Just a few years ago, in 2015, Reinaldo Marcus Green was a grad student at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, angling for extra time with his professor — Spike Lee. Flash-forward six years: Marcus Green has directed one of the best-reviewed dramas of 2021 — “King Richard,” starring Will Smith as Richard Williams, the father of tennis champs Venus (Saniyya Sidney) and Serena (Demi Singleton). And Lee is more than happy to set aside some time to talk with his star pupil over Zoom.

“I want to have the kind of staying power that Spike has,” Green says to Lee, noting the “Do the Right Thing” director’s influence over his career. “You graduated in 1982. I was born in ’81. I got some years to catch up, Spike, but I’m working on it.” In a candid conversation demonstrating their ongoing mentor-mentee relationship, the two filmmakers discuss the importance of showcasing Black families (and saluting Black mothers) on-screen.

Spike Lee: I really enjoyed your latest joint. I’ve been telling everybody, “You’ve got to check this young filmmaker’s film out.” Again, congratulations. The performances are amazing. I’m glad you gave Aunjanue [Ellis] — very overlooked actress; she was phenomenal — a pivotal role. Because Venus, Serena and their sisters had a mother [Oracene Price], and we know Black moms get overlooked a lot. But the way that role is written, the way it was acted, the way it was directed. We know that moms hold down the fort. While King Richard was doing whatever he wanted to do, somebody was still holding down the fort. Reinaldo Marcus Green: He was certainly front-facing while she was holding it down, absolutely, and Aunjanue, she nails it. What an incredible actress.

Lee: How did this come about? I always love to hear the origins. Like how did all these things in the universe come together in this moment of time and space?

Green: Spike, it was one of those Hollywood moments for me. I was slipped the script by four different people on the same day, and they were not my agent. So four different people just saying, “Hey, check this script out.”

Lee: They slipped it on the low-low?

Green: They slipped it on the low. I read it, and I was like, “Whoa, this is a great story.” First thing I did was call my agent and say, “How come you’re not slipping it to me?” And he just said, “They didn’t have the rights. They wrote the film on spec.”

Lee: When you were slipped the script on the low-low, on the lowest of lows, Will was attached already?

Green: Will was attached, but I was like, “Really? Is he attached?” You hear this all the time: “He’s attached.” OK, well, is he really attached? How am I supposed to know? I can’t call Will Smith and ask.

Watch the full conversation from Variety Directors on Directors presented by MGM Studios and United Artists Releasing above.