Your new movie The
Black Emperor of Broadway - in a few words, what is it about?
OíNeill casts a black actor as Emperor Jones in 1921 for a role that
prior to that would have been a white actor in blackface.
Now how did you
happen upon the story told in your movie in the first place, and
of course also upon the play?
was developing a bio about OíNeill with my long time writer partner Ian
Bowater. He saw Adrienne Penderís play N in Raleigh and
immediately called ďArthur, you have to see this play before we write
does the play at the center of The
Black Emperor of Broadway, Eugene O'Neill's Emperor Jones,
mean to you personally?
Emperor Jones, and of course I have the benefits of looking back in time, but it
is one of the most racist and stereotypical pieces of work I have ever
read. I was accustomed to seeing black people being made fun of in
The Three Stooges for example, but I have never imagined there was a piece
that so personified white views of black people at the time.
Do talk about The
Black Emperor of Broadway's scriptwriter Ian Bowater, and what was
your collaboration with him like? And how close did his script remain to
Jason Solowsky's play of the same name?
I really considered the play a one act. But a movie is at least three
acts. Ian and I had to fill in a lot of history that was very
sparse and sometimes not talked about at all. For instance, were
Gilpinís drinking habits just normal for the period or was it a way for
OíNeill to justify his behavior after he had fired him? History
makes it sound like OíNeill was pre-destined for greatness, but I
found that hard to believe. Who was for it and who was against him? Whose shoulders was he stepping on or was it all him?
Black Emperor of Broadway being a period piece, what were the
challenges of getting the era just right?
to say, we didnít have enough money to do a lot of the things, so we
mostly relied on existing buildings and streets in Provincetown that were from
the period. Our production designer only had one helper, and
sometimes the whole crew had to chip in to get the set ready. And
remember, this is on a 16 day shooting schedule, so it was challenging.
What can you
tell us about your overall directorial approach to your story at hand?
you are on a schedule, the most important task for each scene is to be
sure the scene moves the story forward. So you must shoot it in a
way that tells that story in the most simple and direct way, with the
least amount of shots and cuts. More set-ups mean more time and time
is not what you have. And then to listen to the actors - they tell
what you need to do.
talk about The
Black Emperor of Broadway's key cast, and why exactly these
need a lead actor who could be three things. Charles Gilpin the
husband - the real Charles Gilpin. Charles Gilpin the professional - the man Charles would present when working and trying to
get an acting job. And then Charles Gilpin as Brutus Jones.
This was very important because Charles stole the show and made the show a
hit and OíNeill rich. In the end Shaun Parkes could do that and
more, and I am so glad Mary Jo Slater introduced me to him.
A few words about the shoot as such, and the
a white director, I had worked with mostly white actors and crew. I
didnít realize how much I would learn about the black experience in our
country until I began making this film. Nija Okoro [Nika
Okoro interview - click here], who
plays Gilpinís wife, when she spoke, you know that she had been there -
that she knew how tough it was to be a minority trying to follow your
dreams in a country were black people have not had the opportunities that
white people take for granted.
Anything you can tell us about
audience and critical reception of The
Black Emperor of Broadway?
finally got to the see the film in a group - only 25 people socially
distanced, but still a group. That was the moment I was waiting for.
Where I thought it was too slow, the audience was glued to the screen.
Then they fidgeted at some other spots, but not bad!!
Any future projects
you'd like to share?
am working on a project based on the 1991 robbery of the Isabella Gardner
Museum in Boston (the most successful and still unsolved heist of all
What got you into filmmaking in the
first place, and did you receive any formal training on the subject?
was lucky enough to study with Rob Tregenza at the University of Maryland
Baltimore County, who was dedicated to the feature film as an art form.
I have been trying to fulfill that idea every since.
can you tell us about your filmwork prior to The
Black Emperor of Broadway?
produced, with my wife Heather, Murder on the Cape, another film
based on a true story. The older I get, the more I find real stories
have the most meaning for me.
How would you
describe yourself as a director?
Filmmakers who inspire
Spielberg, Sydney Pollack of course and Francis Ford Coppola.
Your favourite movies?
Now, Raging Bull, Out of Africa.
... and of
course, films you really deplore?
movie I made that didnít work!
Feeling lucky ?
any of my partnershops yourself
for more, better results ?
The links below
will take you
website, social media, whatever else?
you're dying to mention and I have merely forgotten to ask?
work with two very strong women - four movies so far -, co-producers Heather
Egeli (my wife) and Judith Richland, who help make it wall happen!
for the interview!