Variety Streaming Room
Sam Levinson's "Malcolm & Marie" was a spur-of-the-moment production, made at the height of quarantine in the summer of 2020, that rested on the collaboration of its 22 crew members and…
Sam Levinson’s “Malcolm & Marie” was a spur-of-the-moment production, made at the height of quarantine in the summer of 2020, that rested on the collaboration of its 22 crew members and stars.
Director Levinson and producer-actors Zendaya and John David Washington joined deputy awards and features editor Jenelle Riley in the Variety Streaming Room presented by Netflix for an exclusive Q&A on the making of the film and its message. The relationship drama unfolds as a filmmaker and his actor girlfriend return home from his movie premiere and reexamine the merits of their love affair.
The project came about as a result of Zendaya and Levinson’s collaboration on the cultural-shifting hit HBO series “Euphoria.” With production on the second season shut down as a result of the pandemic, the two looked to channel their creative energies into a film.
“I just wanted to make something with people that I care about … This was like an indie film in every sense of the word in the sense that we’re putting our own money into something,” Zendaya said. “I’m doing my own hair and makeup. Don’t have a schedule. We don’t have script supervisors. We just have each other and we’re just figuring it out.”
When thinking about who could go “toe-to-toe” with Zendaya, Levinson said he immediately thought of Washington, whom he cold-called and attached to the project when the script was only 10 pages long.
“I think the messiness, the naturalism, the freedom of it … I wouldn’t have been able to do that in any other way,” said Washington of his performance, which entails lengthy monologues and near-constant yelling. “I think I wouldn’t have been able to do it in any other circumstances, the way I did it then, because of where we were in the pandemic, because it was all hands on deck.”
Ultimately, the panelists said, their goal was to make a passion project that was inclusive of everyone on set, regardless of if the movie was a critical success. As a result, the crew was given ownership in the film, making a profit once the pic was sold to Netflix for $30 million. Part of the film’s earnings were also donated to Feeding America.
“A big part of it is, once we sort of realized what the movie was about, this idea of not feeling heard, not feeling acknowledged, not being given credit and compensation for your work, it was, I think, important to us as the actors, as the producers, as our collaborators to design a system and a financial plan that reflected, I think, what the heart and the idea of the movie is, which is we are all equal partners in this,” Levinson said.