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November 2008
SOUL MEN | An Interview with Director Malcolm D. Lee

SOUL MEN
An Interview with Director Malcolm D. Lee
by Wilson Morales


November 3, 2008


Having directed Martin Lawrence, Mike Epps, Mo’Nique, and Cedric the Entertainer in his last film, ‘Welcome Home, Roscoe Jenkins’, one wondered if director Malcolm D. Lee could ever top that lineup if he were to do another comedy, and the answer is yes. With the combination of Bernie Mac and Samuel L. Jackson, with the support of Sharon Leal, Affion Crockett, Sean Hayes, Jackie Long, and Isaac Hayes, Lee put together a collection of the old mixed in with the new and you have ‘Soul Men’.

The story is about two estranged soul-singing legends who agree to participate in a reunion performance at the Apollo Theater to honor their recently deceased band leader. Unfortunately, in a bizarre circumstance, both Bernie Mac and Isaac Hayes died of natural causes one day apart from each other. Each had given their fullest not only in this film but in life as well and will be missed.

In speaking with Lee, he spoke about his attraction to the project and his recollection of the music from the ‘60s.



What attracted you to the film?

Malcolm D. Lee: Really, from the get go, I had been told about the film for a long time and hadn’t committed to reading it until Bob Weinstein approached me and said he wanted me to do it. So, when I read it and had it Bernie and Sam’s voices, and it was also an homage to soul music, which I love, so it was a good fit for me.


You’re also a screenwriter as well, but you didn’t write this film. Does the screenplay work with your style of direction?

MDL: Yeah, I think so. I hadn’t really done a buddy comedy per se, and when it comes to music, I really like that aspect of it; and the writers were very receptive to the changes I wanted to incorporate. It’s the kind of thing that maybe I could written but they were pretty adept with coming up with great stuff. These guys are a couple of white cats that really know good Black dialogue.


So, it was all them?

MDL: Not all of it. Some of it was ad-libbed. In fact, the only time the N-word was used in the script was by Lester, played by Affion Crockett. Sam and Bernie took it upon themselves to infuse it some more.


How did you get these guys, especially Bernie to stay on page?

MDL: He kept on page for the most part. I wanted him to go off book. Whenever you have comedians in a movie, and they are keyed in onto their character and what the vision of the movie is, then they are going to come up with something funny than what’s on the page. That’s why you hired them. The same thing happened with my other film, ‘Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins’. The guys were way too differential to the script and I told them to go off book. What’s on the page is funny but these guys could do one better.


How did you hear of his death?

MDL: It was a crazy summer. I'd heard for about a week that (Mac) was sick, that he had died, that he was going to make a full recovery, and that he was in the hospital. You didn't know what to believe. I was warned it was looking a little dire. Then I got a call in the morning. You never get an early morning good call, so I knew it was bad news. I was sorry to hear it and sorry for his wife and his daughter and granddaughter and son-in-law. He was a family man. He was not a Hollywood guy. He didn't live here; he lived in Chicago where he grew up. He lived simply. He wasn't getting the extravagant lobster and shrimp meals. He was a chicken and hamburger kinda guy


Three of your last four films have been comedies. What are you looking to do that’s different from your last film?

MDL: All of the comedies have been different. The consistent thing has been that each has been well received by the critics and the audiences. That’s the one link. It also shows Black Americans in a three dimensional light and it’s not all positive. There’s going to be some silliness involved, and some physicality and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. We can laugh at ourselves or with ourselves. In terms of comedy, I would love to get away with it a little bit. I would like to do something more dramatic and I’m looking at some projects right now. I do get a lot of comedies. I like to laugh and I like to make other people laugh.


As you mentioned earlier, this film is an homage to soul music of the ‘60s, so who did you go to for reference on that time period?

MDL: I had knowledge of the music of the ‘60s and ‘70s. I listened to mostly ‘70s music. That’s the music that I like to listen to, and I did some research on the history of Stax Records, not so much Motown. Motown gets a lot of props and Stax doesn’t and they deserve because they had a lot of great music and a lot of talent that came from there. Everybody from Otis Redding to Isaac Hayes to Sam and Dave, and Carla Thomas; there are so many people that were part of that label. I got to know some of the music and looked at some of the documentaries on Stax. That’s where I got most of my research from and I also spoke to certain people.


What made Sharon Leal stand out when you cast her?

MDL: She had a voice and she’s up and coming. It was a hard choice to cast ‘Cleo’. I needed someone to be believable as one of their daughter, young enough and mature enough; someone who is the daughter of a sixty year old guy. She’s also a beautiful and talented actress. We saw a lot of people and I’ve wanted to work with Sharon. She had auditioned for me a couple of times and this was finally her time to connect.


How was shooting back to back films from Shreveport, Louisiana?

MDL: Something I would be very cautious not to do again. Shreveport is very nice in terms of the people and getting work done there, and the mayor is really nice there and accommodating. The problem for me was that I was away from my family for so long and it was tough to finish ‘Roscoe Jenkins’, not really get a chance to enjoy it like I wanted to, and then start ‘Soul Men’ right afterwards. That was tough.


You also have some young talent in the film such as Jackie Long and Affion Crockett. What made you bring in Crockett to the film?

MDL: I’ve been working with Affion for a couple of years now. I first noticed him on the Nick Cannon show, ‘Wild ‘N Out’ and he really impressed me with his ability to improv. He’s smart about his comedy. We also worked on a Toyota commercial and some shorts films that never saw the light of day, but we kept in contact and I put him in ‘Roscoe Jenkins’ in which he had a great scene that ultimately got cut of time constraints. When it came time to casting the part of Lester, he was the first person I thought of. I knew he could rap and be funny and play his position. Jackie Long is also funny as well. He was supposed to get a part in ‘Roll Bounce’ so I was able to get him in this movie too.


If Bernie Mac and Isaac Hayes had not died, what would have been the driving force to this film? The story, the cast, or the comedy?

MDL: I think it’s all of the above. Sam and Bernie’s chemistry is undeniable. They will go down in history as a great comedy duo and had Bernie not passed, they would have done several movies together. It didn’t have to be a sequel to this film, but just any film that has the two of them in it. They are that good together.


What’s next on your plate?

MDL: Rest, sleep, and family time.


Why should anyone see ‘Soul Men’?

MDL: It’s funny. It’s Bernie Mac at his rawest and funniest. It’s also has great music. You’ll have a good time.


 

 


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