If there’s one thing director/writer Craig Brewer doesn’t have on his list of “things to do” it’s conforming to the industry. He proved this with his 2005 film “Hustle & Flow,” the story of DJay, a Memphis pimp turned rapper, which earned actor Terrance Howard the first Academy Award nomination of his career.
Brewer strays from the norm again this year with his new film “Black Snake Moan.” Set in his hometown of Memphis, Brewer, 35, creates a unique tale never before seen on the silver screen. The film stars Samuel L. Jackson as a religious blues musician who holds a sexually promiscuous girl (Christina Ricci) hostage until he can figure out a way to rid her of her sins.
From his home in Memphis, Tenn. Brewer talked to me about filming in his hometown, writing scripts with characters people can care about and searching for the best actors to play the two lead roles.
You set “Hustle & Flow” and now “Black Snake Moan” in your hometown of Memphis. What makes Memphis such an interesting setting for a film?
I’m mostly inspired by the music. I’m inspired by the history behind the music and the mavericks that made it.
Is there a tone to the city that helps capture the music?
Yeah, there’s a swagger. Also, we are a lot more integrated than I think people give the South credit for. We’re not really afraid to celebrate each other’s differences. [Blues legend] Howlin’ Wolf could not have sounded as good if it wasn’t for that white man putting that microphone in front of him and putting the right amount of corn whiskey in him. In the South we have extreme stories and extreme characters and I want to get back to some of those crazy times of Tennessee Williams.
I know you had a hard time making “Hustle & Flow” because of financial issues. Did you find it easier this time around for people to believe in your project since you received overall critical acclaim for your last film?
Well, once Sam Jackson read it and attached himself, it became a little easier. You know, as much as people call “Hustle & Flow” a success, everybody in town passed on it because they were unsure if they really wanted to do a movie about rap much less about a pimp rapping. I feel like because they saw “Hustle” now and they saw that I have a particular type of execution they knew that I could handle this subject and that it could be entertaining and inspiring.
“Black Snake Moan” has been finished for quite some time now but you decide to hold onto it until this year. Can you tell me why?
Yeah, I’m really thankful that we did. September (2006) wasn’t the greatest time to go see a movie. Movies came out and tanked. Even more so, “Snakes on a Plane” had really sucked a lot of interest out of the air. It just dwarfed everything that Sam (Jackson) was going to be a part of.
Samuel L. Jackson and Christina Ricci are amazing in the film. Were these parts written specifically for them?
I don’t really write movies with people in mind too much. But once Sam got the script and we met I knew he was the guy. And also, a man that has made 60 movies is gonna let you know if he can play a role right or not. With Ricci it was a little more complicated because we insisted that we see everyone read for the role. I had not really thought about Christina at first, but when she came in she was my first audition and she was so amazing and so compelling that after five days of auditions I cancelled the rest of them.
Did you feel more pressure making a film this time around? Was there a fear that people would think “Hustle & Flow” was just beginner’s luck?
There’s always that fear. I think you go into your first film and you’re just happy that it’s in focus. And then in the second film you start thinking, “Well, maybe I can actually have a body of work.” So, you need growth. You need to be able to turn left when maybe everyone else is turning right.