The Director discusses the iconic character of Petey Green, making a period piece and when to edit a sequence from a film.
With films like the poetic Eve's Bayou to her credit, Director Kasi Lemmons also has a long history as an actress behind her. However, it is her most recent work as the Director of Talk to Me that has everybody buzzing. Talk to Me is the powerful real-life story of Ralph Waldo "Petey" Green (Don Cheadle), an outspoken ex-con who talked his way into becoming an iconic radio personality in the 1960s, in Washington, D.C. Sparked by both the era's vibrant soul music and exploding social consciousness, Petey openly courted controversy at a white-owned station. Relying on his producer Dewey Hughes (Chiwetel Ejiofor) to run interference, Petey's unprecedented "tell it like it is" on air style gave voice and spirit to the black community during an exciting and turbulent period in American history.
Recently, Lemmons took part in a conference call to discuss the upcoming release of Talk to Me on DVD.
Where you conscious that the outrageous look of the movie could have been a pitfall in telling this story?
Kasi Lemmons: Well, in terms of the characters I wanted to make sure that they were all grounded in reality. I guess the biggest ones to watch was certainly Petey because he was a larger than life character. In terms of Vernell (Taraji P. Henson) and Nighthawk (Cedric the Entertainer) just to make sure that those people had their feet firmly planted on the ground. With Vernell, that she was a real woman feeling real pain, though she's outrageous she's not a caricature, she's a real woman. In terms of capturing that era, I feel, if you get it right down to the details, down to the props, down the cars in the background... you somehow have a more seamless experience where you're able to enter it almost if it was contemporary. For awhile it's in your face and you're very aware of the time that you're in, but if you get the details right you're able to kind of enter that reality.
Did Don bring you this character or did you have to help him find it?
Kasi Lemmons: I think I guided him, not so much pushed him, but guided him because Don knew where he had to get. We knew when Petey was in the house let me just put it that way. You do rehearsals and Petey's not their yet, Don would know it and I would know it and we'd just kind of have to wait for Petey to arrive. Don is such a magnificent actor, he really is one those geniuses even though he doesn't like to think of himself that way. He thinks of himself more as a technician but he really is a person that can channel, because sometimes some things came through that even he doesn't recognize. That's really an extraordinary thing to watch an actor go through.
What types of challenges do you face in terms of pulling a movie like this off?
Kasi Lemmons: (Laughs) I've faced enormous challenges but I've come to really believe that every filmmaker does. It's extremely difficult to get films made and I've got to tell you, if I was trying to get Eve's Bayou made now I am not sure that I would be successful. It's a different world, you know? I don't know that it's getting any easier for independent films even though we do see successes every year.
Why were certain scenes deleted from the film but are on the DVD as an extra?
Kasi Lemmons: There's one that you're going to find on the DVD that's really extraordinary. Martin Sheen does this speech that is incredibly resonant and beautiful, that comes after the King assassination. You don't quite know what is going on with his character, all of the sudden he makes this speech that really says something profound about the character. It really explains a lot. It came at the end of a sequence that was very, very long. That sequence kind of takes over the movie once it happens and it takes over the movie for many, many minutes. So it came to the end of that and there's just an exhaustion where you need the sequence to be over. One thing you learn about editing when you're a filmmaker is that the audience doesn't realize why they think a certain part of the film is long. It might not be that that part of the film is long it might be that the part that came before is long. So you always have to be aware of timing and inherent time and how the audience feels and how you feel.
When you made the film did you you think it was going to go wider when it was released theatrically and have a bigger audience?
Kasi Lemmons: Oh, of course I did. I understood the strategy and it was something to go for and I think everybody believed in it. I think it was a summer where it was really hard to break through because the movies were good. I think we just got completely knocked out, kind of unexpectedly, by the summer movies. In some ways by the time The Bourne Ultimatum came along that was kind of our audience. We were a baby boomer audience, you know? It was just a really hard market for us.
Talk to Me comes to DVD October 30 from Universal Studios Home Entertainment.
Dont't forget to also check out: Talk to Me