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Writer-producer-director Jordan Peele has committed to a new movie that he will make for Universal Pictures, which distributed his low-budget awards sleeper Get Out.
“I am currently writing it, and I’ll direct for Universal this year,” he said. “I’m just trying to entertain myself again.”
The three-time Oscar nominee revealed few details, except to say it would also be a genre movie, at least on the surface. “One thing I know is that this is genre; and playing around with the thriller, horror, action, fun genre of intrigue is my favorite. That’s my sweet spot. So I think tonally it should resemble Get Out. That said, I want to make a completely different movie. I want to address something different than race in the next one.”
Peele was speaking Jan. 31 at Loyola Marymount University’s School of Film and TV, where he took part in the ongoing interview series The Hollywood Masters. During that conversation, he also spoke about meeting President Barack Obama, whom he famously mimicked in several sketches on his TV show Key and Peele.
“He had done a little tour around,” Peele recalled. “He was at the Beverly Hilton [Hotel], shaking hands, with his motorcade. You know: ‘Thank you, thank you very much. Thank you very much. All right.’ And then we come up and he’s like, ‘Key and Peele. Tuck it in. Let’s go.’ He sort of bro-hugs and we’re just like, ‘Oh shit. This is cool.’ We’re like, ‘Yo, secret service, we’re good, we’re good.’”
The filmmaker also spoke about the multiyear genesis of Get Out and the various endings he tried — one of which was filmed, and then reshot to make it a lighter, brighter conclusion.
Originally calling his script Get Out of the House, he said: “I planned the plot over the course of four or five years. I sat down and wrote the actual script in two months, the first draft. … The second-to-last ending [was the one] we actually shot [with] Daniel [Kaluuya] getting arrested, and six months later Rod [LilRel Howery’s character] is coming, trying to help him figure out what this mysterious secret society was up to. And Chris [Kaluuya’s character says], ‘Look, I made my sacrifice and I’m fine with that.’ Very dark, this gut punch. Before that, I had several different ones [endings]. There was a while where it was more of a gated community, and we get to Chris breaking out, but right before he breaks out he meets some sort of final test that we don’t know how it ends. We cut to Rod a couple months later, breaking into the gated community, going down the main street and seeing Chris just looking into the reflection of a window. And he goes: ‘Chris, I’ve been looking for you. Are you OK?’ And Chris turns to him and goes, ‘I assure you, I don’t know who you’re talking about.’”
A full transcript of the interview follows.
GALLOWAY: You get up and you think “Oh, what do I do next?” What are the pressures of success?
PEELE: I mean, you nailed it. What do I do next? How do I top this? And you know, and I think it’s important to focus on stories that are true to me. I go, when writing Get Out, my sort of mantra is or was, let’s write my favorite film I haven’t seen yet. So I think it’s easy to get sort of bogged down in how does this compare to the first one, how does that compare. When all is said and done, my next film, I am currently writing it and I’ll direct for Universal this year, I’m just trying to entertain myself again.
GALLOWAY: So can you tell us anything about that? Is it the same genre? Are you trying to go deeper into the same area or are you saying “I’m going to try something completely different?”
PEELE: A little bit of both. One thing I know is that this is genre; and playing around with the thriller, horror, action, fun, genre of intrigue is my favorite. That’s my sweet spot. So I think tonally it should resemble Get Out. That said, I want to make a completely different movie. I want to address something different than race in the next one. So yeah, every choice has really either pretty big ramifications because it is the second.
GALLOWAY: Huge, yes. Are you prepared to fail?
PEELE: I’ve done it so much…
GALLOWAY: Have you?
PEELE: In my life. Yeah. Yeah.
GALLOWAY: What’s been the worst moment of failure?
PEELE: Well, on a seemingly smaller scale, in improv, which is my background, you fail all the time. In live comedy. And it tends to be something where you catch yourself trying to get a laugh and you just don’t. Or the crowd turns on you. And improvisation in the biggest sense of failure comes with letting down your scene partner because you went for a cheap gag or something and the audience is onto you and not getting laughter when you are trying to get laughter is one of the most humbling things in the world. It’s masochistic what we put ourselves through. But it also I think teaches you to get up and try again the next day and what’s the worst, you know, so what if people don’t laugh? So what if you put yourself out there and people didn’t bite it. It’s already over. But that’s the kind of thing that can just really torture your soul. And so I feel like everyone in comedy has some love-hate masochistic relationship with that.
GALLOWAY: So did they ever actually turn on you with the remote when that crowd turned on you?
PEELE: Yeah. I mean, I’ve blocked out all the sort of specific tales of this, [LAUGHTER] but it happens all the time. And you know, I was in improv sketch group called Boom Chicago in Amsterdam. And I was there from I think ’99 to 2002, 2003.
PEELE: Yeah. In the Netherlands.
