On Sunday, on the Red Carpet at the Austin Film Festival, I interviewed director Thomas Oliver and actor Hill Harper about their new film 1982. The film is about a father (Hill Harper) dealing with a wife (Sharon Leal) who is going down the dark path of drug addiction while trying to raise their young daughter (Troi Zee). The film also stars Wayne Brady, La La Anthony, Quinton Aaron, Bokeem Woodbine and Ruby Dee.
Hi Thomas, tell us about the inspiration for this film.
Thomas Oliver: The film was inspired by my own life growing up with a crack addicted mother. We shot the film in my old neighborhood on the street and in the actual house that I grew up in. I moved my Grandmother out of her house of the past 45 years to make the film. The characters in the film are inspired by the people that I knew, the emotions of the film are what I dealt with as a kid. Most of the places in the film are areas that I used to play in. The film is an honest portrayal of what a kid goes through in that sort of environment.
What do you want audiences to take away from this film?
Oliver: I have yet to figure that out. Part of the reason behind that is that I want to trust the audience and assume that they are smart. As such, it is going to be different things that people take away from the film. It’s what you bring to the movies is what you will ultimately take away from it. Maybe it’s hope, maybe it’s love, maybe it’s the celebration of fatherhood, it just can be a lot of different things.
I know you have done some short films but this is your first feature film. Tell us about that experience.
Oliver: I had no idea how to direct a film before we started. The two shorts I did were shot in one day and the music video was shot in two days. So, I hadn’t really had the experience of directing a feature. I had produced, shot and edited films which prepared me somewhat for the job. I am a complete research junkie and I take the idea of preparing very seriously, so I read, I researched, I broke the film down and I researched some more, because I didn’t want to screw up.
What was your cast like?
Oliver: I love my cast! The first person to become attached to the film was Ruby Dee, which was amazing. When you start off with an Oscar nominated legend, you can’t do better than that. I was almost surreal for me to get her in the film. Hill came on next and then we put together an amazing group of people that wanted to be part of the film. It got better and better as we starting casting with Sharon Leal, Wayne Brady, Bokeem Woodine, and Quinton Aaron. Just an amazing group of actors.
Thank you so much.
Hi, Hill. So tell us about you character in the film.
Hill Harper: I play Tim Brown, who is the lead character. The film takes place in 1982 and he’s a father, a husband, a hard working salt of the earth kind of guy who is hit with a huge set of challenges over the course of the film. You witness his journey as he attempts to hold his family together. It’s inspired by true events that happened to our director / producer, Tommy Oliver. It’s the project I am most proud of doing in my career. I am excited that people are going to get to see it.
Talk about the reaction of the audiences that have seen this film.
Hunter: It’s been remarkable. The world premiere was at the Toronto International Film Festival, which is a very prestigious film festival. The night of the premiere, when the film ended, we had three standing ovations, which I have never seen in a screening before. That was an emotional experience that I will never forget. The film touches people in a very emotional way. It gets people to think about their own upbringing and their relationships with their parents. It’s also nostalgic for people who were around in 1982. It’s a very special film.
Tell us about the cast you worked with in the film.
Hunter: It’s an incredible cast. Ruby Dee, who is a film and TV legend is in the cast. Working with her was like coming full circle. She plays my mother in the film. My first major role in a film was Spike Lee’s “Get on the Bus.” In that film, Spike had us all sit next to the characters on the bus that we were going to interact with, even if you had very few scenes that day. So my character sat next to Ozzie Davis, Ruby Dee’s husband in real life. For days on end I sat next to Ozzie Davis, and he would tell me stories about the Negro Ensemble Company, working people like Godfrey Cambridge. He told me about his involvement with the civil rights movement and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. All of this amazing history that he had lived through. And to work with his partner, Ruby, many years later was just a gift. I was able to share with her the stories that he had told me and tell her how much of an impact Ozzie had on me and my career. I told her he was the type of actor and man that I wanted to emulate.
Thanks you and good luck with the film.
Tim Brown (Hill Harper) is a self-employed man who has a loving wife, Shenae (Sharon Leal) and a young, book-smart daughter named, Maya (Troi Zee). The close, loving family is soon torn apart when a man from Shenae’s past enters the picture, a drug lord named Alonzo (Wayne Brady). Maya starts down a path to a crack addiction. Tim must somehow struggle with the love of his wife versus the needs and safety of his daughter. This earnest film gives the audience the experiences of a family who is quickly torn apart. Harper is perfect as a man who has to make hard choices, some of which take more strength than he thinks he has. Troi Zee is perfect in the role of Maya, the smarter than her years little girl who knows that things aren’t right with her parents but doesn’t really know why. The film takes us on a very personal journey that is too often repeated, but we are left with the hope that love and family can overcome even the most daunting challenge. My Rating: Bargain Matinee