Jordan Peele may be most known for his role as one half of the sketch comedy duo Key & Peele alongside Keegan-Michael Key, but it’s his work since the Comedy Central show ended in 2015 that is now drawing the most attention. After a lukewarm performance as producer, writer, and star of last year’s Keanu, Peele is making his ambitious directorial debut with Get Out, a socially aware horror thriller that directly confronts racism and black stereotypes. We sat down with Jordan Peele at a roundtable interview to discuss his making of the film, his casting choices, and the impact he hopes it will have on society.
Shakefire (SF): You’ve mentioned that comedy and horror draw from the same well. How were you able to bring that all together? Because we all laughed, especially with the TSA character. Then there were those moments that were frightening. Can you talk about how those two elements work well together?
Jordan Peele (JP): They’re very close. The best horror moments are usually followed or preceded with some nervous giggling. You and I always hear the music sting hits and everyone goes, “Oh!” and everyone jumps then you hear, “Pst, I didn’t jump. Naw, you jumped.” You hear that kinda conversation. It’s already a very similar state. On top of that, the important thing for me is making the world feel as real as possible. With the Rod character, it’s important that he’s not coming in and launching jokes at us. That’s how we get to parody town. It would resemble more of a Scary Movie than an actual scary movie like this. So with Rod, the way I relied on that character was as a release valve from all the tension. To give somebody that would give us relief, not only because it’s a safe space when Rod is there but we do have somebody’s who’s being real. He’s saying what we wish somebody would say in a horror movie. That reality, that’s kinda what gets the laughs. And it’s even more nerve racking because it’s like, “Oh snap, this takes place in the real world. They are looking out. They are being perceptive. And it’s still terrifying. They’re so close.” Reality for me, for both horror and comedy, reality needs to be consistent and real.
SF: Lil Rel is like a hidden gem in comedy. Why Lil Rel for a film such as this? He’s done a lot in the comedy scene but he’s fairly new to film.
JP: He’s somebody that feels very familiar to a lot of people. He’s got that feeling where it’s like, “I know this dude. This is my cousin. This is my brother. This is my best friend.” That was very important. He’s also an amazing comedian. He’s a great improviser as a stand up. Many times I could be like, “Lil Rel, you gotta say this line in the way that makes the most sense to you.” He would find these new hilarious ways to do it. Most importantly when it call came down to it, that’s a situation where that’s the guy I was picturing when I was writing it. When I realized that Lil Rel was Rod. You just can’t take that away. It was all three of those things. Damn, just what perfect casting. I’m so happy I got him.
SF: Talk about the casting. Everything felt so perfect. What was your mindset in casting the film?
JP: Every character was its own adventure figuring it out. Now with Keith [Stanfield], Atlanta hadn’t come out when we made this movie. I casted Keith from his work in Short Term 12, Selma, Compton. He has another quality where it’s like, “I don’t know who he is but I like that guy.” He is so innately cool that I felt that if I could get him in here and the flip be the least cool, least soulful brother that we’ve ever seen that it would be so jarring. Every character had their own requirements for me to tell the story. With Rose with Allison Williams, I needed that relationship to be something that we want to work, which is very difficult especially with an interracial relationship where there’s people on both sides that don’t want to see that work. Making that relationship work I had to have somebody that fit this mold of like you know what yes she’s undeniably Caucasian but she’s waking up and she’s funny, she’s intelligent, and she’s kinda a badass with that cop. Every character had their own thing I was looking for.
SF: Congrats on 100% on Rotten Tomatoes so far. Some people feel the success of the film is based on race baiting, especially given the timeliness of it. How do you feel when people say things like that or do you agree with it?
