As Lionsgate prepares its new comedy Peeples for wide release on May 10, the entire ensemble cast opened up about making the film, what we can expect to see, and some of the memorable moments that happened on set.
To recap the plot, Craig Robinson stars in the film as Wade Walker, an average guy hoping to propose to his perfectionist, Type A girlfriend (Kerry Washington), who decides to crash her family's weekend in the Hamptons and is met with the challenge of cozying up to her overachieving family. The Peeples clan is rounded out by Judge and Mrs. Peeples, played by David Alan Grier and S. Epatha Merkerson, Kali Hawk and Tyler James Williams as the Peeples siblings, and Wade's brother Chris played by Malcolm Barrett, all of whom joined the interview.
The most striking thing about this cast is the energy and kinship they seem to share. Hearing their thundering laughter, and at one point chanting, echo through the halls of the hotel where we met was a charming surprise that mirrors the tone of the film. "It's like that every time we see each other," says Tyler James Williams. "We were shooting in Connecticut and we had these crazy call times, like three o'clock in the morning. We really like each other and I think it's great, because if we didn't we would have killed each other."
The cast agrees that they had an easy connection, singing and playing piano in between takes, hanging out after filming and even taking a trip to support David Alan Grier's performance in Porgy & Bess on Broadway. Their bond bubbled over into riffing and improvising on set as well, as writer-director Tina Gordon Chism would watch them interact and look for ways to work their unique ticks and quirks into the script. "It reminded me of Boomerang," says Grier, "where we hung out 12, 15 hours a day. The same kind of vibe. I knew Martin Lawrence, I didn't know Eddie Murphy, so they were smart enough then to use rehearsal for improv and getting to know each other, because we had to play the same kind of childhood friendship. It was a lot of the same thing: 'Do that thing that I saw you do yesterday.'"
One thing that wasn't improvised was a scene that calls for Grier to go nude. While Chism says it was set to be in the film from the beginning, Grier teases, "In my contract it said, 'Do not show my naked ass.' What happened was, I was exploited by women of color. Tina came rubbing my leg talking in my ear: 'I know you can handle this. You're mature, you're not like the others. We think you're sexy with all that gray.' I ate it up and they turnt me out."
"You're pretty, you're handsome," S. Epatha Merkerson sidles up to him.
There's a constant playfulness that they hope translates to screen. "It's huge respect, huge love," says Merkerson. "And it doesn't happen all the time so when it does happen, those are the people you want to keep around you."
Williams, who turned 18 while shooting the movie, agrees that mutual respect was the key to getting hilarious moments out of each scene: "Having been a young actor for so long, there's this stigma that comes with it. You get talked to like a child, but that didn't happen here. Everybody respected everybody's work and there was no weak link." Malcolm Barrett, typically a character actor, adds, "What was cool about this was working with a bunch of people who you knew could blow you out of the water [comedically], where no one was carrying anybody. Everybody had to step up their game in order to reach the level of performance that was necessary."
Above all, they want audiences to relate to the Peeples as familiar characters that transcend any specific background. Barrett explains, "We all were attracted to this material because we liked the script and we thought it would be universal. A lot of times when you have an all black cast, they try and niche it into a certain place and give you a certain value system or play to certain cliches. This movie does really well with going beyond that."
Kali Hawk adds, "I think people will watch it and come away feeling like it's okay to be yourself. We're a family that's stuffed into a box by our own self-imposed limitations, and many times people feel the weight of those expectations from their family or other loved ones. So I think when people see it they'll get to laugh, but maybe they'll also get the lesson that it's okay to lighten up, loosen up. Whatever you think is a big deal probably isn't, because other people are going through things too and would love the opportunity to laugh about it all with you."
Peeples opens in theaters next Friday, May 10.
I also had a chance to talk with Kerry Washington and Craig Robinson about their role as a couple in the film, so look for that interview to be posted soon.