reviewsextraslinksguestbooksitemap

Friday, November 15, 2013

Press Junket Potluck: An oral history of The Best Man Holiday with Malcolm D. Lee & the cast

Film Flam Flummox


It took nearly a decade and a half, but the entire core cast of 1999's hit dramedy The Best Man--which has only grown in popularity and esteem in those years since--and writer-director Malcolm D. Lee are finally all back for a much-anticipated reunion, The Best Man Holiday. On Saturday, November 2, Lee and cast members Monica Calhoun (Mia), Morris Chestnut (Lance), Melissa De Sousa (Shelby), Taye Diggs (Harper), Regina Hall (Candace), Sanaa Lathan (Robyn), Nia Long (Jordan), Harold Perrineau (Julian) assembled for a series of press conferences in Beverly Hills (Terrence Howard, who plays Quentin, was unable to participate) from which a candid, insightful, and entertaining first-person oral history of this project, from conception to fruition, could be pieced together.

Genesis

"Honestly, there was talk of doing a sequel, very early when the [first] movie first came out, but I wasn't interested in doing a sequel right away. I didn't want to get pigeonholed as a director. It was my first movie; I didn't want to do the same thing. My idea was if I was going to revisit these characters, and I thought I would want to, it would be like ten years later after they've lived some life, had kids, that kind of thing. At around late 2005 or so, I started percolating the idea. I would see the cast over the years and say I'm thinking about doing a sequel. It just got to a point where I was ready to do this now. I'd taken enough notes and put in enough of structure together where I said, 'Let me the cast together, and let's see what can happen.' I basically got them together in early 2011 and said, 'OK. Let's all get into the same room. At least we will have all caught up. I have an idea for a sequel, and if we all think at the end of this meal it's worth doing, then I'll pursue it.' So I pitched them the idea; they were all into it. They all l liked it, and they said, 'Let's go.' A couple of months later, I went to Universal, and I pitched them the idea, and we got it going. I mean, you know, it took a while to 'get it going.' I wrote the script pretty quickly because I'd been thinking about it for so long. It wasn't easy because as you've seen from the film, it's very different tonally speaking than the first one, and I think that was part of their hesitation of wanting to make it. That was by design. I did not want to do the same thing again; I didn't want to tell the same story. The things you think about in your mid-to-late 20s are very different than what you think about when you're in your late 30s or early 40s, when you're married and had children and have bills to pay and doing 'grown-up stuff' and dealing with 'grown-up things.' So I said to them that it's not about doing a destination wedding or anything like that. People love this movie because they love the characters; they love the people. They don't just love that it was a wedding. So it took us to bringing the cast together to do a read-through, and once we did the read-through, they were like, 'OK, we get it.'
--Malcolm D. Lee

Re-assembling the Cast

"A couple of years ago, Malcolm actually got us all together. We went to BOA. He hadn't written the script yet, and he literally pitched at a loud restaurant, with lots of drinks flowing, moment by moment, beat by beat, the script. In that environment, which is very challenging for pitch, we were on the edge of our seats. And we all, at that moment, said, 'If you write it, we're going to do it.'"
--Sanaa Lathan

"We all decided [to return] before Malcolm really finished the script. He kind of came to each one of us and said, 'Would you guys be interested in doing a sequel?' and we all decided if the script was great, and the story is there and the characters have grown, why not? And so that's basically what happened. It was pretty easy."
--Nia Long

"We all obviously had a great time doing the first one. Great friendships and bonds were made, and we all kept those friendships. So at this dinner, it was great to see each other just on general principle, just great to see old friends that we haven't seen in a while. I think a couple of us knew possibly what Malcolm was going to come with. Then to hear him actually say it, and then to hear the story, and then to get together as a group with our collective energy and do what we all needed to do to get this project made has been a great experience."
--Taye Diggs

