EXCLUSIVE: Dee Rees Discusses Working With Comedians In Her Films and Mudbound

Ensemble casts are the meat of the awards season sandwich, group feats of skill and subtlety that pass almost unnoticed on the cafeteria that is Oscar hype. All moviegoers, critics included, tend to zoom in on individual performances. And yes, it’s natural to find yourself drawn to just one face, one distinctive acting style. But watching a movie in which all the actors are perfectly in concert is its own experience and that’s the case with Dee Rees’ Mudbound.

Daniel: If I could give you, the film, everything a hashtag. Black Excellence is what I’m going with right now.

Dee: Thank you, I’ll take it (chuckle)

Daniel: I mean okay. You’re a trailblazer, I don’t know if you know that. I mean for Bessie. That took apparently twenty years, [they said] to actually make and then get it into the right hands and now it’s here. You did Pariah. Now, Pariah, that’s a film that honestly just to address homosexuality in the African American Community in the way that you did… It was honest, it was loving, it was caring. How are you able to do that with such a subject?

Dee: For me, I’m always interested in the characters first, and like emotional authenticity, as you say and like honesty and so for me, like, I trust the audience and that the audience is smart and so I just try to let people be complicated. Let people be contradictory. Like, no one is all noble or all wretched. You know, people are both. Like, we have capabilities of all of these things within us. So for me, I’m interested in like relationships that become tangled up. I’m interested in people who change. I’m interested in like [you know] who we can become versus who we allow ourselves to become. And so like I try to bring that to each of my work. And like, thematically I’m interested in like in relationships and subversive relationships. In Pariah it’s this love relationship, and Mudbound it’s this friendship. [You know] it’s about [you know] not being able to go back home. And that’s in Bessie, Pariah and, Mudbound. How [you know] people who are exposed to the world have a changed idea, are then asked to go back in a narrower [kind of] context and do it. And so I just think like those, I like to think of things in more expansive kind of terms so it doesn’t matter the period. Whether it’s 1940 or 2040 [you know like] Identity home [you know] all those things are things like every green, kind of things that we question.

Daniel: Wow, so you tend to work with multi-faceted entertainers. Kim Wayans in Pariah. Queen Latifah in Bessie. And now Mary J. Blige in this. Do you have a preference for multi-faceted entertainers? Is that why you tend to work with them?

Dee: Yeah, I think it kind of happens naturally. I think the [like] comedians for example or people know as comedians [like] have [like] a dark side, have [like] a dark streak and if you can bring that dark side or that interesting streak, you really get to to the heart. [Because] comedy in a way is maybe like a defense or comedy in a way is like a coping of something. So that means that there’s something deeper there and for women who are singers entertainers [like] that’s acting. You’re acting, you’re just acting on a larger stage. And if you can make somebody feel large in personal context than you can certainly make them feel like three feet away. And so I think [you know] I love to look for unexpected kind of [you know] talent and who, maybe we know they’re talented in one way but, we don’t realize that they have this deeper thing so I’m always interested in that and just casting. Like who’s right for the project. For Bessie, Queen Latifah is already attached but Monique was my choice for [like] Mah Rainy. So it was important to have her come in and she has this bombastic. She’s not a singer but she’s playing a singer believably. I just believe that [you know] where there’s smoke there’s fire in a way and so you can’t just see the one thing you have to see the things.

Daniel: I know that you’re directing an episode of Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams.

Dee: Yeah, yeah so I adapted a short story. It’s called “The Hanging Stranger”. So my version is called “Kill all others”. So it’s kind of about what’s happening now. So yeah.

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