JP: I think they’re fair to say that. I think people who have criticized this film tend to be people who haven’t seen it yet. I think the reason it’s resonating is because where has this movie been at? No one has given any kind of concept like this a real chance in a long time. Look, we get tired of the same old thing. The real thing that’s poppin off about this movie is that it feels like a missing piece. We missed this. This movie should have been made 40 years ago in some way. This is the plot of Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, which by the way we could do today and not change a word. I think it’s a fair opinion, but I think it’s more because we missed this piece of a puzzle.
SF: This is your directorial debut so what was the process like crafting this film? Were there any unexpected things you learned about while making it? And also what did you learn from your work on Keanu and what did you bring over from that?
JP: I learned a lot from the director of Key & Peele and Keanu, Peter Atencio. Directing is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. It was kinda a different process writing the movie as it was directing and bringing all that together. Ultimately I learned that this idea that I thought never would get made...the freedom I was able to give myself by saying, “I’m not even going to try and be ambitious with this. This is for me and me only.” That gave me a freedom that allowed me to get to something that has resonated enough to get this current Rotten Tomatoes of 100%. So now I feel like what I like is universal, even if it’s the most out of left field idea on paper from Hollywood. A horror movie about race? No that’s not happening. If you’re true to yourself, people feel that. They’re watching. People know he’s doing him right now and I recognize that. Our souls are the same, in a way. If you do justice to your emotion and your soul that’s where the commonality in all of us comes up. I love seeing a black crowd, but I love seeing a mixed crowd too because everyone’s on the same ride. It transcends our differences. That’s the surprise to me.
SF: With a film set like this and obviously everything going on in the world today, you address the issue. Now how does this film help start the healing process in what you addressed and take a step forward.
JP: Well first of all it acknowledges issues that have gone unacknowledged. I think in that, we need to be discussing things. We need to have these conversations. I also think that the way we talk about race is tiring to a lot of people and often feels like these discussions that are supposed to be constructive can fall apart because of our egos and because of people getting offensive. Some people so don’t want to be considered racist that they can’t look within themselves. I think content like this that is entertaining first and foremost. I think that’s the in; that’s the Trojan Horse. We can come in, we can watch, have a good time, scream, yell, laugh, get scared, and then afterward you have to acknowledge what happened to you when you were in there. At that point, I hope it promotes constructive conversation where we were all on the same page watching that movie. So we can all agree that that movie rings true. That in itself, I think in just some small way is getting to heal the conversation because it’s putting another touchstone where you can refer to it. “Remember the dude in Get Out? That’s what you’re doing right now.” We can have that conversation.
SF: One of the neighbors says the line, “Black is in fashion.” It’s so interesting that there was something about black people that they wanted for themselves whether it be the mandingo in bed or whether it be the creative vibe or the ability to run fast. We’re in this time, you’re making that statement, and we’re seeing this in this film, even though it’s a horror.
JP: That was a big turn. There was a while that I thought this movie was a more traditional view of slavery. I thought it was the movie that it looks like I’m setting up with the brainwashing of people and auctioning them off. The realization that this is different, that this is a new, twisted, fucked up form of slavery. Part of what I wanted to do here was show these little microaggressions or whatever you want to call them, they are proof and clues that we are not past racism. I wanted to take those and relate this to this really obvious horror version of slavery so that people could see the connection and see this is all one thing. Next time somebody says this is a post race world you can go well look, even this little interaction right here. That’s proof that it’s not. They’re kicking the tires; they’re checking the merchandise in their own way. Remember he says, “I can’t quite swing the hips like I used to.” But he loves Tiger. The best golfer he’s ever seen is black. Through whether it’s sports, whether it’s the coolness of black culture or music, or even the guy at the end of the movie says, “Race has nothing to do with me. It’s your eye, man.” Even that I’ve always maintained that he does believe that if he’s a black photographer he’ll get more attention. It all comes to that thing we were talking about earlier where it’s like they want us for the parts they want us for but not the human beings that we are. They don’t want the soul. They want the other shit that we contribute.
Get Out releases in theaters nationwide on February 24, 2017. For more about the film, read Maria Jackson's review.