Making its premiere tonight at the 20th Annual Los Angeles Film Festival, Deon Taylor’s dramatic thriller "Supremacy," is based on the true story of a recently-paroled white supremacist, who, after killing a cop, breaks into a black family’s home and takes them hostage. In the course of a night, he wreaks havoc on the family while being challenged by the hardened head of the household, Mr. Walker, played by Danny Glover.
Combining high-octane performances by Joe Anderson, Danny Glover and Lela Rochon, with a script that privileges the perspective of a tormented Aryan Brotherhood member, the film is sure to spark some dialogue. I caught up with Taylor to discuss the film, how his background directing horror movies elevated the project, and his experience working with the lovely Lela Rochon in a stripped down role.
Shadow & Act: Can you talk about the true story that the film is based on? How did you come across it? What attracted you to this particular story, and how much of the true event made it into the film?
Deon Taylor: The entire film is true, and everything from beginning to end actually happened. I came across the film because I was looking for a screenplay that would take me out of the genre I was in. I was kind of floating around in the horror genre, which I love, and I ended up getting handed the "Supremacy" script and I just fell in love with it. I fell in love with the fact that it was a real life horror and I set my sights on finding the financing to get the movie made and after I actually spoke to the family, I was really like I have to make this movie, not just for myself as a filmmaker to get this entire story out there, but because it dealt with race in a unique way.
S&A: You were saying you directed some horror films and this film actually has some elements of horror in it, as well as having some drama/suspense. I wanted to know how working in horror contributed to the tone and feel of this film?
DT: Well, outside of the tone, the big thing that I gained from working on my last horror film was how to shoot really quickly with no money. I learned how to be able to go into a production and know exactly what shot I need to get and how the shot needs to look and what performance I need to get out of the talent at a very quick pace, so when we got into "Supremacy," that was one of the few things that I really leaned on.
We shot the film for under a million dollars on 16mm film which is very expensive and I had to get things really quick. I also wanted the performances to jump out of the screen. I wanted people to go, “Man, that was intense.” That is the tone that I took from the horror genre and applied to this film, as well as the color palette, the way the camera moves, the execution, and how I deal with the talent.
S&A: What was behind the decision to shoot on film? A lot of indie movies are shot digitally nowadays. Why did you want to shoot on film?
DT: I’m a film guy. I love it. When I read the screenplay, I knew that there would be no HD camera that could achieve the look that I wanted for this film. I wanted it to be dirty, and 16mm provides all of that with the look and the grain. That’s what I worked for, and that’s what I wanted, and that’s how I’d seen the movie in my mind. So, I called all of the producers and although we didn’t have enough money to do that, I had to actually know which shots I wanted to get because we only had at most, one or two takes and then we had to move on.
S&A: And thinking of casting, it was great to see the actress Lela Rochon in this movie. This is a very different role for her. How did she become involved with the project, and how was it working with her?
DT: Lela was incredible. You know, every young black man- we all grew up with Lela Rochon from "Boomerang," and "Waiting to Exhale" -we loved her, and what ended up happening was when we started casting I wanted to find someone who has never played a part such as Odessa. I wanted to find someone who was a fresh face in that world and the idea of Lela was passed to me, and I said that’s it because here’s someone who’s absolutely beautiful and has made an entire career off just being an incredible, black, beautiful woman.
This would be an interesting change for her because we wanted to do the polar opposite of what she is, and that was intriguing to me. When she read for me, I said “Man, Lela we gotta do this movie,” and she agreed and it was a very good choice for her because she hadn’t played a part like this where the makeup was off, the hair is bad, the tattoo on the neck, you know what I mean? She was like, “Deon I’m trusting you,” and I said “I got it, I promise you,” and that’s kind of how that came about. I think she is wonderful in this film. She’s the best I’ve ever seen her in this movie.
S&A: Definitely a strong performance. When I was researching the film, I also saw that Stacey Dash was at one time attached to the film? What happened with that?
