April 2001
It’s A Hard Knock Life : An Interview with Gary Hardwick

Wilson Morales

It’s A Hard Knock Life : An Interview with Gary Hardwick

Before “Waiting to Exhale”, “Love Jones” and “The Best Man”, there was “The Brothers”. But no one knows that. Back then, studios weren’t trying to hear it. They were busy making money with hits like “Menace to Society,” “Boys in the Hood” and “New Jack City”. Now that Hollywood is conforming to the fact that black movies don’t have to be violent to sell tickets, their minds are opening up to new ideas. Director Gary Hardwick started out with minor films like “Trippin” and “Cheer Fever,” but now he’s stepped up to the big leagues and shares with blackfilm.com his thoughts on “The Brothers.”

How did the story come about?

The script went out around 6 or 7 years ago and the reaction to it was “doctor, lawyer, millionaire?” Are you crazy? Is this real? A lot of people asked me if people would believe this and I would just sit in room after room and bury my head in my hands and think “What are they talking about?” So the script failed the first time out. No one bought it and yet everyone wanted to see me and wanted me to look at other projects that they had and for a long time I couldn’t sell it. I never gave up on it as I tried to finance it independently but that fell through. I did manage to have a stage production of it and a lot of people fell in love with it. Finally, a lot of other movies were made that sort of woke up Hollywood that these so-called middle class black movies make money. I waited for the 2nd week “The Best Man” was out and checked its grosses before I sent out my script again. When I did, I found out 3 studios wanted the movie, and we ended up at Sony.

Do you think your film will be compared to a “Waiting to Exhale” for men?

I really liked the movie and I think it’s a good comparison. This movie is sort of like the antithesis of that in men and what they think about sex and what they think about women and commitment. In comparison to a good movie, I’m always down for that.

How did you get the women’s side of the equation?

Well, I’ve been married for 12 years. That pretty much answers the question. I talked to my wife about that as well as with other women in the entertainment community. You want to make sure that you’re not going too far or doing things that might tick people off. It was important for me to provide balance in the movie not just say these are men and this is what they are like but this is why they are like that and this is the effect they have on women.

Was any part of the movie autobiographical?

Yeah, a lot of it was. I think the four guys are different parts of my personality and my friends and people I’ve known growing up over the years. For example, Bill Bellamy plays a lawyer who still lives in the hood. I have been a practicing attorney since 1985 in Michigan and California. I was drawing upon my background in that regards to build that particular character.

What do the other guys do because their backgrounds aren’t well defined?

It’s kind of subtle for some of them. Bill is obviously a lawyer. Morris is obviously a doctor, specifically a pediatrician; D.L. is a vice president at a black bank. Much of that stuff ended up getting cut from the movie and Shemar is an MBA at a computer company. Gabrielle is a freelance photographer. Tamala is an editor at Upscale Magazine. The magazine covers are on the wall and Clifton (Powell) and Jennifer (Lewis) own car dealerships.

Did you select the 4 guys? And Why?

Yeah, I did. First of all, they are all great actors to me. I have been watching their careers for a long time. I think the personalities meshed very well. From a commercial aspect, I have my two handsome guys, Morris and Shemar, who are very popular with the ladies. Between Morris and Shemar, I just about have 100% of the women. I also have my two actor comedians, Bill Bellamy and D.L. Hughley, who have very different styles of comedy. So I’m bringing a lot of fan base to this movie by casting those four guys. It was calculated.

Do you think you may get flack for making these characters so upscale?

I hope not. I knew these people growing up. I was born on the east side of Detroit which is the poor part of Detroit like South Central and then I became an attorney and got to see the middle class and affluence and I think it’s important to tell all those stories as we go from Bill’s family all the way to Morris’ family. I think we cover everything and it’s very important in our movies to provide that balance. I wanted Morris’ family to be the centerpiece of the movie; to be a family that started out from humble beginnings and sort of hit the jackpot thru hard work.

How much of the movie was improvised by the actors?

I believe in letting the actors do whatever they are comfortable with. They are smart enough to know what the scene calls for and what the story dictates so a lot of the time the guys are going off book and it’s all good. Some of it gets in the film and some doesn't. For example, in the scene regarding the Amistad comment, Bill ad-libs Amistad; D.L. ad-libs the response to it. That stayed in the film because it's spontaneous. I really encourage that especially with funny guys because they’re always going to come up with something really great as they get going and they start to feel the scene in their character.

What was the overall concept of the movie and what message did you want the viewers to get from it?

That’s in the last shot of the movie. As the brothers toast and you see all 4 of those guys in various stages of commitment. Making a commitment is hard and tough, but it takes courage, strength, intelligence and passion.

What’s next for you?

I have a movie with USA Films called “Deliver Us from Eva.” It was originally written as a mainstream film about 3 white girls from Seattle and I turned it into a story about 4 black sisters from Atlanta. It’s about 3 very successful women and their older sister who molded them into powerful women but she doesn’t have a life of her own. I may use some of the actors from “The Brothers” and I know Halle Berry is interested, but it’s all about making a deal right now with all these people. It’s like The Brothers, but this is about women.

Why should anyone see this film?

Because it’s funny and it’s sweet. It’s going to make them laugh and move them in ways that is unexpected I think. They are also going to have a good time.