With Director John Singleton and
Actress Taraji Henson
Wednesday, June 20, 2001;
Submit your questions by 1 p.m. EDT
Producer and director John Singleton and actress Taraji Henson talk about Singleton's new comedy-drama movie, "Baby Boy."
Singleton and Henson were interviewed Via Video at 2:30 p.m. EDT to answer your previously submitted questions and comments. Watch the video interview.
Ten years after the release of "Boyz N the Hood," Singleton writes another film set
in an inner-city L.A. neighborhood. "Baby Boy" is about a 20-year-old African American man named "Jody" (Tyrese), who has to face the commitments of real life. Taraji Henson plays "Yvette," Jody's girlfriend and mother of his son. The film also stars Omar Gooding, Snoop Dogg, A.J. Johnson and Ving Rhames. "Baby Boy" opens in theaters nationwide on Wednesday, June 27, 2001.
Singleton most recently produced and directed "Shaft," starring Samuel Jackson. Other films include "Rosewood," starring Jon Voight and Ving Rhames, "Higher Learning," starring Omar Epps and Laurence Fishburne, and "Poetic Justice," starring Janet Jackson. Singleton became the first African American and the youngest filmmaker to earn Oscar nominations for Best Original Screenplay and Best Director for his first film, "Boyz N the Hood (1991)."
He has received numerous awards such as the LAFCA New Generation Award in 1991, the MTV Movie Award for Best New Filmmaker 1992, the New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best New Director (Boyz N the Hood) 1991, and finally the ShoWest Award for Screenwriter of the Year, and the Special Award for Directorial Debut of the Year, 1992.
Taraji Henson co-starred in the May 2001 CBS telvision movie "Murder She Wrote: The Last Free Man" starring Angela Lansbury and Phylicia Rashad. She also co-stars in B.E.T. and Artisan Entertainment's upcoming film, "Book of Love," with Richard T. Jones and Robin Givens. Henson starred in the Aaron Spelling Production "Satan's School For Girls," with Shannen Doherty, Kate Jackson and Julie Benz. On television, she was a co-star in "ER," "Felicity," WB's "The Parent 'Hood," "Sister, Sister," and "Smart Guy." Henson is a Howard University graduate and resides in Los Angeles, California.
Below is the transcript and watch the video.
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What gives you your ideas for making films? Is it a hard process? Do you do it alone?
How did you come up with the script for Baby Boy and how long did it take to make the film?
John Singleton and Taraji Henson: Well I get all my ideas for films basically from life, from watching people. The idea from Baby Boy came from me just sitting up in the mall watching kids in their early 20's talking to teenage girls and seeing these cats at the same time go from talking to the girls to getting into a fight in the mall. And I said, I want to make a movie about a kid like that. A baby boy, you know, kind of like a dangerous version of a mama's boy. My definition of a Baby Boy is a kind of cat that would get your daughter pregnant and kill your son, so I wanted to make a movie about that.
I've been working on it for many years taking notes, probably about 7-8 years worth of notes for the film and it took me about 4 months to write the script. It took me about a year to get it all done from shooting it to getting it in a can and mixing it and stuff. And here it is, a finished product.
What is the message in "Baby Boy?"
John Singleton and Taraji Henson: That's up to the people watching the film. There's no basic message, there's a whole lot going on in the film.
Is it hard to get Hollywood to back a basically all African American film? Do you call the shots?
John Singleton and Taraji Henson: Yeah, I do call all the shots. I have contractual final cuts, I'm in charge of all the marketing, all the materials, the cast and everything. It's been pretty much an easy toll for me ever since the success of my first film (Boyz N' The Hood). I describe myself as the first Black film brat. I'm the first guy to get out of school and they just gave $6 million dollars and told me to go make your movie. And since the first film was successful, I had a career. You know, the first film I did made so much money and I got nominated for two Oscars and everything and it kind of gave me a foot-hold into the business and got my foot in the door. And all I've been doing since then is trying to keep my foot in there.
Anacostia, Washington, D.C.:
That dialogue was right on. How did you get the actors to put it over so convincingly?
John Singleton and Taraji Henson: I try to make the actors feel comfortable and just put a little bit of themselves and get into the characters as much as possible.
Taraji: A stress free set.
You made the role of Yvette so believable. How did you relate to the character? Was it hard becoming her?
John Singleton and Taraji Henson: No not really. Yvette and I are totally different. I'm college educated and I know how to act like a lady.