"We all loved working with each other on the original. Obviously a lot of time has passed, but we all did go to dinner, and he talked about the storylines. He talked about where we were going to be in our lives, X amount of years later, and what were going to go through. Even at that point we were all, 'Yeah, it would be interesting, it would be great to get together and do this again.' But once we read the script, that just really solidified everything. The script really spoke to me."
--Morris Chestnut

"The friends that met in college and stayed friends, to see them years later and how their lives have developed--I thought that would be interesting. I also thought Mia and Lance's journey, what they were going through would be interesting and challenging for me as an actress."
--Monica Calhoun

That Table Read

"Some of the suggestions from the studio were like, 'This person's out of the picture already; maybe this person's dead already; maybe this person's divorced'--I was like, 'I brought the cast back together, and we were going to do this collectively, period. At least you've got to give this a fair shot.' So that's why we did the reading."
--Malcolm D. Lee

"I stripped. I showed [the studio] where it could go. [laughs] No, we showed up, and we acted like we were really wanting to get this movie made. I think everybody came on their A-game. We read the whole script. For Melissa [De Sousa] and I, it was actually harder because we didn't have Harold [Perrineau], and when he wasn't at that table read, it was not the same. Even reading the script before we did the table read, you read lines and you hear the people's voices in your head. So to have a voice that doesn't resonate with what you know, with what Harold Perrineau would do, for us, we just missed him. "
--Regina Hall

"I didn't make the table read. I was working in India [shooting Zero Dark Thirty]. I heard it was awesome though."
--Harold Perrineau

"When we did the table read, and there was a reader for Harold. The guy that was reading his part was a good actor, but we were really missing him. To Regina I was like , 'We miss Harold,' and the guy heard me. And I was like, 'Oh God.' I was so terrible. [laughs] There's just something he brings to that character that just can't be replaced. No one can really fill that shoe."
--Melissa De Sousa

Evolving Characters, Evolving Artists

"I feel like I know these characters very well; I've lived with them in my head for a long time. But when you evolve as a person, you have to have your characters evolve too. And not only that, my actors were great actors in the first movie, and they're even better now. I've grown as an artist, as a writer, as a director. I'm better, so I wanted to make something that was more sophisticated, something that spoke to these characters that would be similar to where they were but showed their growth. I don't think it was that difficult; it was a matter of just really knowing the characters and making them evolve. The actors had some input on what they felt, where they could be strengthened and layered. That was taken into account."
--Malcolm D. Lee

"We were very vocal, so I know we were testing him though we were having a lot of fun. I know that we tested his patience, but he dealt with it well."
--Sanaa Lathan

"I think we all evolved. We're all older. We're all more mature. We've all had more experience. We were all new, or at least I was, for the first one, so we weren't nearly as vocal. But now we've matured as actors, and we look at a script differently, and we challenged him on our character throughlines and whatnot and story structure. We all brought our life experiences to these roles. We've all been through our ups and downs, and that has affected us as people, as actors, and we were lucky in that we could apply that to these characters."
--Taye Diggs

"I really wanted to see another side of Shelby. Everyone's like, 'Well, she's a bitch'--I didn't want to be one-note. I wanted to see her grow and go through changes and see emotions and see that she's human, not just for the comedy and for the laughs. She actually has real problems; she has a real life going on. I think we saw a different side. But she's still Shelby at the end of the day. She's still a bitch. [laughs] I did ask him to at least show a different color, and I think I did that."
--Melissa De Sousa

"I fought for the hair. [Malcolm] did not want a short bob. He wanted long hair like [Candace] did in the first movie. And I said, 'No! You can't be a ho in the same city and not try to change your look up.' [laughs] 'I still live in New York. I'm married. I don't want people going--CANDY!' He was like, 'No,' but I was like, 'Trust me please; let me go shorter for it.'"
--Regina Hall

"I said less on this movie. On the first one I was more opinionated. In this one, after the first one, I was like, 'You know what? I'm just going to trust Malcolm. I'm just going to trust his genius and let him do his thing.'"
--Harold Perrineau

