×

Barry Jenkins on Losing His Temper, Advice From Denzel and Doing a Marvel Movie

After his film “Moonlight” won the Academy Award, Barry Jenkins had a lot of offers — but not from Marvel. The filmmaker stopped by the Variety Studio presented by AT&T at TIFF to talk about his new film premiering tomorrow night, “If Beale Street Could Talk.”

When it was pointed out that many indie film directors then go on to work on franchise movies, Jenkins noted: “I don’t think Marvel watches ‘Moonlight’ and goes, ‘Let’s do that!’”

He continued, “I wasn’t offered big Marvel movies or anything like that, but I was offered: What do you want to do? It was presented to me in a very clear way; you can do more or less whatever you want. And what I wanted to do was finish the cycle of moonlight and [Beale Street].”

He does say that “Beale Street,” based on the James Baldwin novel, has something in common with those big studio films. “I think there are blockbuster emotions in this films. Not the explosions, but the feelings.”

The film stars newcomer Kiki Layne as Tish, a young, pregnant woman whose husband, played by Stephan James, is sent to prison for a crime he didn’t commit. The actors joined Jenkins at the studio and talked about the importance of bringing Baldwin’s novel to the big screen.

Said James of reading the story: “It blew my mind; James Baldwin is an exceptional, exceptional storyteller. So brutally honest.” Asked about what drew him to the film version, he added, “The marriage of James Baldwin and Barry Jenkins, that really excited me.”

VARIETY PORTRAIT STUDIO AT TIFF

Though the novel was published in 1974, Jenkins said it feels timelier than ever. “James Baldwin was always a man ahead of his time. Of his time, but ahead of his time,” he noted. “I think that the country has progressed in a lot of different ways but I think in other ways we assumed we’ve progressed but you read this book set in 1974 and you see the same things happening literally two days ago here in 2018. So I think the book is still unfortunately very relevant and that’s why we wanted to tell this film.”

As for casting his leads, including Layne who had previously only worked one day on a movie, Jenkins said, “We looked at a few people who are very famous or had a lot of notoriety, certainly more notoriety than my new superstars. But it’s really about who is the character and Kiki Layne was Tish.”

When it was noted that he could have had anyone with the success of “Moonlight” and it was jokingly suggested he had to turn down Denzel Washington, Jenkins laughed and revealed that Washington had actually reached out to him after “Moonlight.”

“I had a lunch with Denzel and he gave me some of the most amazing advice I’ve ever been given, both life and career. So I think in some ways he is a part of this,” said Jenkins. “When all of us sort of come up and break out, Denzel is kind of like of the godfather. He reaches out, ‘Let’s go to lunch.’ You sit down for like three hours, he has this binder, he lays it out. ‘Do this, don’t do that. If you do that, then you do that.’ Just really loving and compassionate and caring.”

The actors praised the “Beale Street” set for being a great working environment; while some directors bring a lot of tension to the set, Jenkins’ worst outburst was more comical than scary. The director was filming a scene with actor Ed Skrein and traffic was backing up. “All the cars got stuck at the intersection and they just kept coming,” Jenkins recalled. “There was an empty box so I just kicked the box. It was ridiculous. Everybody just laughed at me.”

Quipped James, “That’s the most anger you’ll get out of Barry Jenkins. Kicking a box.”

More Film

  • Tokyo Director-in-Focus-at-Japan-Now

    Nobuhiko Obayashi set as Japanese Director in Focus at Tokyo Film Festival

    Indie director, Nobuhiko Obayashi will be feted as the director in focus at the Japan Now section of this year’s Tokyo International Film Festival. The festival will give a world premiere to his “Labyrinth of Cinema.” Supporting his art by shooting commercials, Obayashi is an indie whose dreamy works have influenced numerous other directors in [...]

  • Jimmi Simpson Joins Russell Crowe Movie

    Jimmi Simpson Joins Russell Crowe Thriller 'Unhinged' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Jimmi Simpson will play a key role in “Unhinged,” Variety has learned. He joins an impressive cast that includes Oscar-winner Russell Crowe and Caren Pistorius. Solstice Studios is producing the psychological thriller, which is currently filming in New Orleans. “Unhinged” centers on a woman named Rachel (Pistorius), who leans on her horn at the wrong [...]

  • David Crosby

    David Crosby Says New Documentary 'Remember My Name' Is Like 'Being Naked in Public’

    “It’s not easy. It’s hard being naked in public,” David Crosby, the legendary troubadour of classic rock, reflected at Tuesday night’s New York City premiere of “David Crosby: Remember My Name.” “I don’t know what to do here. There’s no guitars, no drums,” he laughed. Directed by newcomer A.J. Eaton and produced by the legendary [...]

  • Javier Bardem Dune

    Javier Bardem in Talks to Play King Triton in Disney's 'Little Mermaid'

    Javier Bardem is in talks to play King Triton in Disney’s live-action remake of “The Little Mermaid.” Halle Bailey will portray the Ariel, a mermaid princess who dreams of being a human, while Melissa McCarthy is playing her evil aunt Ursula. Harry Styles is also in early talks to play Prince Eric. “The Little Mermaid” [...]

  • UglyDolls

    STX Tries to Put Flops Behind It as It Searches for Star Executive, Fresh Capital

    After a series of film flops and an aborted initial public offering, STX Entertainment is battling mounting skepticism that it can survive in an increasingly unforgiving movie business. As it hustles to find $500 million in fresh capital, the company, which operates in the red according to financial disclosures, is simultaneously hoping to attract a [...]

  • Ryan Simpkins

    Ryan Simpkins Joins Fox-Disney's 'Fear Street' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Ryan Simpkins has joined Fox-Disney’s second installment of 20th Century Fox and Chernin Entertainment’s “Fear Street” trilogy, based on the novels by R.L. Stine. Leigh Janiak is helming all three films. Previously announced cast includes Gillian Jacobs, Sadie Sink, Emily Rudd, McCabe Slye, Kiana Madeira, Olivia Welch, Benjamin Flores Jr., Ashley Zukerman, Fred Hechinger, Julia [...]

  • MPAA Logo

    Motion Picture Association of America Hires Emily Lenzner as Communications Chief

    The Motion Picture Association of America has appointed veteran public relations executive Emily Lenzner as its executive VP of global communications and public affairs. She will report to Chairman and CEO Charles Rivkin and oversee the trade group’s communications team in the U.S. and internationally. Lenzner will start Aug. 1 and be based at the MPAA’s [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content