Spike Lee Believes SHE HATE ME...
August 3rd, 2004
INTEVIEW BY DANIEL ROBERT EPSTEINOscar nominated screenwriter Spike Lee is of course best known as the director of such films as Do the Right Thing, Malcolm X, 25th Hour and many more. His latest film is She Hate Me.
It's the story of a young black biotech executive [Anthony Mackie] who is fired from his job for exposing corrupt business practices and at the suggestion of his ex-fiancÚ turned lesbian, Fatima [Kerry Washington], he begins impregnating wealthy lesbians for profit.
Screenwriter's Monthly and SU present this interview:
Daniel Robert Epstein: She Hate Me has many different storylines. What was the process for putting together the script?
Spike Lee: I co-wrote the script with Michael Genet, a fine playwright who acted in 25th Hour and She Hate Me. I came up with the idea and he wrote the first draft then I wrote four or five drafts after that. We wanted to have two spines and both spines would deal with ethics, morals, scruples and values. The broader outlook would be corporate scandals, which at the time were in the headlines of the papers with Enron, Tyco, Bernie Ebbers at WorldComm, the Waksal brothers at ImClone. The more personably look at ethics was through the character of John Henry Armstrong with the moral dilemma he's going through. He blows the whistle so he has an idea of what's right and wrong. But when you become a whistleblower and go up against big business they fight back. Jim Brown who plays his father says "You fucking with the money. You better get some legal representation with the quickness."
I think it shows that when human beings are forced to go into survival mode the same ethics and moral scruples he used to blow the whistle go out the window because he has to make some money. If he hadn't gotten fired and if all his assets hadn't been frozen he would have never done what Fatima suggested.
DRE: This movie is one of many that have come along this year to talk about corporations along with Fahrenheit 9/11 and the documentary The Corporation. Have you wanted to examine corporate culture for a while?
SL: No, it's just something that is in the atmosphere right now. I think people are really sick of the greed. We can all laugh about it now but those people that worked for Enron were told by Ken Lay not to sell their stock while it was going down and at the same time he was dumping all of his stock. In fact the scene where Woody Harrelson [playing the CEO of the company] assembled all of his workers is verbatim what happened with Ken Lay. We just changed the names. One person at that meeting did ask Ken Lay if he was on crack [laughs].
DRE: When do you decide whether a project needs to be shot on film or video?
SL: Not that there is anything wrong with video because we shot Bamboozled on video but we knew we were going to shoot this on film.
DRE: The fact that Jim Brown made that statement was it a throwback to what happened with his life?
SL: No, the reason we cast Jim Brown is because he's a fine actor but also I thought it would be interesting to take this man who for so long was a symbol of male sexuality and being macho, and have him playing someone in decline. He's broken down with age, his marriage, diabetes and then ends up in a wheelchair. It even messed the crew up to see Jim Brown in a wheelchair [laughs]. Jim told me "Spike I love you but it was hard for me to get into that wheelchair."
DRE: What made you cast Anthony Mackie in the lead role?
SL: I had worked with Anthony right before She Hate Me in a TV movie called Sucker-Free City, which he is the lead in. I gave him that role from an audition. He has a lot of range because in Sucker-Free City he plays gangbanger and in this one he plays a totally different brother who is this Harvard MBA executive. He is definitely one of the new actors that people should be looking out for.
DRE: How did you go about casting Kerry Washington and Dania Ramirez?
SL: I had seen Kerry Washington in a lot of films. When I see people I like, I make a mental note that when the right role comes around to cast them. Dania is a new actress. We knew the character of Alex was going to be Latina and most of the Latinas in New York City are Puerto Rican or Dominican so it was just a matter of finding the right Puerto Rican or Dominican actress.
DRE: You've discovered so many actors over the years like Rosie Perez and Halle Berry. Do you consider finding them to be a talent as well?
SL: It's just that my films over the years have provided a platform for people to do their thing. There is an abundance of talent out there but there aren't enough vehicles for people to show what they can do. Anytime we have a role in any of our films we want to give people a shot.
DRE: This film seems like it was commenting on how a lot of black men father children haphazardly.
SL: I have to be honest, relationships between African-American women and African-American men is not really the forefront of this even though that element is there. I think this situation is abnormal. What we did do in this film is play with the stereotypes. We have the stereotypes of black men fathering kids and the myth of the black man as stud.
DRE: You are in your mid-40's but yet you wrote a movie about a man in his 20's.
SL: Sperm count. An old man won't do this. An old man is probably going to be married and won't be open to the type of proposition Fatima brings to him.
DRE: Was the idea of being with many different women a fantasy for you?
SL: Not a fantasy at all.
DRE: The birthing scene got a real gasp from the audience in the screening.
SL: We also had a birth scene in Mo' Better Blues [released in 1990]. These were real births. It's interesting with audiences because they can deal better with bullets to the head than a child being born. That's a commentary.
DRE: How did you get the mothers to agree to that?
SL: We shot that at Brooklyn hospital, we knew when we were going to shoot this so the hospital told us who would probably give birth on that day. So we went to the women and asked that if they do give birth on that day could we film it for a fee.
DRE: Your last film was adapted from a book. How do you know that a book will make a good movie?
SL: I think once you do this long enough it's just instinct about whether something is cinematic or not. Not everything that is written down whether it's a book, article or short story doesn't mean it will translate to cinema. I guess it's a sixth sense you acquire after doing this for a while.
DRE: Do you still hope to do the Jackie Robinson biopic?
SL: No and the reason why is that Robert Redford is directing it and is going to play Branch Whitney.
DRE: Is there any truth that School Daze might become a Broadway musical?
SL: They better contact me soon otherwise Johnnie Cochran will be employed once again.
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