John: Are you [laughs]?
Taraji: [gives John a mean look] You want to seem me beat John up? [laughs]
I've dealt with a mama's boy before so I've been in Yvette's struggle and I totally understood. I had to delve into my past and grudge up some old feelings and emotions.
Shaw, Washington, D.C.:
Taraji, are you from the Washington area originally? Either way, how do you feel about relationships in the city?
Arlington, Va.: For Taraji. Hey, a hometown girl! How did you get into acting? Did you study acting at Howard University?
John Singleton and Taraji Henson: Taraji: Well, that's like asking me how was I gonna catch fish in dry land? I had just graduated from Howard and I had a degree in acting. There was no work here basically, so I I had to go to L.A. to catch the big fish! [laughs] It took me about five years, but I got it.
And what do I think about relationships in this city or overall? Well, I haven't been here for about 5 years so I don't know if they've changed or if they're still the same. But a relationship is what you make it. You basically have to love yourself, [for] men and women. You know, love yourself as an individual before you can begin to understand what love is or be able to give love in a relationship.
Yes, that's where I got really serious about acting, at Howard University. I started out as a prop mistress for a play "Dreamgirls" that we were doing at Howard. And when I first saw the ensemble together and I heard those voices together and the beautiful music, and everybody was having fun, I was like I wanted to be part of this project. So I would go to rehearsals everyday even on the weekend and I didn't have to be there. Because it was such a large cast, the director Mike Malone would say "I need someone to do this cross," and I be in the corner in my prop box [coughing and raising my hand]. So finally, one day after I did all that, he would say "all right girl get up, I need you to get up and make this cross." And I created, I'm so notorious for that one cross, no lines but I created that character and made her a real person. And I stole the show every night with just that one cross. Eventually the show got picked up, they took it to Hong Kong and I [to Hong Kong] went as an understudy for "Lorelle." So I moved up.
What was it like working with rap artist Snoop Dogg?
John Singleton and Taraji Henson: Taraji: Amazing. First, I was kind of I was dumbfounded, like "oh my god, I'm working with Snoop." But he's was so real and so down to earth, I felt like I kind of knew him.
He's really a gentleman. I know you're used to seeing those hard images on videos and everything, but he's nothing like that.
Taraji, what was it like working with Tyrese? Was it hard doing the nude scenes in the movie?
John Singleton and Taraji Henson: Very hard because I didn't know Tyrese until I got this movie. And you're talking about showing your naked butt to strangers. [laughs] You know what I mean? And I'm looking up to John, like wow he's such a great director; and then I gotta be naked! But I trusted John and I trusted his vision and I really believed in the film and in the script. And when you're doing a love story, there's really no way of getting around it. So, he really set up a very comfortable environment. And Tyrese and I were there for each other. And I'll tell you what, Tyrese made my job easy! Cuz he's a looker!
John, do you visualize (Snoop Dogg and Tyrese) in the parts? Did you choose them? If so, why?
John Singleton and Taraji Henson: Originally, I didn't visualize anybody for the parts. As I got the script, I started thinking about who I wanted in the film and I just really went to people individually and saw them as different people. From Snoop being Rodney, to Tyrese being Jody, and everybody just fulfilled their role in my vision.
You made Boyz N the Hood a while back. Since then, how has African American made film changed or has it?
John Singleton and Taraji Henson: Yeah, I think it has changed where African American cinema or Black cinema has become more and more like Hollywood. Where Hollywood makes the same old movie over and over again. And I think Black cinema has been like that too. Like when Boyz In The Hood was a hit, everything after that was trying to be like Boyz In The Hood. Four years ago, Soul Food was a hit so every movie after that was kinda being like Soul Food. And I look at Black Cinema like being the same as Black music, in a sense that Black music is always innovative, is changing and always evolving and I think that cinema has to change and evolve too. Cinema is the only art that encompasses all the different arts whether it be theater, dance, music, photography, painting -- all these arts find their way into cinema -- and I think that it has to stay vibrant, it has to be new and exciting and different. And that's what I'm trying to do.
For Mr. Singleton;
With the societal urge/response to multiculturalism, how do you envision the cinematic landscape developing in the next twenty years, particularly for minorities behind the camera?
