The following questions and answers are excerpted from a conversation that followed the NBR screening of One Night in Miami.
Can you describe the origins of the story as it is portrayed on the screen?
Regina King: I would say that none of us were there that night. With Kemp [Power’s] research, he discovered the night through reading a book — I think it was a book on Muhammed Ali — and he discovered that this night took place. And he began to do a deep dive with the intention of writing a book about this night. And so he did a lot of research, and collected a lot of information on each of the men individually, and their journeys that they had experienced that lead them to this particular night. And Jim Brown being the only person that is still alive… I don’t know how much Jim actually remembers about the night! So I believe, for Kemp, this was something of an imagining of what four iconic men, who all in this moment were having discussions about what their personal responsibilities were, to themselves, to the Black community, and to the progress of Black people as an artist… and what is their responsibility just as men. And this film is an imagining of what that conversation would look like, and how much this conversation might have mirrored the one that all Black men were having at that time, regardless of their economic background or their social status. These conversations are conversations that have been had ever since the beginning of Black Americans building America, and just hearing these conversations through the voices of iconic individuals. What are the similarities, or differences? In my opinion, Kemp humanized all four of these men in a way that we don’t get the opportunity or time to take in or remember. They’re men first, but they’re also fathers, they’re complex, they’re vulnerable, they’re strong… and as Kemp wrote, I think his words are for all Black men. So that’s the not-so-short version of what is “true” and what is “not necessarily true.” The night actually happened, but no one was there but them. But based on what we know about these men, we can imagine that some of these conversations may have taken place that night.
It felt like we could all contribute and create each moment together.
This is an incredible ensemble cast. How did Regina bring your performances together?
Leslie Odom Jr.: It’s the director’s job to get everyone into the same movie. To make sure everybody is in the same film. When you read a script, you inevitably visualize a particular thing. So we all show up to the shoot on Day 1, our planes land, and we have some version of the film in our heads… and the director’s job is to get us before (hopefully before!) cameras roll, to get the same movie in everybody’s head. And obviously a great deal of that is done in pre-production. Actors are some of the last people to come onto a project. Costumes are already done, the sets are already done, they’ve had all these conversations. So, you know, Regina was so exceptional at giving us our marching orders. We very quickly gelled as a little family, and we knew what the mission was.
Aldis Hodge: As far as feeling in the correct mood — because this is very much a period piece, we’re back in the ’60’s — there’s a different rhythm, a different kind of vibe to it — I remember early talks about character development, you know, when we’re really trying to form these men. And Regina was very specific about, you know, the costumes, the color tones… it was a collaborative effort, but all of it was pointing towards building out what the world of the film would be. And she really guided us in terms of keeping in the timeframe, which helped us sort of stay in the energy of pushing forward. When it came to things like… subtle things, like how we addressed each other. When we’re greeting each other, it’s not so much, “yo what’s poppin’ man,” it’s, “what’s happenin’ cat? What’s happenin’ daddy-o?” Little things that we got to have fun with, but we stayed in it. And everybody on the cast was so dialed into that, and so dialed into who we were playing, and so dialed into the time frame, that it just became sort of a normal thing. I was almost saying “daddy-o” in real life!
Eli Goree: One of the great things about having Regina as a director — as an all-time great actor and her working with us — is that she was in the deep-dive with us. Like when we did the table reads, and we did the stuff to prep for the next day’s shooting, she’s there at the table discovering with us, being curious with us, challenging us… you know, there were several back-and-forths where we’re trying to figure out character, and she speaks that language because she is who she is; she gets it. So that was one great benefit of working with someone who has acted at that level, and is also a director, is that she’s right in there with you, whereas normally, it’s just you and the other actors… and you’ve got to figure it out amongst each other. And then you’ve got to go to the director and see if you can explain what you just figured out to that director. On other ensemble projects I’ve worked on, that’s what it’s been like. But with this, she was in there in the trenches with you, figuring out how it’s going to work. What’s the best movements, what’s the best blocking, where are you when this is happening, and those types of technical actor things. It was a real benefit and a blessing to have someone of her caliber directing and right there with you in the rehearsal.
Kingsley Ben-Adir: There were so many great actors. You’d do your preparation, and then you’d find things each day to come in and be excited about, to share and play and show. And Regina would always have something equally as exciting and fresh and surprising to bring to the scene that I certainly never would have thought about. Like the prayer scene, and Regina’s idea for that… and how much excitement she’d get from those moments just like we would. So there was just a real collaborative feeling of excitement, really, for each scene, and getting to see what everyone else was going to bring that day. It felt like we could all contribute and create each moment together.