Making "Red Tails" was a no-brainer for star Cuba Gooding Jr., who previously featured in the HBO movie "The Tuskegee Airmen" as one of the pilots, but here plays one of their higher-ups, Major Emmanuelle Stance. Better than anyone else on the set, he knew the real struggles facing the black pilots who were allowed into WWII cockpits despite the military's protestations.
For star Terrence Howard -- taking the role Colonel A.J. Bullard who fights military brass for recognition of his men -- he considered the fliers a "very select group of legendary people." But Elijah Kelley, who slots in as the lighthearted Joker, was quick to add, "These guys were seventeen and twenty-one, right out of high school. Not only were they fighting for a country that didn’t love them, but they weren’t even considered an option. And they were young, having the time of their lives and saving the world at the same time. I think Huey P. Newton said, 'The revolution will be in the hands of the youth.' "
Selecting Hemingway, a TV veteran of "Treme," "The Wire" and "Fringe" amongst other shows, was the key. "The best time George and I ever had was working in television," said producer Rick McCallum. "Because it's quick, it's dirty, it's down and out, it's guerilla filmmaking, you've got a small crew, very little money. And if you fuck up, you do it better the next week. We wanted somebody who could understand that language. Who has to do an hour's worth of TV in ten days. He had almost eight weeks to make the movie, double than what he's ever had." Though it helps to know people. Added McCallum, "I met him when he was seventeen, I gave him a job as a production assistant on ['Young Indiana Jones']."
For David Oweloyo who plays the smitten Joe Little, who falls in love with an Italian woman, it was the action that stays fresh in his mind. "We shot on gimbles, so it was a section of the body of the plane that was being operated by these poles, manually jigged back and forth. You literally needed to know what was going on around you. So you were able to do all of that in camera."
While "Red Tails" is something of a risk for Lucasfilms, featuring a cast of unknowns and telling a little-known historical story, it already has one high profile fan in the elder President Bush, who recently screened the film with his wife. This was more than just a Commander In Chief recommendation, since Bush himself was in the air with the red tails in World War II. "Bush was like, 'Yeah, that was what it was like,' " Howard confirmed. "Remember, he used to sit in the belly of the bomber planes. He was watching, and he was like, this is scary, this is almost real. I was asking him what he thought of the Red Tails, and he was like, God, I didn’t know they were black back then!"
"Red Tails" opens this Friday, January 20th