven't seen the movie yet, but, at least while we were shooting it, I had a really good time. He's an incredibly generous actor, and I think we might have done some really fun stuff, so, hopefully, it's a movie about a couple of quirky people in a super-cool marriage, and then everything unravels from there, but, hopefully, it starts in an interesting place.
That's my time. Thanks so much, Sarah. It was a real pleasure.
Sarah Wayne Callies: Yeah, you too. Have a good one.