After his breakout film, Hustle & Flow, snagged the coveted Audience Award at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival, writer/director Craig Brewer probably saw more doors swing open for him than most filmmakers will see in a lifetime, but walking through them hasn't meant leaving his beloved state of Tennessee behind. Like Hustle & Flow, the director's follow-up project, Black Snake Moan, is a Tennessee tale about poverty, neglect and a longing for connection that goes beyond geography, age, or race. The film stars Samuel L. Jackson as Lazarus, a poor, aging man who has no solid relationships in his life but does have some life experience and blues-based wisdom to impart, to anyone who will listen. When fate dumps Rae (Christina Ricci), the town hussy, outside of his run-down home on the outskirts of town one night, Lazarus takes it as a sign that he's been tapped on the shoulder to make a difference in someone else's life, and he decides to do just that -- one way or the other.
Cinematical recently spoke with Brewer, in Manhattan to promote the film. We talked about casting and guiding the actors through these difficult roles, about the racial divide that the characters must bridge in order to find common ground with each other, and about avoiding the pressures of a sophomore project that so many are anticipating. There are a few big spoilers lurking somewhere in this interview, so if you'd prefer to go into the film tabula rasa, you've been warned.
How did you direct Ricci through the scenes where she's sort of having a fit, going through 'heat,' writhing around on the ground and oblivious to the world?
CB: The interesting thing about the way Ricci works -- and this is a challenge, but it was a challenge that I ultimately benefited from -- is that we did some rehearsal, but she didn't really want to go full-tilt because she really gives you one-hundred percent of herself between action and cut. She doesn't like any of that to leak away. She gets into a zone that is....honest. She's not 'faking' tears. She gets in pain and she cries. So I said to her, I go 'listen, I don't know what this 'fit' is going to be, but I know it needs to be something. So we talked about my anxiety attacks that I've experienced, and we basically decided that we would break it down into three Def-Cons. There was a Def-Con 1, Def-Con 2 and Def-Con 3.
The first one I knew would be just kind of like a tick that she came up with, which is just kind of like, rubbing her leg with her palm, like the top of her thigh, hard, as if she's really nervous about something. After that, she would just show me. So I said 'let's not even do a rehearsal, let's just roll' and we rolled it and I was like 'let's stay in the zone and let's do it again,' and we would do another set-up. Really, I was just as surprised as the audience to see what she was doing. Boy, was it incredible. It wasn't just sighing and moaning in sexual ecstasy, she really looked like she was in the grip of something that had her, and that she was even experiencing some pain and anguish with it.