DT: Yeah, Stacey was originally going to be cast in the film but was not. She was one of those people who I thought could be interesting if we can take her down and really take her makeup away, and recreate and make something new of her but then obviously it just didn’t work. I thought differently about it and that kind of leaked out there. She was never in the film.
S&A: You definitely deal with a lot of racism in the main character of Tully who is a white supremacist, but he also has a lot of complexity as a character. Can you talk about how you worked with your actors, especially Joe Anderson, to create this racially-charged drama between them?
DT: This is a hard movie, no matter how you look at it. Being a black filmmaker, one of the things I wanted to do with the movie is make sure I told it from a different perspective. I wanted to take myself out of it as a black male. I wanted to look at this movie through the eyes of Tully, to understand what he was thinking, and feel what he was feeling as much as I could.
Myself and Joe sat down before we ever turned the camera on and just discussed where his hatred came from and where that energy came from, where racism came from and after doing that type of exercise, we got on set and we made it a point that we were not going to hold back and as a filmmaker, that’s always kind of scary because we all want to make a film that everyone loves, everyone likes, and you want to find distribution, and you want to do all of these wonderful things.
But in this movie, I felt like if I held back I wouldn’t be doing myself justice and I wouldn’t be telling a real story because the reality is that when this man came into these people’s homes at 2 o’clock in the morning and he laid everybody on the floor with the intention to kill them, he was not nice in real life, so I said if we’re going to do it, we might as well do the real story and tell what really happened. Let’s go there and we turned the camera on and got Joe fired up. It’s was a contained chaos if that makes sense, and oftentimes we had to take breaks so we could actually calm ourselves down and understand where we are in terms of the film, so there were moments where I really had to lean on Danny Glover for his expertise opposite of Joe and he’s one of the legends of film. This is a guy who was in "The Color Purple," to "Predator" to you name it, and I had to lean on him like, “Hey do you think this is okay?” or "Is this moment too hard? And those are the kinds of things I did on set to change those performances but at the same time, get them to be what they are.
S&A: There’s a really important scene in the film where Danny Glover’s character reverses some of the racism. What were you hoping to communicate with this scene, and with film as a whole in terms of race relations and racism in present-day American society?
DT: That scene is probably the most nearest and dearest to me in the entire film. I actually wrote that scene on set the day that we shot it.
S&A: Oh wow.
DT: It was how I felt during the moment. The original ending wasn’t like that, and at the moment that we were shooting, I said this is just not right so I stopped production, sat down for about three hours and wrote that scene, and then came back and shot it. I wanted to get across to everyone that race is ignorance.
S&A: And I think the fact that you had Danny Glover delivering those lines means a lot because he has this history of humanitarian work and getting behind causes related to equality and justice. How did Danny Glover become involved with the project?
DT: I had never had the chance to work with Danny and I was always a huge fan of his and I come from the inner city. I’m from Chicago and in my life, I’ve witnessed a lot of death, a lot of violence, a lot of poverty, and one of the things that I do every year around Christmas time is I cook 500 dinners for 500 families where I partner with organizations and film guys to give turkey dinners to single mothers that have kids and one year he actually volunteered for me through this project and when this movie came about I picked up the phone and gave him a call and told him what the project was, and he said let me read the script and he read it, and he called me back four days later and he said, "Man I’m going to do this movie."
He lives in Berkeley and he was like, I remember this story and I was like- I don’t even know what words to describe it. I was like, “Oh my God!” And for me, it was crazy because some people sit back and say, Danny’s old now but that is one of the pioneers and without Danny, without people like him and Sidney Poitier and we could go on and on but without these guys, there would be no Denzel, there would be no Forest Whitaker. These are the guys who set that up. Danny was the first star to ever be a black international box office A-lister. So I was ecstatic, and that was always one of best days I’ve ever had as a filmmaker.
"Supremacy" premieres tonight at 9:45pm at the Los Angeles Film Festival.