Picking Up 14 Years Later

"When it came to these characters, I wanted to see where they left off. From the get-go, I just started writing notes. I wanted to set this movie at Christmastime because it's a cinematic time of the year, and it makes it a reason for being. If we're going to bring these characters together, it's got to be for a reason, so that was part of the impetus. For the characters, Harper was kind of on top of the world when we had left off. He had learned some things and been beaten down a little bit, literally and figuratively, but he was on his ascension. So now I was like, what if he has a couple of failed things? And Lance has this seemingly charmed life, and he does: he's about to break a record; he's got four beautiful children; there's this ginormous house, and this wonderful, beautiful, supportive, loving wife. But there's something that's going to test his faith even more than in the first movie. Then with the other characters, you try to give them conflicts and obstacles they have to get around. I've learned over the years to be a better writer and what characters are used for. So Quentin is going to be that button-pusher still, and he's going to give us the comic relief, and so is Shelby; they're going to be my comic fastballs. At the same time, they are more than what they were in the first movie. Quentin had a gentler side, a more merciful side, say, like when he prevented Lance from killing Harper in the first one, and it's a small moment in the first movie when Harper's getting emotional in the best man speech, Quentin touches his arm. I wanted to go further with that. I tried to write something sophisticated, challenging for myself, challenging for the actors because, again--why come back together? It wasn't for the money; this is not a money grab at all because we all did this for a price. It was about displaying their acumen as actors, mine as a director or writer, and kind of reintroducing ourselves to the world. The time was right, and we also knew there was a large fan base for this movie that really wanted to see these characters again, so let's give the people what they want."
--Malcolm D. Lee

"Getting back into character wasn't so difficult. What was difficult was determining what her journey has been like for the last 15 years and making sure that I maintained certain things about Jordan in this new film. Just being really clear about what her emotional journey is was the most important thing."
--Nia Long

"When Malcolm pitched the idea that [Robyn] was nine months pregnant, just in terms of a female vain perspective, I was like, 'Well damn. Like the whole movie?' [laughs] And it's not like it's three or four where it's cute--it's nine months. But I think that energy of 'well damn' is kind of what women feel like, so it kind of worked. I had to put on this huge belly. It was like a real belly. It was heavy. It made me hot. I waddled. You have to waddle; there was no walk that was put on. So it was a drag, but it worked for the character."
--Sanaa Lathan

A Family Reunited

"The reunion was great. It was so fun. It didn't feel like work. We had so much fun and in between takes. I realized how sick and sadistic people are. Literally every day I would get about three punches in the belly, out of the blue. And they would just laugh. Malcolm would do it too. It was crazy! Something about knowing it wasn't real... so funny."
--Sanaa Lathan

"Howling all the time. A lot of people laughing. Malcolm looking a little distressed--'We gotta go guys; we gotta go!' [laughs] It was a lot of fun, a lot of comedy, and Malcolm was so shorthanded."
--Harold Perrineau

"[Malcolm] needed a lot of help wrangling us in, especially for the group scenes. "
--Regina Hall

"We would have these roundtable discussions where they would always put our chairs together. The girls would be kind of grouped together, and the guys would be grouped together, and we would have some pretty intense conversations about everything, and we'd get into debates: love, relationships. We were like college kids sometimes in between takes. We were like bad children, but we got it done."
--Nia Long

"I think the chemistry shows. You can choose to act it, or it can just be real, and obviously it always helps when it's real. You're able to look forward to the time when the cameras aren't rolling as well as the time when the cameras are rolling. It just makes the entire experience truly enjoyable when you spend all day on set and you all get to hang out afterward. It just worked out. I think we were just so blessed, lucky, fortunate, however you want to term it, with this experience. The fact that we got everybody together in the first place I think was miraculous, and then to have that type of script and then to have everybody mature the way that they did."
--Taye Diggs

The Difficulties -- Practical, Physical, Emotional

"There's the pressure of the first movie, of living up to the first movie. That's huge pressure."
--Sanaa Lathan

