The biopic, starring Cynthia Erivo as slave-turned-abolitionist Harriet Tubman, has been receiving buzz since its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival. It’s Lemmons’ fifth movie in 22 years, going back to “Eve’s Bayou.”
“To make movies, I have to have that incredible focus,” Lemmons explained. “So Harriet was my anchor. She’s easy to love.”
“I wanted to do a movie that felt big even if it wasn’t and I wanted to do with the scope it deserved,” she added. “I wanted to research, feel who she was and bring all that detail into it. At first, I didn’t really understand the textures of Maryland and I didn’t get that it was a watery journey with boats and rivers. Water became an important element the more research I did because it was all around.”
Lemmons pointed out that “Eve’s Bayou,” which won a Spirit Award for first feature, also premiered at Toronto.
“I talked a lot about ‘Eve’s Bayou’ at Toronto,” she recalled. “It kind of holds up. It came out very close to the way I wanted it, very much like ‘Harriet.'”
“We got a phone call one day saying that Eddie wanted to see us so we go to his place and he started doing scenes that we had written from ‘Ed Wood’ and doing them perfectly,” he said. “Then he explained that he wanted us on the story of Rudy Ray Moore, who came at the end of blaxploitation films. Scott and I had been obsessed with Rudy Ray Moore.”
At the time, Murphy was unsuccessful in bringing on a studio. But when Alexander and Karaszewski had a TV hit with “The People v. O.J. Simpson,” they revived the project at Netflix and pitched it to Ted Sarandos.
“Ted said, ‘I ran video stores in the 80s, Rudy Ray Moore kept us in business,’ so in seven minutes, we had sold the film,” Karaszewski recounted. “We’d thought about it for so long that it wasn’t that hard to write the script. It was a joy every day watching Eddie Murphy.”
Attendees at “Behind the Screen” included Dave Callaham of “Zombieland: Double Tap,” Lorene Scafaria (“Hustlers”), Andy Callahan (“Inside Game”), Dan Ewen and Matthew Lieberman (“Playing With Fire”), Micah Fitzerman-Blue & Noah Harpster (“A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil”), Jon Hoeber & Erich Hoeber (“My Spy”), Anthony McCarten (“The Two Popes”), Adam Mervis (“21 Bridges”), Sean Mullin (“Semper Fi”), Justin Rhodes (“Terminator: Dark Fate”), Wes Tooke (“Midway”), and Linda Woolverton (“Maleficent: Mistress of Evil”).