What's Up For Today?

Wendy R. Williams Talks to the Cast and Creative Team of Hustle & Flow

Essex Hotel
June 28, 2005

Photo Credit: Wendy R. Williams

  John Singleton

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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 (Writer/Director).

In the film but not present: Isaac Hayes (Arnel); Ludacris (Skinny Black).

Taryn Manning & Terrence Howard
Photo art 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.


Stephanie Allain and Terrence Howard
Paula Jai Barker

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 talk.

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 off.

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 being black.

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.

Anthony Anderson
Elise Neal

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?)

DJ Qualls
Taraji P. Henson

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.


Taryn Manning
Craig Brewer

And then it was time for the man, John Singleton, and his protégé, Craig Brewer.

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 Festival.

Hustle & Flow opens on July 22, 2005.

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