R. Williams Talks to the Cast and Creative
Team of Hustle & Flow
June 28, 2005
Photo Credit: Wendy
Present: Terrence Howard
(DJay); Taryn Manning (Nola); Anthony Anderson (Key);
Taraji P. Henson (Shug); Paul Jai Parker (Lexus);
Elise Neal (Yvette); DJ Qualls (Shelby); John Singleton
(Producer); Stephanie Allain (Producer); Craig Brewer
In the film but not present: Isaac Hayes (Arnel);
Ludacris (Skinny Black).
Taryn Manning & Terrence Howard
courtesy of the Hustle & Flow Producers
I saw the movie Hustle & Flow (see
my review in the film section) and was
psyched to meet the cast and creative team. Hustle
& Flow is a gritty film about a Memphis
pimp who, in the words of the writer/director, is
having a midlife crisis and decides to become a
rapper. The story is raw, real and terribly human.
For no matter what your position in life, we all
know what it is like to want something so badly
you would do anything to get it. And because it
is such a classic story of desperation and redemption,
I think it is going to be a huge movie.
So off I went to the Essex Hotel
at 8:30 a.m. on a Tuesday morning. The first thing
I want to tell you is that Hustle has a
very good-looking cast. They may look a little hot
and dirty in the movie, but they washed-up real
well. And there they were, all made up (the girls)
and dressed to impress. And even though I only had
breakfast with them, I could tell that they were
a lot of fun and they would be a blast to hang with
at a bar.
Allain and Terrence Howard
Our first group was actor Terrence
Howard, who played DJay (the star of the film),
and Stephanie Allain (the co-producer). Stephanie
is the producer who first fell in love with the
script and shepherded it through the four years
it took to get a green light.
Terrence started by saying that
one thing he learned in this film was to trust his
director. He (Terrence) had a completely different
vision of how his character should be portrayed
and he is very grateful that he listened to Craig
when he told him that DJay (Terence's character)
had only one thing in life – his ability to
Then both Stephanie and Terrence
talked about how they had met at the swimming pool
of the Four Seasons. Terrence was going to be there
with his kids and Stephanie managed to bypass his
manager and set up a meeting. This was before the
film had any money behind it and most definitely
before Terrence’s manager would have wanted
Stephanie to be talking to Terrence. Terrence said
he took a long time to read the script because he
did not want to play a pimp or
a drug dealer; he wanted to be a leading man.
But in the end Terrence did read
the script and he signed on. And then it was on
to the research. Terrence was exaggerating about
the numbers (I hope) but he told us that he ended
up talking to one hundred and twenty-eight pimps,
seventy-eight whores and a bazillion drug dealers.
He did this so he could understand what kind of
a life a person has when they get to the place where
they have, “lost everything they can sell
except for pieces of their humanity.”
Stephanie then said she was glad
this was a pimp movie that showed the real life
of a pimp. There is no glamour, bling or cars and,
“All a real pimp does is chauffer.”
Then I asked them what month it
was when they were filming and just how hot was
it in the little wooden shotgun house in Memphis?
Well, it turns out they were boiling hot because
they shot the film in July, and every time they
were going to do a take, they had to turn off the
portable air conditioner. And that is why no one
seemed to have makeup on in the film. It just sweated
They also told me that there were
roaches all over the place in the house and that
sometimes when Terrence was filming a scene, he
would look down and see a big roach crawling over
his foot. No wonder they were so cheerful about
talking to us at 8:30 a.m. in the morning. Talking
to reporters at the Essex House is a breeze after
battling ninety-degree heat and Memphis-grown cockroaches.
When asked about his incredible
performance in the film, Terrence said, “Hey,
I’m thirty-five years old and I could not
have made this movie before now. I would not have
understood the restraint it takes to understate.”
And then in another (funny) statement,
Terrence talked about the time he spent with rappers
Three 6 Mafia, learning how to rap. When he was
first told that he needed to work with them he said,
“You’ll have to get me a gun first.
Hey, I got kids.” I then asked Terrence about
the fact that Craig Brewer is white and this is
definitely a black film. I prefaced it by saying
that sometimes outsiders can "get" us
better than we get ourselves, for example Ang Lee,
the Taiwanese director of Jane Austen’s Sense
and Sensibility and the 1970’s Connecticut-based
film, The Ice Storm.
Terrence said Craig has just been
a curious child since infancy. And that Craig just
turned into Mark Twain, another example of someone
who can write about the black experience without
Terrence and Stephanie then left
for the next group, with one final thought from
Stephanie:“If you give something your heart,
it will be received.”
And then Paula Jai Parker exploded
into the room. Now Paula is very pretty and fun
and loud (one of her parents was a bullhorn). She
explained her voice by saying that she was a theatrical
actress and she knows how to project. One of the
reporters asked that cute little thing how she could
have gotten into the role of the stripper, Lexus.
Paula said she loved gritty roles because they give
her a chance to work her instrument. Her main technique
is simply to put herself in the other person’s
shoes, but it is hard on a movie set where you have
to stand around while they set up all the lights
and do sound checks - and then instantaneously cry
on cue. She told us most of the time when she cries
on cue on a set, she is crying from embarrassment
because someone is yelling at her that they need
to get the shot. Paula also highly recommended listening
to The Spinners' Greatest Hits to get in
the mood to act.
Paula had to learn how to strip
to play Lexus and her teacher was an actual stripper.
Paula learned her craft by stripping at a real club.
