An Interview with Craig Brewer, director of “Black Snake Moan”
BY KEVIN CARR
Craig Brewer is the director of the Oscar-nominated “Hustle & Flow” and the new drama “Black Snake Moan.” Brewer talks about his inspiration for the characters in the film, their connection to southern culture and why he sees himself as the frightened girl on the end of the chain.
Excepts from the interview follow. Hear the entire interview here…
7M: WAS THE CHARACTER OF RAE BASED ON A REAL PERSON, AND CAN I HAVE HER PHONE NUMBER?
Unfortunately, she is based on a real person, and you’re talking to him. To be honest with you, I’m putting southern archetypes and cliches into movies. I’m putting all of my southern obsessions into one stew and mixing it all up. Even though it’s got this girl that’s out of control sexually, it’s really about anxiety. It’s really about fear.
When I had just written “Hustle and Flow,” and I was trying to get it made, my friends were like, hey you’re big time, and I couldn’t pay my rent. And I was on a plane, and I had this crippling anxiety attack, and I’d never had one before. You think you’re having a heart attack.
Don’t think I’m Sam Jackson in the movie. I’m that sexy girl on the end of that chain going crazy. I just don’t look as good as her.
7M: WHY DID YOU TAKE THE FILM IN SUCH A SEXUAL DIRECTION?
What I was going after in terms of the southern iconography is that classic horny farmer’s daughter, that girl that’s going to attack you. It’s very much a part of southern literature from Faulkner to Flannery O’Conner to even Harper Lee. That’s a device. I’m not wanting this movie to be taken as a realistic portrait by any means. I want to assure the country that in the south we do not chain up our women and have them run around half naked, as much as some would want. This is more of a metaphoric movie.
7M: HOW DID YOU PITCH THIS TO CHRISTINA RICCI AND SAMUEL L. JACKSON?
Both Sam and Christina were fighting for these roles. Sam was calling every day. He’s such a craftsman and such an amazing man. I’ve learned so much from him.
The same with Ricci. I was looking for that classic drive-in, Daisy Duke-wearing, silhouette of a mudflap girl, and I really didn’t see Christina in that role. She wrote me a letter and said I really want to audition for you. And how do you say no to that? I’m a huge Christina Ricci fan, but I told her agent that I’m seeing a different type of look in my head.
So Christina came in, and she was wearing short jeans shorts and a teeny shirt, but she also played the role differently than all the other girls who had come in to audition and read for it. She wasn’t trying to be sexual. She was damaged. She was playing her character almost as an immature 13-year-old yelling at her mom and then suddenly she’d just be vengeful. Then she’d be out of control and shaking, then she’d be crying like a little girl. And that’s when I realized that was the only person who could play her.
7M: THIS IS A VERY EROTIC MOVIE.
The movie’s almost divided in three parts for her. She is having sex, but there’s not really any eroticism to it. But in the middle of the movie, there’s no sex, but there’s all this tension between her and Sam Jackson, and you’re just waiting any minute for something to go wrong. And the last third is more of the healing process and her journey to having some bit of control over herself.
7M: DID YOU EVER THINK YOU’D FEATURE JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE AND SAMUEL L. JACKSON TOGETHER IN A MOVIE?
I really believed that he was going to not only be a great actor, but he’s have an understanding of what I wanted this character to be. Justin is also from Memphis, Tennessee, and we in our family and in our friends and in our city, we are aware of men who are pushed into ultra-masculine, violent roles when they’re not really equipped to be like that, and what kind of toll it takes on their mind and their gut.
7M: DID YOU HAVE ANY PROBLEMS WITH THE RATING AND THE NAME?
The one thing I was worried about is that I never wanted the name to change because I knew that some people would read it and think it was sexual, which it isn’t. It’s a song by Blind Lemon Jefferson, who is blind, and he kept on hearing things in his room. And he was afraid they were going to sneak up on him – bugs or scorpions or snakes. And when I was having these anxiety attacks, my wife and I named that first initial pang of anxiety as “black snake moan.”
The rating, you’re the first person to ask about that. Man, we submitted it, and it came back as R. First time. I haven’t cut a damn thing out of this movie.