John Singleton and Taraji Henson: I think it will be very interesting to see what happens with all the new technology that is becoming cheaper and cheaper for people to make a film or multimedia project. You have all these digital cameras, digital editing facilities, you can edit a movie right now on your laptop computer, and then you can get it out to everybody digitally too. So, it's going to make it so that a lot of different people who hadn't had access to doing film or expressing themselves, in this way visually, it's going to allow them to open it up further.
Northwest Washington, D.C.:
The music's really good in the film. Did you have any say in what songs were used and did you have anything to do with the soundtrack?
John Singleton and Taraji Henson: Yeah, I'm the executive producer of the sound track and I'm the music supervisor for the film so I basically picked all the music in the film. Every part of the music where it went, where it was placed and what songs were played, I picked. - Singleton
How would an aspiring actor break into the business? I have had limited acting experience but am interested in getting into the business. Also for your films are you open to giving new talents opportunities for trying out for roles? Best of luck with Baby Boy! Thanks for taking the time to respond to my questions.
John Singleton and Taraji Henson: Taraji: For actors, it’s something you’ve gotta really want. There were times when I could’ve taken a 9-5 but I couldn’t because it would interfere with my auditions.
So, I couldn’t have steak that night, I had to have oodles and noodles -- I mean, you have to be willing to sacrifice a lot. And you gotta have a lot of faith because you get turned down a lot. 99% of the time is being turned down and you didn’t get the job. So you have to develop a tough skin and you have to really believe in yourself and your craft and understand what you’re in it for. You have to set goals. You can’t just believe that you’re going to become a star overnight because that’s very rare.
John Singleton and Taraji Henson: John: You gotta be thick-skinned. You have to be tough if you want to be in this business. I remember being the only person in the world that ever thought I would be a film maker. And I was in film school and writing scripts and everything and had the stuff right there. When I became comfortable with that, that’s when things started happening for me.
Who is the psychiatrist Jody (Tyrese) was referring to int he beginning of the movie? And why did you begin with that idea?
John Singleton and Taraji Henson: Her name is Dr. Francis Cress Welsing. She’s a psychiatrist based here in D.C. and the things that Jody says comes from her book, “The Issis Papers.” The whole film is basically inspired by her belief in the infantilization of black men in their minds in America. She has a very specific psychiatric view of why black people do what they do that is based on history and why they act in the comtemporary -—based upon history. With any psychiatrist, they try to cure people of a certain mental state. And she has certain theories of how to cure the mental state towards a positive end for some black people in this country.
New York, N.Y.:
This question is for John,
Your natural tendency as a filmmaker seems to lean towards issue films and heavier films, though not everything in your catalog fits that description.
Any chance we'll see a lighter side in your film in the future, like John Singleton's remake of "Bringing Up Baby" or anything?
Temple Hills, Maryland:
Hello John and Taraji...
John, I have over the years loved your work and the diversity to which you take on different subject matters concerning African Americans; however do you really think we need another "Hood" movie?
John Singleton and Taraji Henson: No, I don’t. I think that’s my forte. I mean, I leave it up to everyone else to make the soft movies. I’m trying to make hard hitting movies that basically --that are hip, that you have a lot to think about. In terms of making a hood movie, I do it from an informed perspective so that I’m basically humanizing people that don’t have a voice on film.
I mean you don’t see people like that or “Baby Boy” on film at all. When you do, they make them very one-dimensional and very caricaturish. And, this is a lot of me. And the way in which I’m presenting them, it doesn’t let the audience off. Because you’re able to identify with them on a human level. At least, maybe people that may be in your family or if you’re not from the hood, they are people you can identify with them on a human level because you can get into the characters.
What are some of the next projects that you will be working on? Taraji, any plans on being a lead actress in another movie?
John Singleton and Taraji Henson: John: I don’t know what what I’m going to do.
Taraji: I don’t either I haven’t signed any contracts unless you know something I don’t.
John: She's waiting for everyone to see her in this movie to blow up. She's definitely going to be in my next movie.
I see good things. I know a good thing when I see one.
Taraji (on being a lead): It's great, it's definitely gonna be a life changing experience. Now I know I can't go anywhere without people recognizing me saying, "aren't you Yvette," doing lines from the movie. I'm just enjoying the ride and it's fun. I don't have anything lined up yet. Hollywood is basically about smoking mirrors; it's about numbers. They're impressed when I go into auditions now that I have a John Singleton project on my resume but at the same time they want to see what kind of money it's gonna make.
That was our last question today. Thanks to everyone who joined the discussion.
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