She then told us an incredible story about watching
her stripper teacher being beat up by her pimp because
he thought Paula was taking attention away from
his girl (her teacher) and money away from him.
Paula then told us she had gone
to Howard University with Tariji P. Henson (who
plays Shug) and Anthony Anderson (who plays Key).
She gave a very inspiring talk about how she networks
to get her jobs and how she tries to help other
black actresses (she called them her babies) get
a start. That having a career is all about building
and sustaining relationships. And how you have to
be able to see it being done so you can see yourself
doing it and how much Halle and Jada’s success
meant to her when she was tying to get started.
Paula may have been telling us what we wanted to
hear, but we did not care. At this point, all the
reporters in the room were beaming like proud parents
on graduation day. We really liked this girl.
Then we got our next group: Anthony
Anderson (he plays Key) and Elise Neal (she plays
Yvette, Key’s wife).
Now Anthony also exploded into
the room with a huge plate filled with sausage and
eggs. Someone admired Elise’s handbag and
asked if it were a Birkin - and Anthony immediately
said it must be Hermes and that, “All black
people are going to Hermes to get their free bags
after that Oprah thing.”
This guy is hysterical. One of the other reporters, Sandra Varner, speaking about the way Anthony gave such a restrained level performance as Key, told Anthony that she had been surprised to see how, “A little bit of Anthony Anderson goes a long way.” Well, he gave her a look that had us on the floor laughing and then he responded that, “A lot of people think I am just a fool but I am also an actor and this is my craft.” And that this film was a real turning point in his career and led to his part on The Shield.
Then Anthony banged on the partition
between our room and the room next door and yelled
at Paula to pipe down. We told him how Paula told
us she was a theatrical actor and was projecting.
He then said (including Elise, who was being seriously
upstaged), “Well, we’re theatrical actors,
too, and we don’t make noise like that.”
Someone then asked Elise a question
about her friendship with John Singleton (she was
in Rosewood too.) And Anthony was off to
the races again, encouraging Elise to tell us all
about her “professional” relationship
with John Singleton. That Anthony is definitely
a fun guy to work a room with.
Anthony said he grew up in Compton
and he knew guys who were pimps; he had uncles and
he knew cats like DJay and women like Lexus and
Shug. But he always knew that he (Anthony) wanted
more and he would get out of that life because very
seldom does a pimp retire - there is no 401K or
pension plan. He could see where that story would
end – it was right in front of him. He said
that he goes back to Compton for career day and
he sponsors their sports teams because kids need
a role model, they need to see it being done. I
told you I liked this bunch.
Elise then ventured back into
the conversation to talk about how she was from
Memphis and how the people on the street where they
were filming would cook for them. Anthony got her
good with, “You’re from Memphis and
I didn’t see your family cooking for us.”
(Note to our readers: I was not invited to one of
the most interesting parts of the morning's festivities,
the part where Paula and Elise hauled Anthony behind
the dumpster and whupped his butt. So I can't tell
you about it. I can't even be sure it really did
happen... but what do you think?)
Next up were DJ Qualls (he plays Shelby), Taraji P. Henson (Shug) and Taryn Manning (Nola).
DJ Qualls said he loved doing
this film because he is from Tennessee and he never
sees an accurate portrayal of Southern life; all
the films are about racism. And then he talked about
how much he loves being a working actor. He had
cancer as a kid and when he became an adult he had
a very boring first job and remembers saying to
God, “This is what you spared me for?”
I told DJ Qualls that he just blew me away in the
scene where he first comes to the door of DJay’s
house. I have never seen anyone do so much just
by knocking on a door. It was like, “Who the
hell is that?”
Taraji piped in to say that John Singleton has said that both she and DJ Qualls have something going on with their eyes. They both do have very big expressive eyes.
Everyone in this group talked about how they had all become friends and the camaraderie we were seeing is how they were on the set. That it was a magical set.
Taraji said that her character
did not see her hope until DJay came in with a dream
and that her character’s fear had killed her
hope. And that you are the walking dead with no
hope. Taraji’s last thought was that the universe
was hungry for this project.
Taryn Manning did not have a lot to say during the
interview, but she is incredibly dynamic in the
film. And even though she is a very pretty girl,
I can certainly see why they cast her as the “white
trash” whore. She may be from Arizona, but
there is a look of Appalachia in her eyes.
And then it was time for the man,
John Singleton, and his protégé, Craig
John Singleton told us that his
main goal in this film was just to be sure he could
pay the bills; that he was the sole investor in
the movie because no one else wanted to invest in
a pimp movie.
Craig told us his impetus to make
this movie was to do what he wanted to do now, rather
than later. Craig’s Dad died unexpectedly
at the age of forty-nine and that when Craig lost
his Dad, he lost his best friend and mentor. Craig
said his Dad always told him, “It’s
not what you are shooting with, it’s what
you are shooting at.”
On the subject of his vision,
Craig said that DJay is trying to make music by
any means necessary. And for guys who get like that,
every day you move an inch away from your dream,
and then you don’t know where you are. Craig’s
last thought was that, “Everyone is entitled
to a journey to dignity and the right to reboot.
The last question was for John Singleton.
Question: What do you want people to leave this movie saying?
John Singleton: I want them to walk out wanting to see it again.
And I think they will. Bravo!
Hustle & Flow was
the closing night film at the 2005 Urbanworld Film
Hustle & Flow opens
on July 22, 2005.