ML: What would you say is the most important thing that Woody witnesses on his travels?
My uncle did use to say the thing about "owners versus renters," and it comes directly from Justin, from his uncle. That statement is beyond owning material possessions, it's about taking ownership for one's self and one's life. Thematically speaking, it's a kid who experiences these bad things through his life, how he's able to navigate through them. By the end of film, you are an optimist, you believe he becomes a productive member of society. There is a moment for Woody that he sees there is another side of his Uncle that he never witnessed before. It's about people we look up to, a moment when we see that they're flawed, but we love them anyway. There is a moment in the apartment when a drug deal goes bad, when he sees his Uncle kill someone, that he comes of age -- he realized no one is going to take care of him.
ML: Tell me about the beginning scene -- this little kid in this "Taxi Driver" moment.
That was Justin's idea, with water gun and mirror, he wanted to from the very beginning to set the audience in a place of how we all felt about violence and ask how does violence affect a kid? We all experience violence through movies, video games, and entertainment. He's only experienced it that way, as he should. He hasn't experienced it in real terms. [This scene] is a plant and payoff for what's going to happen in the film. It's what happens when we're faced with real moments, the kid in the mirror with the squirt gun quickly through the course of a day, comes of age. I believe it makes him a stronger person.
ML: How did you manage such an extensive ensemble cast?
I'm really fortunate and thankful and consider myself really blessed that in my first film I had such wonderful actors who were earnestly moved by the materials and showed up and gave of themselves. "Luv" is a truly American independent film, with a tiny, tiny budget. We were joking we made it for $2 and a turkey budget. To have Danny Glover and Dennis Haysbert, also to find Michael Rainey Jr., a special kid, this is only his second film. All of these actors, only making SAG scale, minimum wage. To work with Justin for so many years on the screenplay; there were 45 different versions of the script in three years. To see actors connect with what was written, it's a really special thing. Actors are emotional people, they want to be moved by something and connect to the material.
ML: Any movies or works that particularly influenced "Luv"?
A couple things. When I was growing up, I knew that Barry Levinson was from Baltimore, and I thought I could be like Barry Levinson from the other side of the tracks. Spike Lee was one of my heroes. The Coen brothers, they gave such a distinct voice. I also saw an homage to old black and white with "The Bicycle Thief." I saw it in film school, so inspired and moved by that film, I could connect to characters and circumstances. It felt like I had that relationship with my Dad and my Uncle, and Vincent in "Luv" is an amalgamation of my father and my uncle. I also always joke that "Luv" is like if "Pursuit of Happiness" was punched in the face by "Training Day."
ML: And what is next for you?
I'm inspired; Justin and I have been writing together for nine years. We are working on a lot of other things - a TV show, a mini-series off of this book we found about a slave in the White House, when James Madison become President, he had 10 year old manservant, slave by the name of Paul Jennings, who helped save his portrait. We want to make a really great historical mini-series inspired by American history. There's also another smaller movie I want to make based off another true relationship with a close friend of mine.