How did you all get comfortable enough with each other to rap, especially if you’d had no experience?
GEREMY: It was a nice weave between these two, because Sid had some music background and never acted before. Danielle has an acting background, but no music, so they kind of would take care of each other.
CATHY: Maybe because of time constraints and money, you guys got comfortable quick and just went for it.
GEREMY: I called him, and I said, “Sid, I really need you to step up, because I’m putting my neck on the line for you.” And you just said, “I’m gonna kill it.” And I was just like, wow! I would never say that in a million years!
DANIELLE: But that’s why he’s Jheri!
MAMOUDOU: The thing I loved about Sid was that—well, I was also kind of jealous, because I’m kind of camera shy. I know that’s really weird, to be an actor and be camera shy, but I get over it eventually. But Sid was just so comfortable for his first time on camera. I was like, what the fuck? That’s not fair! [Laughs]
DANIELLE: Any time I felt insecure, I’d be like, “OK, you know what? If he can freaking do that, I’m just going to let go and not be in my head,” and he helped me so much just by being there. I couldn’t have done it without him by my side.
SIDDHARTH DHANANJAY: Everybody wants Jheri as a best friend. He has this DJ Khaled level of confidence, like a “fake it till you make it” attitude. He believes in Patti more than she believes in herself. And I think that’s beautiful. I feel like I’m channeling the audience in what they want for Patti.
And Sid, your background was in music?
SIDDHARTH: Kind of. I mean, I was just graduating from college—Grinnell in Iowa. I was going to school for philosophy and economics, and me and two of my friends made these spoof rap videos just for fun, on World Star, YouTube. Geremy randomly watched one one day and sent me an email. I was about to go into a final or something and I was like, “What is going on!” So I sent him a tape, and I was like, we’ll see.
DANIELLE: Geremy, how was his tape?
GEREMY: It was not good. It was bad. [Laughter] But! In the beginning of the tape, he said, “I guess I’m just another rapper-turned-actor!” And that’s how he got the job! That line! It tickled me to no end! If I had brought in an actor, I would have just shown him Sid’s videos and said like, “Can you be this guy?” Instead of working with people who’re like, “I’ve done this so many times before,” there was a freshness to it. We were all reaching!
Geremy, can you talk about the decision to make the internet not exist in the world of the movie?
GEREMY: Once you start opening up modern technology, I felt like it was going to really date the film, in a bad way. There was more grittiness and texture to the film with flip phones and CD-Rs than if you’re like, “Oh, we just made this mp3 and uploaded it and someone has earbuds.” Also, I’m really into collage, and I was looking at Pulp Fiction or Mean Streets, and you don’t really know when those take place. Someone asked [Martin] Scorsese when Mean Streets was supposed to take place, and I think he shot it in 1973? And he says it takes place in 1961. I liked that, playing with time and the combination of different aesthetics.
Other than the accent, was there anything about growing up in Jersey that you had to share with these three?
GEREMY: We went on a little expedition. We went to Clifton, climbed down this water tower. We went bowling, we hung out at the diner. People were really warm. I had them go into Times Square and Jheri bought Patti some Timberlands. That’s when I knew the film was going to work. I remember you, Sid, being like, “How do they feel?” It was so tender.
DANIELLE: They were my ruby slippers. I wear flip-flops every day of my life, because I’m really boring. And then they made me feel kind of cool—which I don’t ever feel.
For all of you, what character or movie made you want to be an artist?
SIDDHARTH: Maximus Decimus. Russell Crowe, Gladiator, is my number one. Every time the end comes, and he’s walking through wheat field, I cry. That and Lion King.
DANIELLE: I watched everything growing up. We have a DVD store on the way home to my house, and I used to make my dad stop every single time.
MAMOUDOU: I did this play called The Visit my final year of grad school. It’s about this destitute, fictional town in the early 20th century. I was like, oh, this is how I can sustain myself as an actor, doing work like this that has some kind of impact.
CATHY: I knew that this was really all I could do because I have a very big personality. I had applied for a grant to go to acting school in 1976. They were like, “No, we don’t consider acting a profession. Just be a nurse.” I was like, don’t you fucking get it? I want to play a nurse, I don’t want to be a nurse.
I had three movies that influenced me so much. Born Yesterday, and two miniseries: Roots and Rich Man, Poor Man. That was it for me, man. I was out the door at 17 with $125 in my pocket and one suitcase on my way to California.
GEREMY: I came to filmmaking late. I grew up on B-movies and bad late night cable films, and they felt very generic. And then I saw 8 ½ when I was 25, and I was like, oh, you can do this in a film? You can like go into a dream world and just completely break open what is the normal format of storytelling? It had all these incredible camera moves and grotesque characters and beautiful women. It was like falling in love or something. I watched that film almost every night of the week. I feel like that was my film school. And I always go back to it and find new things. It’s so sprawling that I always feel like I’m watching it for the first time. I just get lost in it. Then I was like, “OK, I have no idea how he did this, how you do it, but I want that sensation that this film is giving me.” ♦