GALLOWAY: The real Amsterdam.
PEELE: Yeah. In Amsterdam. And it’s still out there. It’s a wonderful theater, it’s a wonderful experience. It’s sort of catered to the tourist audience as well as the local Dutch audience, but it kind of explores Holland from an outsider’s point of view, an American point of view. For a comedian, an improv comedian like me, this was like, I got paid to do improv. No one gets paid to do improv. So this was in Amsterdam, where there’s weed. It’s like come on.
GALLOWAY: They laugh more easily…
PEELE: They laugh easier, right. [LAUGHTER]
GALLOWAY: They laugh before you start.
PEELE: They’re already laughing. You can only go downhill. That was the problem, is when you say something and it goes silent, you’ve essentially…
GALLOWAY: You’re really bummed.
PEELE: Yeah. You have brought them out of their high. But it happens all the time. And I remember this feeling of, you know, being on stage and you know, you could have a night where you are crushing, where you are doing extremely well, and that one moment where the audience goes [MAKES SOUND]. Maybe you went too blue at the wrong point, maybe you sort of dabbled in a note where they were like “Well, that’s not funny. That’s just fucked up.” You know, or something like that. [LAUGHTER]
GALLOWAY: Oh yeah.
PEELE: And that’s what you go home and you obsess over and that one moment where I lost them, [MAKES SOUND], the whole night was a failure. And you hopefully learn to take that lesson and say “I’m never going to do that again.” Or “I will always do this again.” And you kind of get better. And this, by the way, this live comedy training that I was put through, this is the audience that I hear in my head when I’m writing or creating something now.
GALLOWAY: That’s interesting.
PEELE: In comedy, we’re trying to get the whole room. Right? So my pedigree as an artist is, and don’t get me wrong, I have a ton of respect for many artists, many directors who, it almost feels like they kind of couldn’t care less what the audience feels like. They have something to say and they say it and if you are on for the ride, it’s great, and many of these, I’m on for the ride and I love that. My sensibility is “Let’s get everybody.” And so the way I kind of counteract that in not making bland material for the masses is I take huge risk in the conception. So if I can take this movie that is a horror movie about race, which is, impossible or supposed to be impossible, the greatest feat would be if I can sell this to everybody in the audience.
GALLOWAY: When did you first become conscious of race?
PEELE: You know, I was raised by my mother who is white. My father was pretty much out of the picture. Although I did have some experiences with him up until maybe around six or seven, when we lost touch. I remember in either kindergarten or first grade getting the first standardized test. And it asked you to label yourself. What are you. It’s like the first question. Write your name and this Caucasian, African-American, Asian-Pacific Islander, Latino or other. And I put other. You know, I was kind of too young. I mean, I guess that’s the right answer, but I remember a young sort of existential crisis of “what am I?” And first of all, I know why we do that, why they gather information in that way, but thinking about it in a sense, it does feel strange that in schools, one of the first things we ask people is to identify themselves racially. And it’s no wonder it is something that is so ingrained in us, in our culture that movies like Get Out make sense or are even relevant at all. As I grew up, I began identifying as African-American. And I do to this day.
GALLOWAY: You don’t identify with “other” today.
PEELE: No. I mean, other…
GALLOWAY: Doesn’t every artist identify with other?
PEELE: Yeah. Yeah. Racially, no. [LAUGHTER] But in the fact that I have like an alien brain, you know, I do identify with the outsider. I identify with the, you know, really I feel like every artist is sort of trapped at 12, 13, when we are all the other. And that’s certainly the time that, you know, still my favorite music, still my favorite movies are right in that formative time when you feel like a monster between youth and adulthood. So…
GALLOWAY: What kind of person were you at 12 or 13?
PEELE: I think something that would I think sum it up would be that I had some good friends, some tight-knit friends. I was an artist. I was into drawing, I was already performing. I was a cinephile, I was a role player, so I was, you know, into gaming and role-playing games and that kind of thing. So…
GALLOWAY: Oh. Did you have a favorite role?
PEELE: A favorite role-playing game?
GALLOWAY: Or character.
PEELE: You know, what I remember with the role-playing games, which by the way, is like, you know, also kind of this other thing because you are very conscious of the fact that this is not what the cool, popular kids are doing. [LAUGHTER]
PEELE: This is like, teenage make-believe, it’s like, or whatever, you know. What I loved was the world creation and the character creation. So the actual storytelling, my friends and I that would play, we would get a couple of adventures in, a couple of quests in, but it was always about kind of like okay, now let’s create new characters and you know, there was something about breathing a world into existence that was special. And it sort of, you know, it taught me that the imagination, you know, transcends. The imagination is better than video games. The imagination is better than the stories you can watch if you really kind of put it to work. But not necessarily a source of pride growing up that I was…
GALLOWAY: What was that one work of art that really shaped you at that point?
