After making a huge splash at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, Cord Jefferson‘s AMERICAN FICTION is riding a high since winning the coveted People’s Choice Award, a very good indicator that it is Oscars-bound.
The Satire, based on Percival Everett‘s novel ERASURE is set to hit theatres over the Holidays and today we got a first look as its Trailer launched officially. It centers on Thelonious “Monk” Ellison (Jeffrey Wright), who is a respected figure in the literary world. Tired of black stereotypes, he writes a novel under a pseudonym that features every Black cliché possible, which goes on to garner him tons of interest (more than anything he’s ever written) and hence, a huge dilemma to deal with.
We were so fortunate to sit-in on a Press Junket with Jefferson, whose feature directorial debut is an epic one.
He’s asked by Rotten Tomatoes about landing on the perfect Trailer.
Jefferson: “I’ll let the Trailer speak for itself. It has gone through a rigorous process, and we’ve been working on it for months now. I’m thrilled to share it with everybody. I really love it. It has gone through different iterations and finally we’ve landed on one we’re all thrilled about.”.
Jefferson is asked about his connection with the Film’s source material and why he chose to adapt it for the big screen.
Jefferson: “I first heard about the Novel when I was reading a review in December 2020 for INTERIOR CHINATOWN (by Charles Yu), a Satire similar to Percival Everett‘s ERASURE. Within 50 pages of reading it, I’m already reading Monk in Jeffrey’s voice. I knew I wanted to direct it. There were just so many overlaps with my personal life and things that I’ve been thinking about for decades. It felt like someone had written me a gift. When I stepped away from it, I couldn’t stop thinking about it and when I was done reading, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I was electrified. A piece of Art has never resonated so deeply with me.”.
He tells us about the process of getting star Jeffrey Wright to sign-on in the leading role.
Jefferson: “Once the Script was done, I told everyone that I wanted Jeffrey, and everyone agreed. I sent it right away to him. Thankfully, he met with me and talked a few hours. We met a couple weeks later and talked for a few more hours and he signed on. There’s a reason I’ll forever be indebted, but the main one is that this is the guy who was in Basquiat and Angels in America. When I first saw him, I was blown away. I’ve followed his career throughout. Batman, 007, this guy in Wes Anderson’s go-to. These are the biggest movies in world. For me to come to him, having never written or directed anything, I was terrified he was gonna say no. I think it’s a real testament to him as Artist and Human Being, willing to put faith in me. A lot of Actors of his caliber don’t want to risk it on first-time Director. He lept aboard and things got more easy. We got more funding and more Actors wanted to come aboard to work with him.”.
We then learn about their alignment in vision for the film adaptation.
Jefferson: “The first thing he said is that ‘I don’t want to feel this Movie is scolding or condemning anybody’. That’s the exact thing I said, and I didn’t want it to feel like a lecture about the right way or wrong way to be black. We were both on the same page. No ‘pull up your pants’ or finger-wagging. All we wanted to do is make a movie that addressed these issues with levity and ton of humour, yet with an emotional center. And for people to be smiling and laughing with their friends and family. As soon as he said that, I knew this was the guy.”.
Jefferson tells us about casting the perfect love interest and Supporting Cast for Monk.
Jefferson: “I’ve been following Maxine Shaw (Erika Alexander) since LIVING SINGLE. I recognize good work. When it came time to talk about Jeffrey’s love interest, we got a lot of pitches from agencies for people in their 20s and 30s, and I understand that’s what they do in Hollywood. I wanted someone to be closer to Jeffrey in age. I felt this woman is formidable and Monk in this role is a pugnacious, strongheaded, stubbon person, so you need a good foil for that energy. Erika comes in and brings a joy and strength to the character. As soon as I saw her, I knew this was the exact right choice. She shines every time she’s on screen. Jeffrey plays Monk who is a standoffish guy who’s isolated himself. He’s a crotchety College Professor, so surrounding him with an Ensemble that brings levity and natural charm to the part was great. You see this way they balance Monk. They bring the smile and illicit laughter which others in his life don’t.”.
We learn about how Jefferson finds the right balance between Drama and Comedy in this Satire.
Jefferson: “Even in the lowest of times, you have to find joy and pleasure. I didn’t ever make anything with an audience in mind as that’s when you second guess yourself. I focussed on a strategic balance. I wanted the Movie to be Satire. ERASURE is a wonderful satirical novel and I knew I wanted that to be large part of the story. I wanted to ensure the Movie didn’t become farcicial. I had to ensure it didn’t collapse under that weight and become Slapstick. The family – the relationships Monk has with his mother and siblings help balance each other out so it’s never too sweet or bitter. It balances in a way the story doesn’t collapse under the weight of Drama or Comedy. Striking a balance was important. I wanted it to feel authentic to life.”.
Warner Bros. Pictures Canada release AMERICAN FICTION in select theatres December 15, 2023 and expands December 22, 2023.