"For me, what I noticed this time around, as it pertains to Malcolm, were the outside pressures. I could tell this time around he had a lot more on his shoulders. So I would say that he has evolved in the sense that he was able to deal with a lot more pressure. He did it again with a lot more on his shoulders. He had a cast that had experience."
--Taye Diggs

"Every scene that you see in the movie had the appropriate response behind the camera. It was all emotionally cathartic because they were very much in character and really committed to what they were doing. And there were other scenes that were just really difficult because we either didn't have enough time or the most difficult scenes were when they were all together, like the dinner scenes. Sanaa's Instagram-ing, and Terrence is like ad-libbing, and I'm like, 'Guys! We are running out of time here!' These are long scenes where you keep doing this dialogue over and over again. It's a challenge, and it's not just jokes and setting up punchlines; there's story that has to be woven in here. I need a look from you, and I need you to pause here... it's not always a fun process. It's incredibly difficult, especially given our very challenging schedule. We started shooting in April; we shot April and May. And then shooting the football also wasn't easy. But it was fun."
--Malcolm D. Lee

"With this particular movie, it's 14 years later, and the character still needed to be playing football. So it was really challenging for me physically for me to be in great shape, and Malcolm said to me they wanted me to take my shirt off, and there were a couple of other explicit scenes that we didn't get to shoot. So it was tough for me emotionally and physically because I really couldn't eat. I lost a lot of weight for that movie just because I still had to portray the football player who was still in shape. But fortunately Malcolm gave me enough in this movie to where I could convey how far I feel that I've come and am still growing as an actor. It was really challenging even when I first read the script. It's really hard to do these emotional things on an ensemble movie because everyone's talking about, 'Yeah, we had a good time last night, and tonight we're going to go to the club!' And I have to be over in my little corner just focusing on what I need to do to get to that place, but Monica and I were there together, so I think it worked."
--Morris Chestnut

"We still had fun, but it was tough. The emotional scenes were tough, but they were easy to get to for some reason because we are such good friends behind the scenes. We've known each other for over 15 years now. So we actually feel a bond. We could all go there because we all are really close even off set. Then the emotional work between Regina and I, that was a lot of fun to do. We had fun with it but we really worked hard on that [fight] scene. We didn't want it to look like just some ghetto madness. We didn't want it to look like it didn't come from someplace real. We didn't want it to be like the [Real] Housewives for real. We wanted to layer it up and really make it believable that we really would go there, not just for no reason. We had rehearsals, stunt doubles and everything. But behind the scenes we were laughing. I'm like, 'Regina, I'm supposed to hate you. Stop making me laugh.'"
--Melissa De Sousa

"It's a testament to how good [Regina and Melissa] are as actresses because you really have to trust each other in order to be able to go that far and feel those things and then be able to let them go. And you can see that they really trust each other, they work well together. They're just amazing actresses."
--Harold Perrineau

Can You Stand a Dance Number?

"Jamal Sims, our choreographer, is amazing. Any dance movie you've seen in the past ten, fifteen years, he's been involved with, any stellar dance sequence in a movie; we worked together on Soul Men. Jamal tried to get to work with [the male cast] in pre-production; that didn't work out. We tried to get them to come out like two weeks before or two weekends before; we couldn't schedule it. It was literally the Saturday before; we were going to shoot this on a Monday. Saturday all day they were in a dance studio working their tails off, and they were so into it and so excited. Then they did a little bit more on Sunday. But they were nervous! They were really nervous about the women watching them. They were like, 'Let's not have them there!' I said, 'No! It's going to fuel you; it's going to be good; it'll be more natural too!' So it was a lot of fun to shoot that. You see it's so joyful, beautiful, fun. They were down with it, especially Taye and Harold. They were so excited because they're both classically trained dancers. Morris was the one who was like, 'I need a lot of extra help.' That was a fun scene to shoot.
--Malcolm D. Lee