PEELE: Hmm. There were many. Most were films. I remember Edward Scissorhands being formative. That the aesthetic in the world that Tim Burton had conceived was so fresh and so refined, so whimsical, dark and funny. It was miraculous. I don’t know if anybody has an aesthetic signature as defined as him. And so he is always a hero. And that character just being a, you know, modern fairytale, [OVERLAP].
GALLOWAY: Have you ever met Tim Burton?
PEELE: No. I haven’t. He is one that would really probably reduce me to tears. Because his, you know, Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, Edward Scissorhands, Beetlejuice, Batman, Batman Returns. I mean, there was a string of completely formative films that he made.
GALLOWAY: Who would you most like to meet? Because you can pretty much meet anyone now. [LAUGHS]
PEELE: Can I? You know, that’s a great question. I think Tim Burton would be, you know, a huge one. I am a huge Ridley Scott fan. Both Alien and Thelma & Louise were both extremely formative films for me. In completely different ways, but certainly in that I think they’re both perfect films. You know, Alien, the aesthetic and the design of that monster story, I can’t imagine the amount of artistic ability it would take to bring all those elements together and tell a creature feature in such an elevated way that it stands up today. Thelma & Louise was movie I saw with my mother. And I remember kind of going in and being like “[MAKES SOUND], two, you know, two women cross-country” or whatever it was.
GALLOWAY: Oh yes.
PEELE: I was probably 11, 12 or something. And the movie started and the slide guitar anthem starts, and I was just enraptured by this film and this was one of these examples where I couldn’t be farther from the protagonist of this movie, who was, I guess Louise, played by Susan Sarandon, in identity, and yet I’m instantly her in this movie. And we are all instantly her. And we feel what she feels, we feel the context of the crossroads of her life. And so that’s one of the things that showed me, for instance, that we could have a black man in Get Out have an audience, a diverse audience, walk through and see the world through his eyes, and ultimately know that by the end the film, if he is killing a white family at the end, the white audience members wouldn’t feel persecuted. They wouldn’t feel like “Hey, wait a second,” you know. I mean, some probably did, but… [LAUGHTER]
GALLOWAY: Not in this room, thank God.
PEELE: Not in this room. But it’s, it just shows the amazing power of story and a protagonist. You know, of course I have the best actor in the world, Daniel Kaluuya to bring the audience in, make the audience feel safe, like they are all on the same page. But that can promote empathy. It can bring us into the point of view of someone else. When I watched Stepford Wives, it’s notable to me that, or Rosemary’s Baby, I don’t end those films feeling like “Ah. So since I’m a man, I’m a villain, huh?” You know. It’s not in that. It’s not that. I’m her. Like “Fuck men.” You know. [LAUGHTER}
GALLOWAY: [LAUGHS] I know.
PEELE: And then we do some…
GALLOWAY: When did you tell your mother about Get Out? And what did she think of the film?
PEELE: There was a several years where this movie, and writing this movie was a project just for myself. I knew I wanted to get to a place where I could, you know, put up genre content and produce it, and I think my dream of directing was sort of sidelined, but that I could do this. And so Get Out was one of a few projects that I started with the goal of getting better as a writer. I thought I was good at writing, but I felt like you have to be amazing if you want to pull off what you want to pull off. So this was like this training ground, this hobby of mine that was all about having fun. So a few times during that process, I’d bring it up and you know, she’s be like “Mmm, okay, okay.” My mom is this classic, you know, she will poke holes in things and I’d be like “Mom, come on! It’s my vision!” You know, “I think…” I’d be like “OK, so that’s a good point.” But when we actually got started making the movie and everything, and then, you know, I showed it to her I could tell she dug it and got the references. She told me she had to watch it a couple times before she realized how deep it goes.
GALLOWAY: So she is pretty classical in her tastes.
PEELE: Well, yeah. I mean, I wouldn’t go so far to say classical. She is an avid reader, she is a bibliophile, but, you know, she would watch A Christmas Story over Casablanca. So you know, but that being said, she introduced me to Hitchcock, she introduced me to Rosemary’s Baby. The first movies I saw were musicals. So revivals of Showboat and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. She brought me to the movies. And West Side Story and yeah. So she’s got an eclectic taste.
GALLOWAY: Do you think of yourself as classical or avant-garde?
PEELE: Both. I try to use and learn from the devices of all my favorite classics. And there are certain tricks and techniques in cinema and storytelling that I feel like are, why did we stop doing that? Where’s that been? So…
GALLOWAY: Such as?
PEELE: Well, you know, for me, basing this film on, and whether or not this goes into your categorization of classical, but the Ira Levin-style thriller and the Hitchcockian-style directing, where you are very much using suspense. It’s not a horror for the sake of horror. It’s not about gore. It’s about violence where when it’s important and violence is key, but really it’s about patience. It’s about terror.
