Jordan Peele and Lupita Nyong'o discuss Us.
Us is the type of movie you get to make when your last movie was Get Out.
Get Out cost in the neighborhood of 5 million dollars, but it made an estimated 255 million worldwide. It was nominated for best director, best actor, best picture and won for best original screenplay making Jordan Peele the first African American winner of that award.
A tough act to follow...
But also a license to take chances and push the envelope.
Jordan Peele seems to have thrown himself completely into the latter, with little concern or care for the former.
Peele and his Us star Lupita Nyong’o sat down to discuss the movie at SXSW. They lent some insight into how their partnership formed, how Peele views his process, and how opportunities for a diversity of voices are changing the cinematic landscape.
On creating the characters and the casting process
One of the most striking things about Us is that the cast pulls off double-duty as both the main characters and the monsters chasing them.
Picture Jamie Lee Curtis also playing Michael Myers. Or Roy Scheider also playing Jaws. That's a weird one.
But the point remains, it’s a huge ask of a cast.
Peele said, “...What's really remarkable was watching these guys play against their own selves. We shoot it that way, obviously. They're piecing together not only these two performances but these reactions to a performance they're not even looking at. I don't want to peel back the layers too much because I think the illusion that the movie creates is part what I'm proud of.”
"I think the illusion that the movie creates is part what I'm proud of."
He’s right. The illusion works so well that it’s easy to forget that the same actors are playing both roles in each of these intense sequences. In Nyong’o’s case particularly as she seamlessly inhabits both parts, often creating a dynamic tension central to the entire movie with a performance she gave yesterday.
Nyong’o said, “...the characters we played are separate, they're also linked…. as an actor, you invest in one perspective and you then advocate for that perspective. And here you had to do that. And then the next day you're on the complete opposite perspective.”
Us is packed with layers of meaning, some seeming closer to the surface than others. Peele spoke on the way he viewed the tethered ‘red characters’ as he called them, and where they may have come from:
"...I think the tethered version of myself is probably the one that is making me do these fucked up movies.”
“In the early days of developing this concept, the way I would talk to the actors about it… I thought of the tethered characters, the red characters, at least figuratively if not literally, a manifestation of our internal darkness, our guilt. The things that we suppress. We all have that shadow stuff in us somewhere. This movie is about exploring it, not only as individuals but as a group, what the shadow self of our family, our faction, our town, our country is. I think the tethered version of myself is probably the one that is making me do these fucked up movies.”
"I thought of the tethered characters, the red characters, at least figuratively if not literally, a manifestation of our internal darkness, our guilt."
How did Jordan Peele and Lupita Nyong’o come together on this project? According to Nyong’o it started on the set of Black Panther:
“[Get Out] came out when I was making Black Panther. Black Panther was intense and time-consuming and all-encompassing. But, I found time to go to the cinema five times in one month while I was working on that film to watch Get Out. I was fixated and I loved it. I loved the conversations afterward with my brother who was in Florida, my best friend in New York... [It was] a cinematic experience that we could grab and take with us, and it became such a joy... and so I was like 'I want to work with that guy right there.”
But she didn’t pursue it, rather serendipitously it happened on its own...
“...a few months later I received this offer and I was like of course I'm doing it. I'm doing it. Whatever it is…. Now let me read the script.”
"...of course I'm doing it. I'm doing it. Whatever it is…. Now let me read the script."
While Nyong’o had essentially made up her mind about doing the film, she still discussed the project with Peele.
“I talked to him on the formality, writing notes, really listening to what he was trying to get across. And he was like 'if you do this film' and 'if you do this film'... At the end of the conversation, I was like 'Jordan, who are you kidding? I'm doing this film.”
"At the end of the conversation, I was like 'Jordan, who are you kidding? I'm doing this film."
On the representation of diversity
Us is about an African American family, with a particular focus on the mother of the family. And yet the movie has nothing to do with her race or gender. Peele even said that the movie being about a black family, but having nothing to do with race was the most important thing about it.
