What we learned from Jordan Peele, Lupita Nyong’o and Winston Duke about their new film Us

Last week at SXSW, Director Jordan Peele was joined by actress Lupita Nyong’o and Winston Duke to talk about Peele’s anticipated follow-up to Get Out – Us – for a special session with Buzzfeed News. Ahead of the film’s Australian release next week, we attended the panel and here’s some of what we learned from the talk.

Jordan Peele talked about the premiere at SXSW the night before as being “one of the best nights of my life”, and how the final step of the filmmaking process, after devoting a year to it, was experiencing it with an audience.

In terms of how the audience reacted to the film, Winston Duke was surprised by a “couple of moments”, saying “my thighs are a thing apparently.” “I was literally hearing people go “woooooo” (to my thighs)… (and I was thinking) just look at my face, just look at my face!”

Like Peele, he called the audience “the final character of any performance…. they tell me how things are playing. They let me know how much they’re picking up. I didn’t notice many things in the film until I saw it with a crowd, it was electric. Jordan has a great talent to time “nuance”. SXSW couldn’t be a better audience.”

Peele talked too on the “family of doppelgängers” that sit at the heart of the tension in the film, saying, “they’re not just there for the scare, they’re individual characters who have depth.”

Lupita Nyong’o furthered on this, saying, “the characters we play are distinct, seperate but they’re linked. I’ve never really done that. You’re an advocate for own perspective and the next day you had to dial into another. Jordan said to me when I started, you’re going. To be really tired And he delivered on that. I was exhausted. And the benefit of that is that you get out of your own way. Sometimes I would sleep between takes when I was playing red. what my body needed most to keep the creative juices flowing was rest.”

Winston wasn’t quite the same, however. He didn’t escape his character, saying, “I’d still be Gabe at lunch. She was sleeping. I was not.”

Peele continued on the same note, “It was remarkable watching these actors play off against themselves…. We all have our shadow selves inside us… what is the shadow self of our family, our town, our county… the tethered version of myself is the one making these fucked up movies right now.”

He said that great horror movies are based around a personal truth and referenced that “we are in a dope time for horror”. He also let the crowd in on one of the inspirations for the way he approached the doppelgängers.

“One of the ways we developed them was about the physicality… I’m terrified by roaches and waterbugs… they’re still and then you take a step back and they scatter… so that scene (you see in the trailer) was based on a real experience with roaches.”

So just what made Lupita want to be a part of this project? Her answer was simple: “Jordan Peele”.

Get Out came out while I was filming Black Panther. But I managed to find time to see it in the cinemas five times. I loved it. He created a cinematic experience we could grab and take with us. It became such a joy to live in his mind.”

Peele also spoke about the film’s composer Michael Abels, saying, “he really creates this brand new horror landscape with his sound. I love the technique of the needle drop. It’s one of my favourite things about horror movies.” There was also a great soundtrack featured, to which Peele thanked the success of Get Out, “we had more budget and cred and so I was able to get some really amazing songs for the film. I’m always thinking: What can do to make this scene a little more iconic?”

Unsurprisingly, race came up in the conversation, and Peele responded to the question of how he considered race in his films, saying, “It’s an important thing in every aspect of my filmmaking. For so long, these business ideas that black people can’t open movies overseas… myths brought on by a systemic racism. It’s a self-perpetuating prophecy. There have to be the opportunities. Opportunities to succeed as well as fail, like white people get.”

“But it doesn’t have to be about race… this film is just about a black family. But it’s a worthy investment to see stories and perspectives we’ve been deprived of for a long time.”

And what has he learned from comedy that he’s put into his horror films?

“The biggest crime I can do as an artist, is put forth something that doesn’t work. I’m a comedy guy, my perigee is the desire to provoke. If I’m not doing something that might piss people off I’m doing it wrong. The biggest mistake I can make as a performer is creating something that is about being a bully somehow… something that isn’t about lifting up the underdog. (If I’ve ever done that in the past), that’s always taught me a lesson.”

Us hits Australian cinemas on 28th March 2019 through Universal Pictures.

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Larry Heath

Founding Editor of the AU review. You can find him on Twitter @larry_heath or on Instagram @larryheath.