"Harold Perrineau. That dude can move. He went to Alvin Ailey, and he's a fierce dancer. Taye's actually a really good dancer as well. So they gave us some videotapes to watch; the choreographer didn't come until like two days before we shot the film. So we all went on a Saturday. Terrence was late, came in for about 30 minutes and left. [laughs] So I was just trying to get the moves down, and then on that Sunday, I had to call [Harold] and say I needed some more help because it just doesn't come easy to me. Nothing in this movie came easy to me. This was some work."
--Morris Chestnut

"This was another way Malcolm was really brilliant. I have a stage background, but for me stage is a lot more nerve-wracking than film acting because not matter what, you're in front of people. In film acting, you have control. If we're shooting a scene, and it's private or emotional, you can say that you don't want anybody in the room except the cinematographer and director. So it's less nerve-wracking doing film. But with this dance sequence, Malcolm said, 'Be on your stuff because I'm going to film it in a way where the girls are going to be watching you.' There was a level of performance that we had to take into account because we wanted them to think we were good. So we were nervous--at least I was. I wanted to make sure that we had the counts and whatnot. And it worked, and it helped, and when we filmed it, seeing them and getting that live, real energy. So that was great."
--Taye Diggs

"The first time we saw it was real time reactions. Those reactions you see in the movie are real. They turned into like seven-year-olds. First of all, they had dance rehearsal; it wasn't that simple. Taye has a dance background. Literally in between takes for weeks they would be like, [snaps fingers] 'OK, and five, six, seven, eight...' [laughs] They were so excited. This was like their debut at Alvin Ailey!"
--Sanaa Lathan

The Legacy

"The reason why he have so many women who love The Best Man brand is because they can look at the film and almost point themselves out or at least say, 'I'm a combination between Jordan and Shelby, or Robyn and Mia.' As an actor, you don't get those opportunities to really work alongside other great women, and that's such a blessing. When's the last time in a film when you've seen four African-American women that are actually all in the same movie? It doesn't happen all the time."
--Nia Long

"I think it's important for us to see ourselves reflected in all that we are instead of just one type of genre. I think it's really important for the artform of film to reflect the world that we live in and who we are. I think that hasn't really done that for people of color. We've come a long way, and we still have a ways to go. But that's why I think a movie like the first Best Man resonates so much is because people are hungry for stories that are layered and they can recognize themselves and their family and their friends and things that they're going through, people that look like them."
--Sanaa Lathan

"It was 14 years ago when we made the original. Fourteen years in Hollywood and to still be able to make a film that you're proud of and be relevant in Hollywood--it really doesn't happen. So I'm just proud, and hopefully I will be proud when the box office numbers come out. [laughs] Even if the numbers don't come to what we expect, I'm just proud to be a part of this film and just be able to have the impact and do what we did in the movie."
--Morris Chestnut

Still More Unfinished Business...?

"If they want to do a third one, I would love to. That means this one did very well in order for us to do it."
--Morris Chestnut

"We have to see how this one's going to perform first. That will dictate whether a third one gets made or even gets talked about. But there's some whispers. I have an idea [for a third film]; let's put it like that. I will not wait another 15 years. [laughs] If it happens at all, it will happen quickly. I also had the idea, if this movie were to be successful, to do a [television] series that would take place from the end of the first movie until the second movie, that 14-year span. That might be an interesting television show, but then how do you cast that too? It's possible. We'll see."
--Malcolm D. Lee


The Best Man Holiday opens in cinemas nationwide today, Friday, November 15, from Universal Pictures.

Buy The Best Man Holiday movie poster here.
Buy The Best Man Holiday soundtrack here.
Order The Best Man Holiday DVD here.
Order The Best Man Holiday Blu-ray here.

(Special thanks to Malcolm D. Lee, Jocelyn Coleman at Favor PR, Shannon Barr at Rogers & Cowan, and Universal Pictures)

please buy from my eBay Wish List

My Amazon.com Wish List

No comments:

Post a Comment

Instagram: @twotrey23

Twitter: @twotrey23