Exclusive: Director Boots Riley Talks ‘Sorry To Bother You’

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Exclusive: Director Boots Riley Talks ‘Sorry To Bother You’
Posted by Wilson Morales

July 11, 2018

Currently in theaters from nnapurna Pictures is the Comedy/Fantasy/Sci-Fi film SORRY TO BOTHER YOU, starring Lakeith Stanfield, Tessa Thompson, Omari Hardwick, Danny Glover, Steven Yeun, Jermaine Fowler and Armie Hammer.

Directed and written by Boots Riley, SORRY TO BOTHER YOU is an alternate present-day version of Oakland, 30-something black telemarketer Cassius Green (Lakeith Stanfield) discovers a magical key to professional success, which propels him into a macabre universe with a disturbing likeness to our own. The upswing in Cassius’s career raises serious red flags with his brilliant girlfriend, Detroit (Tessa Thompson), a sign-twirling gallery artist who is secretly a part of a Banksy-style collective called Left Eye. But the unimaginable hits the fan when Cassius meets the company’s cocaine-snorting, orgy-hosting, obnoxious, and relentlessly optimistic CEO, Steve Lift (Armie Hammer).

Riley studied film at San Francisco State University before ending his studies in favor of a major-label recording deal for his band, The Coup, where he was the lead vocalist of that group and Street Sweeper Social Club.

Blackfilm.com recently with Riley about his directorial debut and casting Stanfield in the lead role.

What was the inspiration of putting this project together?

Boots Riley: I started out in film school and quit that because we got a record deal and before that I was doing theater, so I always thought of it all as one big creative mess. I never really had boundaries. I did work on some of our music videos and co-directed one of them. I’m always thinking in many different ways. I wanted to have a film that took place in the world of telemarketing and that there was going to be a struggle where the main character had to decide which he was on. That’s it. That’s all I knew. I knew the first scene because it was a scene that happened to a friend of mine a lot and then there’s argument that Sal and Cassius had and that happened to my brother. I was going to put that in the movie.

As I wrote, I took the journey with Cassius and every time I found myself wanting to put in a bigger idea about what was going on, amore philosophical idea, I realize easier to avoid cliche by doing it in a way other than dialogue and other than some normal situation that might have happened. By bending reality in a world that I created, I felt it was a better way to draw illusions to what’s happening in our real world. It’s definitely more interesting and allowed me more things than I would have had it been just dialogue.

Can you talk about your cast?

Boots Riley: We have to come up with a name for them. I’ve been calling them the 2018 Rat Pack. The Rat Pack was the Rat Pack after they all became really famous, but most of this cast are the folks that everyone really wanted but studios haven’t take the sufficient chance on. All I had to do was not make a terrible movie and everyone would want to see it.

What made you think of Lakeith Stanfield as your lead?

Boots Riley: When I finished writing the screenplay the first time, it was the beginning of 2012. At that time, Lakeith had not even auditioned for his first film yet. We both developed at the same time. At a time when his name first came up, I thought he looked too young. I hadn’t seen him with the beard yet. I had only seen him in Short Term 12 and Dope. I thought that he looked like a teenager. I went to meet with him and he had the beard. Before the meeting I had seen the first episode of Atlanta, and I could see that he looked a bit older than I thought. When I finally met him he was an old soul and it was crazy. I knew his ambitions as an actor.

There were people that I met that were bigger stars than Lakeith at the time, but it was clear to me that what they were doing was wanting to get more famous. What I saw out of Lakeith is that he wanted to get better was an actor. His ambitions had to do with stretching himself and being more of an actor, so that was really interesting. Lakeith can look into the camera and seem vulnerable. That’s a hard thing to do.

What do you want folks to get out of the film?

Boots Riley: There’s an optimism in this movie, even with all the craziness that’s happening. There’s an optimism that has to do with the idea that there is a way to change things as long as their is a fight going on. There’s a bright spot and I want people to walk away with that optimism because like this real world, there’s a lot of craziness going on and there is a way to change it.


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