Peele spoke about how the industry begins changing as soon as people let go of long-held assumptions:
“...for so long in the industry had these baseless ideas that black people can't open movies overseas, these myths that are brought on by systemic racism. It's a self-perpetuating prophecy. If you give people opportunities then, they have opportunities to succeed, but they also need opportunities to fail. The same way white people do.”
"..for so long in the industry had these baseless ideas that black people can't open movies overseas, these myths that are brought on by systemic racism. It's a self-perpetuating prophecy."
Peele went on, “...hopefully we'll make some money with it [Us] and once again show the world that it's a worthy investment artistically and monetarily to see fresh talent. To see stories and perspectives that we haven't been seeing…”
For Jordan Peele fresh stories and representation are important, but it’s not the only important thing, “I'm a comedy guy, my pedigree, my DNA as an artist is the desire to provoke. I think if I'm not doing something that might piss people off then I’m doing it wrong.”
"I think if I'm not doing something that might piss people off then I’m doing it wrong."
Us comes to theaters on March 22, it shares a fresh perspective, will start conversations, and probably also piss some people off. For Jordan Peele and Lupita Nyong’o that means it’s mission accomplished.
For more, see our ongoing list of coverage of the 2019 SXSW Film Festival.
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Then I suppose Mr. Peele has no choice but to agree that Donald Trump must be doing just about everything right.
March 10, 2019 at 7:26PM
I love Jordan Peele and think "Get Out" was amazing, but he needs to be careful with the sentiment of, "I think if I'm not doing something that might piss people off then I’m doing it wrong.”
This way of thinking is a very slippery slope and no one seems to realize it. I understand about having things you believe in and boldly speaking up for them. However, it's important to remember what the goal is. If you want to educate people and change your minds then purposely demonizing them or pissing them off is not going to help.
When a right wing Christian demonizes you and says you're going to hell, do you think, "Man, he's right. I should listen to what he has to say and save my soul!" Probably not and guess what? It works the other way too.
For example, we had two recent films that both had very powerful, self-reliant, and confident lead female characters. Alita and Captain Marvel. One of these had controversy, Captain Marvel, and the other really didn't, Alita,... or at least I didn't see it.
I think the reason is pretty simple. There wasn't a bunch of talk about Alita being a feminist movie or discussion of any sort of agenda at all. They just made a movie about a really badass female character.
On the other hand, Brie Larson and Kevin Feige were really pushing the narrative of Captain Marvel being this feminist movie. Pair that with Brie Larson's past comments on diversity that at times were a bit inflammatory.
For instance, I had problems with "A Wrinkle in Time" that had nothing to do with the cast, director, etc... but instead with how they handled the story and things they left out. It does irk me a little when Brie says, "“I do not need a 40-year-old white dude to tell me what didn’t work for him about ‘A Wrinkle In Time. It wasn't made for him.'”
Why does she have to go there? I can support the push for more diversity when it comes to movie critics, but why does she have to put down a whole population based on age and skin color to make her point? I am 37-year-old white dude who grew up reading all of Madeleine L'Engle's books and loved them... especially A Wrinkle in Time. I can't tell you how much that book meant to me growing up.
I have wanted to see a big screen adaptation for years, and when one finally comes out... it's not made for me? My criticisms are somehow not valid because I don't meet the racial/age criteria?
Look, this on its own isn't a huge deal. Yeah, it irked me a little when I heard it but it's no big deal. However, when people keep making these little attacks on a certain group of people, it's going to really start getting on their nerves after a while. It's possible to uplift a group of people without trying to knock down another separate group of people.
I think this is why when you have two strong female driven movies, Alita and Captain Marvel, the one that just lets the story speak for itself doesn't get a ton of backlash, but the one that keeps boasting about its feminist agenda is going to trigger a certain segment of the population that is tired of being demonized by said agenda.
Just my two cents.
March 11, 2019 at 10:43AM
"It's possible to uplift a group of people without trying to knock down another separate group of people." Well said, Brad.
March 17, 2019 at 6:49PM