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June 2008
An Interview with Director Malcolm D. Lee

An Interview with Director Malcolm D. Lee
By Wilson Morales

June 16, 2008
From ‘The Best Man’ to ‘Undercover Brother’ to ‘Roll Bounce’, Malcolm D. Lee certainly knows how to direct an ensemble of talent. His last film, ‘Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins’, which comes out on DVD on June 17th features an all-star of comedians and actors (Martin Lawrence, Nicole Ari Parker, Joy Bryant, Michael Clarke Duncan, Mike Epps, Mo'Nique, Cedric the Entertainer, James Earl Jones, Margaret Avery, Louis C.K.).

Leading an all-star comedy cast, Martin Lawrence is talk-show sensation RJ Stevens, who left behind his modest Southern upbringing and family name to transform into a self-help guru dispensing his “Team of Me” philosophy to millions of adoring fans. With a reality-TV-star fiancée and money to burn, there’s no piece of the Hollywood dream RJ hasn’t achieved. After his parents request that he come home for their 50th wedding anniversary, the TV host packs up his 10-year-old son and diva bride-to-be and heads back to Georgia. It’s a chance to prove to his family that he’s no longer the awkward kid they relentlessly picked on. At least, that’s the plan…But when his crazy, lovable family calls him on his big-city attitude and challenges him at every turn, RJ is forced to take a hard look at the man he’s become. He may be a superstar in L.A. , but he’s just one of the guys in Dry Springs as folks say Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins.

In speaking to blackfilm.com, Lee talks about working this cast of talented comedians, giving everyone their time to shine, and how this is a family film.

How did go about directing this many comedian?

Malcolm D. Lee: It was a lot of fun. We had a ball making this movie. When I was preparing them with the script I also had to encourage them to go off-book. I had in mind that I would lead to their strength and their voices. Comedians are adept to making people laugh and that’s what they do for a living. I wanted them to bring their brand of humor to the table and making a scene funnier than what was on the page.

How much of a challenge to write a comedy?

MDL: I think the most difficult thing in making a film is an interesting part and with this movie everyone had at least one moment where they got to shine or display their talent. The challenge is to write those characters. I was pretty deliberate in wanting MoNique, Cedric (the Entertainer) and Mike Epps in the movie once Martin became interested and writing to his strengths as well. The challenge is also not to have egos in the way, but we didn’t have any of that with this film. They all checked their egos at the door and wanted this movie to be good, and the only competition that was there was trying to make each other laugh. Comedians know that if they can make another comedian laugh, they know it’s funny. That all worked out great.

I can imagine that you spent some time in the editing room trying to keep some of ad-libs in the film.

MDL: It was a lot of picking and choosing. Fortunately, when they start to improve, it’s good for the film, but you can’t put it all in. A lot of times in comedies, you want the biggest laugh and move on. Don’t try to linger too much. It just makes the editing process a little longer, and you only want the best results. You want people to laugh.

When scene were you most proud of shooting?

MDL: I would have to say the obstacle course. When I first wrote it, it was supposed to be just a 100 yard dash, and then, as it developed, we decided to make it an obstacle, and it was a challenge to not only find the location and film it, and figure out how much we can do with the actors and stunt people. It was hellish. I picked a number of places to shoot it and it was hot. It rained for a couple of days, and we had mosquitoes, but ultimately, it was everything I wanted it to be and then some, and it’s a real crowd pleaser. I was very happy with the way that scene turned out.

What’s on the DVD that we should be looking out for that we didn’t see in theaters?

MDL: We have a number of deleted scenes that will make you laugh more. There’s some commentary I made for the film and the behind-the-scenes stuff is great with the cast. Those are pretty much the highlights.

What’s the difference between this film and your next film,’Soul Man’, with Samuel L. Jackson and Bernie Mac?

MDL: ‘Soul Man’ is another comedy. It’s a different type of comedy, with cross country traveling and musical performances.

I understand that Samuel L. Jackson will be playing an instrument. How did you get him to do that?

MDL: He plays the base guitar in the movie. I saw him do a little of that in ‘Black Snake Moan’ and that was something he was interested in doing.

I must commend you for adding more than one female role in the film. There aren’t that many roles for Black actresses in major Hollywood films, and you had 4 female parts in this film. Do you find that there is a lack of roles for Black actresses in films?

MDL: Yeah, I think so. The character Bianca is one of my favorite ones and I think Joy Bryant did a great job in playing her. I think it could have been a little bit more fleshed out, and Nicole (Ari Parker) did a great job with not much to work with. I thought it was one of the thinnest in the movie, but pivotal. She played the role very well. Yes, there is certainly a serious lack of female quality role out there, but female roles in general.

Why should anyone pick up ‘Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins’ on DVD?

MDL: It’s a fun movie that you can watch again and again. If you catch some jokes the first time around, you will this time. I also think it’s a story everyone can relate to; going back home and going back to people who you knew when, and seeing people who never left home. It’s a story about family and most can relate to that.

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