Jeymes Samuel was inspired to make his Western-themed feature debut “The Harder They Fall” after growing up watching genre flicks on BBC One and feeling disappointed by the way they depicted women and people of color.
Samuel, who grew up on Harrow Road in London, U.K., acknowledged his passion for the genre was unusual but explained that the BBC “were just hammering us with Westerns when I was growing up.”
“I loved cinema. [I’m a] cinephile,” said Samuel during a press conference on Wednesday for the movie, which opens the BFI London Film Festival. “The genre of the Old West was always just alluring to me.
“But the scope they showed those stories through was very narrow — they didn’t really leave a way either side for any other interpretation. Women of all colors were always subservient. If you were a person of color, you were less than human.”
The Netflix-backed “Harder They Fall,” which has its world premiere on Wednesday evening, stars Idris Elba (“Luther”), Regina King (“Watchmen”) and Jonathan Majors (“Lovecraft Country”), all of whom joined Samuel at the press conference. It is produced by James Lassiter (“I Am Legend”), who was also at the press event, and Jay-Z.
After writing the film with Boaz Yakin, Samuel’s thoughts turned to casting. “Who’s going to be in it?” he remembered being asked. “Everyone.”
Elba was perhaps the easiest casting choice, having grown up with Samuel in London. “Me and Idris go back,” said Samuel.
“I didn’t have a choice [to do the film],” added Elba. “There was no ‘yes’ or ‘no’ or ‘maybe,’ there’s ‘you’re doing it’…We grew up together doing stupid shit and here we are making a Western,” Elba said.
Tapping King for the role of Trudy Smith was less straightforward, with Samuel saying “It took so long to get Regina on the phone,” to which King laughingly responded: “I was working!”
They eventually made an appointment to Facetime and, Samuel confessed, he was so nervous about speaking to her he resolved to make an impression within the first 30 seconds — by shouting “Peace to the Black queen!” when they eventually connected.
Part of what inspired King, who said she’s not a fan of Westerns, to take the role was Samuel’s enthusiasm as well as the depiction of women in the film, which was in contrast to how women are generally “depicted in period pieces.”
King, who stars alongside Zazie Beetz and Danielle Deadwyler, said of the female characters: “Their existence is not based on any man or a child or a parent or some story that has to connect them to something other than being who they are. And to have three women that are so different and so sure and still have those layers, not be one dimensional, was exciting to see. And for a man to be the one to write it is so special.”
Samuel also praised Majors, who plays Nat Love in the film, saying he cast him without an audition nor having seen him in anything, because as soon as he saw him speak, he knew he should play Love.
The BFI London Film Festival runs from Oct. 6-17.