It was a delight to talk with”Peeples” writer-director Tina Gordon Chism, who instantly made me feel like an old friend. She wrote a movie I love, Drumline, (featured in my new book). And now she is a first-time director with a movie produced by Tyler Perry, starring Craig Robinson as Wade Walker, who meets the family of his girlfriend Grace (Kerry Washington), including her terrifying father, a judge (David Alan Grier). Gordon Chism is as beautiful and charismatic as any actor in her all-star film.
I was so happy to see Diahann Carroll in this film!
To write a cheeky comedic grandmother and give it to Diahann Carroll — she’s so specific about the roles she takes and we’re having fun with her in this way — I’ve never seen her do anything like this before. My casting director ran down the hall yelling, “SHE SAID YES!!!” I owe her quite a lot because the first day of shooting was her day, with Melvin Van Peebles (who plays her husband), and I’m just thinking, “Oh, God.” It was tough to face that on my first day. And it was set outside but it was snowing, so I had to move everyone indoors. Then it stopped snowing, so I could move half of the scene outside. My head was spinning out of control. I was just out of my body with first-day jitters. And Diahann Carroll made a speech, saying she was very excited to play with this new group of actors and she was very excited to play this grandmother who was a little risque and funny. That settled me. It brought me down for a moment so I was able to do my job and think. She blessed the Peeples movie and all of us were just in awe and grateful and kept the vibe going from there.
I heard there was a special culinary benefit from having Tyler Perry as a producer!
In Tyler Perry’s studio, there is a woman who makes exquisite honey-baked biscuits.
Your movie is about a situation we all suffer through — the daunting introduction to the family of our significant other.
I was dating a guy who seemed so perfect and his family seemed so gorgeous and perfect — the “chocolate Kennedys,” like the way Wade describes the Peeples in the movie. Then when I met them, I was like, “Do you ever talk about the fact that your father is this and your mother is that?” No. My family is like Wade’s, more accepting and grateful and open, encouraging everyone to be honest with each other and with themselves.
You assembled a very impressive cast.
More than anything, I wanted everyone in the cast to be very intelligent and witty. I was looking for something real and alive behind their eyes, where I know someone’s home. With Kerry Washington, I admired her social activism and came from a high achieving family like the one in the movie. After she came on, I worked around her to find the mix. Craig Robinson is a classically trained musician and just so lovable as a man. And for the younger brother, I could have picked a rapper with a huge fan base but Tyler James Williams brought an openness and lack of self-consciousness. And Kali Hawk as the sister — she would not give up. After we did not initially pick her, she did another audition tape and showed she could improve.
There are two key songs in the movie — Wade sings a silly potty training song to kids and later does what was supposed to be a 70′s disco hit called “Turn You On” that sounds like the B-Side of a forgotten Donna Summer record.
Stephen Bray is an amazing musician, and he understood we needed comedic tones but genuinely catchy tunes.
It is still very rare for a woman to be a director. Was it a big challenge for you?
I really think females are more suited for directing, and it baffles me that you still have to push the boys club to see that. We want the same things they do, but we are natural multi-taskers!