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January 2006
Something New: An Interview with Stephanie Allain

Something New: An Interview with Stephanie Allain

By Wilson Morales

If there’s anyone who doesn’t get enough credit for the work she’s done over the years in Hollywood, it’s producer Stephanie Allain. This lady has been in the business for years, including serving as a senior vice president of production at Columbia Pictures at one point. While at Columbia, Allain helped launch the careers of some well-known directors such John Singleton (Boyz N the Hood), Robert Rodriguez (El Mariachi), Darnell Martin (I Like It Like That) and Andrew Fleming (Craft) to name a few. Since she branched out on her own years later, Allain continued to find the best new talent available. Last year, she, along with John Singleton, helped produced newcomer Craig Brewer’s film, “Hustle and Flow”, which in turn got an Academy Award nomination for its lead actor Terrence Howard. Hoping that the magic is still working, Allain’s next project, “Something New” features the work of another newcomer to film directing world, Sanaa Hamri, whose mostly known for her directing music videos for Prince, Mariah Carey, and other musical stars. The film is the first film produced, directed, written, and starring women of color. Sanaa Lathan is the star of this interracial romance. In speaking with blackfilm.com, Allain goes over her choices in terms of casting “Something New” and also speaks briefly on the Oscar nominations that ‘Hustle and Flow” received.

Can you talk about the casting of Simon Baker? Did you feel it would be controversial in terms of who you cast in that role?

Stephanie Allain: Sure. We always knew that Sanaa was our Kenya from the beginning. Even though it us a while to get back to her, but the Brian character was more difficult because it was really about chemistry and we always had the notion of the iconic blond haired-blue eyed leading man for her. It took us a while and we narrowed down to 5 or 6 men as soon as Simon came in and sat down and Sanaa and he did the two scenes together, Sanaa (Hamri, the director) and I looked at each other and said, “Ok. That’s our Brian.” It was a chemical thing that we felt in the room. We also felt that if Sanaa (Lathan) was going to fall in love with a white man on screen, that we better feel it as the audience. We better believe it as the audience because that’s something that you can’t manufacture and it seemed to work.

Do you believe it’s hard out there for black professional women to find mates?

SA: I think being ambitious, successful, powerful, making a lot of money, I don’t care what color you are as a woman, it’s difficult to find a mate. I think the natural order is that men want to be providers. They want to make more money and they want to be out in the world more and even today in 2006, it’s still an issue.

Do you think interracial dating is a taboo?

SA: It is still taboo. It’s pretty amazing in 2006, that this is the first romance with a black woman and a white man that’s not treated as a comedy; that doesn’t play up differences. That really tries to find the common ground.

How long did it take the film to get off the ground?

SA: I think I got the script in 2001 or 2002; so it took about 5 years.

What about the process of bringing it to the screen and some of the frustration you faced in getting off the ground?

SA: This particular project came to me as a spec script. It needed a lot of work and we worked on it. After about six months, I took it out to the various studios and the mini-majors and the independents and there was interest but I could tell that their interest was more to push it into comedy and that’s not what I wanted to do and Focus Features was really the only studio that really seem to support what we wanted to do. As Black women running the show, they left us alone and I think it shows in the movie because it’s not tinged with a male sensibility. It’s a woman’s film and I think it shows.

Do you think a man could have directed this film?

SA: Not as well.

How did you choose Sanaa (Hamri) to direct this film?

SA: We were looking for a director who had a visual sensibility. I’ve worked with a lot of first time directors; in fact, I enjoy it because there is a certain beginner’s mind that they bring into a project that isn’t loaded with the way things have been done before. There’s a certain freedom to it. When I saw her reel, which was not only beautiful but also very narrative and each video really told a story; and then of course, when she walked into the room and she has a white mother and black father, she really understood what was really going on in the film. She’s so bright and so smart, she just seemed like a natural.

Let’s talk about the race class issue. I found it interesting that Simon’s character was not of her class. Why did you decide to put that in there?

SA: Well, the truth is that Simon’s character, Brian, isof Kenya’s class. He’s an educated ad man turned entrepreneur and because he’s a little bit more hippie and a little bit earthy, but class-wise I think they are in the same league. What was interesting was to show how two very different people can find common ground and fall in love..

What did you know about Sanaa Lathan that you didn’t know before?

SA: I have never worked with Sanaa before, so for me, it was such a pleasure to see professionalism. To come every day, and when you’re in just about in every scene, it was a pleasure and to have her respect us as filmmakers, it was a very easy set. It was the easiest film that I produced.

Being a producer in Hollywood, how tough is it to get a black actress a stronger role in films. Sanaa is one of the few black actresses who gets leading roles.

SA: I think we need strong scripts to start with. That really starts on the page.

As a producer on “Hustle and Flow”, congratulations on the Oscar nominations for Terrence Howard for Best Actor and also for Best Song, “It’s Hard Out Here For a Pimp”. How do you feel?

SA: We were on the phone this morning, crying; Terrence, Craig, John and I. It’s so satisfying. It really is. Just having the journey of trying to get the movie made for so long and all the sacrifices we went through to get there and to have that little movie just keep on going, it’s amazing.

What’s next for you?

SA: I just finished producing “Black Snake Moan”, which is Craig Brewer’s follow-up to “Hustle and Flow”. It stars Sam Jackson, Christina Ricci, and Justin Timberlake. That will be out later this year.

Had you seen any of Justin’s acting experience?

SA: No. Craig had seen some scenes of his other work before we cast him and he thought he was terrific.

What’s the plot of “Black Snake Moan”?

SA: The film is about an old bluesman taking in a young white woman and chains her to his radiator in order to cure her of her sexual addiction.

What do you want the audience to get out of “Something New”?

SA: I want them to walk out with a open heart. That’s really what this film’s about. It’s a metaphor for taking off blinders and throwing out the list of IBM (Ideal Black Man) and opening up to possibilities that are endless; and not just in love but in life.



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