in ,

Twinkie Byrd on casting Sparkle remake

Twinkie Byrd on casting SparkleBy Wilson Morales

August 9, 2012

Putting together a film is never an easy chore for a casting director, especially if the film happens to be a remake of a classic or fan favorite. Everyone from the leads to the supporting cast will be compared to the original, and if the film is a success, everyone wins; but if it fails, then the folks behind the camera and their decisions are questioned.

Coming out on August 17th is the musical film Sparkle, a remake of the 1976 classic that starred Irene Cara, Lonette McKee, Dwan Smith, Philip Michael Thomas, Mary Alice, Dorian Harewood, and Tony King.

Instead of Harlem, New York, the remake takes place in Detroit during the 1960s and follows the rough lives and careers of singer Sparkle Williams, her family and friends.

For this film, the audience will see American Idol Jordin Sparks make her film debut as Sparkle, and playing her sisters Delores and Sister are Tika Sumpter and Carmen Ejogo respectively. Coming back in front of the camera after ten plus years is the late Grammy award singer Whitney Houston, who died earlier this year.

Bringing the actors together was the talented casting director Tracy ‘Twinkie’ Byrd, who previous work include ‘Stomp The Yard,’ (Columbus Short, Chris Brown, Laz Alonso, Ne-Yo), ‘Notorious‘ (Naturi Naughton, Antonique Smith, Young and the Restless’ Julia Pace Mitchell), ‘Stomp The Yard 2: Homecoming‘ (Tika Sumpter, Terrence J), 2011’s ‘Jumping the Broom,’ and this year’s ‘Woman Thou Art Loosed: On The Seventh Day,’ ‘A Beautiful Soul,’ and the upcoming ‘Filly Brown.’

Blackfilm.com caught up with he New York native as she spoke how Jordin Sparks, Tika Sumpter, Carmen Ejogo, Mike Epps, and Whitney Houston ended up in the remake.

How exciting are you to be working on this film?

Twinkie Byrd: I get to work with Salim (Akil) again. I get to work with Mara (Brock Akil) again. We worked together on ‘Moesha’ and Salim and I worked on ‘Jumping the Broom.’ I loved the original film. I’m crazy for the original and everyone knows that I’m a fan, so I bring a lot of passion to all the projects that I work on. In particularly, the ones that are my trifecta. I have a remake, a period piece, and a musical in this film. Just getting and reading the script for Sparkle made me crazy.

Debra Martin Chase and the late Whitney Houston were always attached as producers on the film, but whose idea was it for Whitney to step in front of the camera again?

TB: Everybody’s! Everybody’s idea. Offering her the mother role, we were like, “Yeah!” She was very happy because she wanted to work again. She wanted to be in front of the camera again. When she was presented with the role, she was ecstatic. It became an all-around “Yeah.”

Knowing that Whitney would be playing the mother, was the role expanded than the one in the original film?

TB: It was already a nice meaty piece (in the script) for an actress. It was already beautifully done and beautifully written. When you get someone like Whitney, you also start to think outside the box and ask if more should be added here or there in regards to the character. There’s something very special that was added that only Whitney can do.

Let’s talk about the three leads, Jordin Sparks, Tika Sumpter, and Carmen Ejogo. How was each brought in?

TB: Everyone auditioned. Every single one did it, which was fabulous. Jordin, yes. She’s new and fresh. With Carmen, I’ve loved her for years. First things first, we worked on getting Sparkle. Auditions went out, but I also have my list, my thoughts, my ideas. When I come in as a casting director and give my presentation and sit down with the director, producers, and writer, I have my names and my pictures that I show them, and of course Jordin comes to mind. As a good creative casting director, you have to have certain people in mind even if they are not the cast that you end up with sometimes. However, when I look back on my presentation, I got just about everybody I wanted.

Were there any concerns on casting Jordin?

TB: Everyone was asking if she could act. I was asking if she could act. She came in and worked hard on her craft. I was in close contact with her agent. I let them know what we were looking for and what we wanted. I had her read the script again and again. I wanted her to watch the film and errors of her pieces and I wanted her to see what young ladies were like during that time period. The interesting and beautiful thing about Jordin is that she is very much that way already. She’s shy and not necessarily outgoing. She has a great personality, but she’s a little reserved and she is Sparkle. It’s so interesting that out of all the young women I auditioned, she and Sparkle are parallel and she took notes. She wrote them and went back and forth with them. She asked questions and we broke things down. She came back and worked with the director and coach. A lot of work went into Jordin, but she has natural instincts already. There’s something to be said about a performing artist becoming an actor because they are already a performer, especially someone who sings and does the work effortlessly.

How about Tika and Carmen? Could they sing besides act?

TB: Tika can sing. I love that I have some triple threats going on. Tika is a singer and she has a beautiful voice. It’s so refreshing that a lot of these young people, especially those who are serious about their craft, have made sure that are as well-rounded as they can possibly be. I cast Tika in ‘Stomp the Yard 2’ that Rob Hardy directed. That was her first big film. She did ‘The Game’ and is gaining momentum and then I get to bring her in for this and I found out she could sing. When I asked how long had she’d been singing, she gave me this whole rundown and that was fabulous. Everything fell into place.

With Carmen, we had our list and there were fabulous actresses that wanted that part and be in that role, and then Carmen’s audition tape came in. She was out of town at the time. That woman is amazing. She can capture you over a tape, and some actresses don’t want to put themselves on tape. They want to come in and meet the people in person so that they can be felt. Carmen Ejogo can capture you on tape like nobody’s business and she did; the phones just starting ringing off the hook.

With Mike Epps, the role requires him to be serious for a change. Are we going to get that?

TB: The beautiful thing about the Satin character is that the character is a comedian in the piece; however, we get to see the other side. We see the Satin in the script and in terms of performance, but then we get to see what goes into it, especially in that era where comedians have a much more challenging time in the balance in their life and also as an African-American man in the 60s. That is a tumultuous time and interesting era in our history and being a black man. We get to see him get his “Richard Pryor” on when you think of Piano Man in ‘Lady Sings the Blues!’ You saw Richard Pryor as a human being and flawed person and that’s what you will see in Satin. Mike brings a lot of humanity to the role and a lot of layers and he’s going to change a lot of minds about him as an actor with this film.

Denzel Washington’s Flight Selected As NYFF Closing Night Film

The Apparition