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Why Jordan Peele Doesn’t Want to Direct a Big-Budget Tentpole

Peele, Universal Pictures chairman Donna Langley and maverick producer Jason Blum — the team behind 'Get Out' — gathered together for THR 100.

“Where was that place? We’ll never go back there again. It was a bit loud,” Universal Pictures chairwoman Donna Langley says to Get Out filmmaker Jordan Peele and producer Jason Blum, the architect of the micro-budget genre film, on a recent Friday afternoon in her serene office on the studio’s lot.

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She’s referring to an intimate dinner in mid-March at Kettle Black, a trendy Italian eatery in Silver Lake. They were celebrating Get Out crossing $100 million in only three weeks, a stunning accomplishment for a $5 million horror-thriller from a first-time feature director. (Peele, the famous other half of Comedy Central’s Key & Peele, drove to the restaurant in a new Volvo XC90, a celebratory gift from Blumhouse Productions). The movie has gone on to gross more than $250 million at the worldwide box office.

There’s an easy dynamic among these three colleagues, who occupy very different wires on Hollywood’s power grid but who have intersected thanks to Get Out, about a young black man caught up in a sinister plot when visiting the wealthy parents of his white girlfriend.

In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter for THR 100, the trio talked about how Get Out came about and why Peele wants to take things slowly before tackling a big-budget tentpole.

Jordan, you began working on the script for Get Out in 2008. How many people passed on making the film?

Peele: Many. [Laughter]
Blum: I have all the rejection letter and emails. I’ve been collecting them quietly. Jordan doesn’t know that.
Peele: I have to frame them.
Blum: There were a lot of younger executives who advocated for the project, but their bosses told them they were idiots.

How did it finally get off the ground?

Blum: I read the script and met with Jordan and said, “let’s make this movie.” Then I sent it to Donna. She and I have made 25 movies or so together, and have a very easy relationship. Happily, she loved it and we were off the races.
Langley: I don’t read all of Jason’s scripts right away because they are usually horror films and I have to be somewhere in a brightly lit room with other people. But with this one, he called each of us individually and said you have to stop what you’re doing and read this.


Why did Get Out strike such a chord?

Peele: The reason I made the film was because I felt the way we talk about race is broken.
Langley: I think one of the most powerful things about the movie is it highlights the trap of inertia when everything is seemingly hunky dory on the surface. You don’t have to dig that far to find that it’s a hornet’s nest. That was a powerful awakening, and it happened at the same time that everything was happening in the country politically.

Jordan, do you ever see yourself taking the lead on a big tentpole? You recently turned down directing Akira for Warner Bros.

Peele: The most important thing for me is maintaining as much of the virtues of the process of Get Out as possible. My goal and plan is to rise in budget slowly. It doesn’t make any sense for me to jump to an enormous budget when it changes the process entirely. I pinch myself and realize how lucky I am to be able to have created something. And if i can do that again, isn’t that the best?

How often to do you hear a filmmaker say that, Donna?

Langley: Rarely. It’s very unique to Jordan. He is so purposeful, and his intention is so clear.
Peele: At that budget, I could actually make Get Out  how I wanted to make it and not have people looking over my shoulder trying to make sure I got every piece of it right.

Jordan, your next movie, due out in in 2019, is an untitled social thriller that will cost Universal and Blumhouse roughly $25 million to make. Any hints as to what it will be about?

Peele: I’ll tell you this, it’s going to be a very different movie than Get Out. Don’t expect a sequel.

A question for all three of you — what was your first job?

Blum: I sold cable TV door-to-door after college in Chicago. I’d knock on doors and ask, “do you know what cable TV is? We have something called ESPN.” It was the early days of cable, maybe 1991.
Peele: By the way, if Jason Blum was selling you cable back then, you’re buying it.
Langley: Working in a very swanky private health club in London. I became the duty manager.
Peele: Mine was at a toy store in New York City called The Enchanted Forest.
Blum: Is it still there?
Peele: No. They sold very crafty, artisan toys. It was very cool.
Langley: That sounds amazing. I’m going to work for that outfit.

What does power mean to you?

Langley: Real power is having the ability and the resources to tell an amazing story or to say yes to a filmmaker and change not only the filmmaker’s life but the world.
Blum: Power opens doors. You get things done that you want to get done more quickly. And hopefully, to Donna’s point, you want to get things done that are good for the world.
Peele: I’m still getting used to it. What I’ve found is that there is a greater ability to collaborate.


A version of this story first appeared in the June 21 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.