GALLOWAY: Is it horror, terror, or whatever is the third Stephen King category?
PEELE: Yes. It’s gore. It’s repulsion.
PEELE: So you know: Stephen King broke down the fear into terror, which is the fear of the unknown or the fear of something to come, horror, which is standing and the monster is opening its big jaws and you are seeing the monster and you are horrified, and repulsion, which is when you see some gore and it makes you want to be sick. And you know, most horror movies use some hit all three all the way through. My favorite, and I think his favorite too, is probably terror. Which I think it does justice to this idea that your audience’s imagination is better than what you could do.
GALLOWAY: But do you draw that because it’s a way of exorcising the terror in you as a person or is it just a genre you happen to fancy?
PEELE: I think it’s absolutely the former.
GALLOWAY: And that terror is of what?
PEELE: Well, it’s of death. It’s of the great unknown. I think both horror and the connection to comedy I think are both about releasing this internal crisis that’s going on on a base emotional level. Fear is a natural human emotion. It’s also the emotion that is like, it’s so unpleasant. And it’s the scariest. So I feel like we do all we can to not face fear. Which festers and grows, and horror, and horror stories and fun ways of facing our fears are just that. They are fun ways to release this thing.
GALLOWAY: Steven Spielberg said he wants to feel afraid when he is picking a new project. And if it doesn’t make him afraid, then there’s something wrong. Do you feel the same way?
PEELE: I do. I do. Especially after this one. I think fear is necessary for the reasons it’s necessary. It keeps you pushing, it keeps you trying to avoid the pitfalls. I think the key is that fear needs to be managed because it can also cripple you. It can also stop your journey, stop you dead in your tracks. And a real turning point for me was I remember this time when I was 12, 13, I told a scary story to a bunch of peers at a class trip. And it was like a fire, you know, it was a campfire, I told this scary story and it worked. And it really worked. And up until this point, I was the kind of guy that would be scared at night of what’s lurking in the closet. I was a late, you know, scaredy-cat.
PEELE: But when I took a hold of that emotion and sort of wielded it, the fear was lifted. So it was this profound moment where I realized that interfacing with your, or you know, facing your fears and dealing with them in some way is important and can give you strength. And in this case, you know, I felt like I can’t be scared because I am a monster too right now. I am on the monstrous side. And so yeah. That’s why I am obsessed with it.
GALLOWAY: You went to Sarah Lawrence and then dropped out to create an improv team with your partner Rebecca (Drysdale). Probably a great improv team: white Jewish woman, biracial black man. I love that.
PEELE: We were called Two White Guys.
GALLOWAY: Was that a scary thing when you began to do improv?
PEELE: You know, I can honestly say that was not scary. It was a big leap, but you know, I went to Sarah Lawrence College, which I loved and…
GALLOWAY: Even though you dropped out?
PEELE: Even though I dropped out. The way I look at my couple of years there was that it was a real liberal arts education. I was taking film history classes, I was taking theater classes, comedy classes. I was taking philosophy, some literature, psychology. So as I was searching for what I wanted to do. And by the way, I wanted to be a director, but I already felt insecure about that. So I was like “Puppetry. I want to do puppetry. I want to build this curriculum around this thing.” And by the time my sophomore year was done, I had fallen in love with improv. Which is kind of like the ultimate puppet show, right? This idea. We’re born with the most intricate puppets. And so that kind of went there and I felt like I was good at it, I was having success with that. But you know, I didn’t drop out because like, you know, I was struggling in my grades. I left school because I knew what I wanted to do and I was like, you don’t need to finish school to do sketch comedy. You need to go for it and you need to go for it hard. And these are two valuable years, so let’s go to Chicago, let’s study under the Second City, improv Olympic, let’s put up our own work and our own sketch show, do some improv and push.
GALLOWAY: What was the moment when you made that decision? And did you talk to anybody about it? That’s a huge decision for a young person.
PEELE: It is. The moment was probably: Becky and I, like, you know, late one night in one of our houses, doing like two men improv, which of course is kind of like role playing. And just realizing, you know, I know she had spent the summer in Chicago and studied at Second City or maybe hosted at Second City. And so she had all these tales of Chicago and the comedy scene, which, to me, it was like “Whoa.” A town dedicated to training comedians, and there’s this rich history, and there’s people from SCTV and SNL that came out of there, were my heroes in the genre. So, yeah. That’s how it happened. And I called my mother and I was, you know, I was like “OK. This is the call where you…”
GALLOWAY: Don’t do this.
PEELE: Don’t do this. But you know, I called her, I said “Look, I think this is what I’m supposed to be doing.” And the way I told her, I know she was nervous, but to her credit, she was like “OK. It sounds like you know what you want to do.” And so it was a very important moment to have her put that trust in me and then hear the sound of my voice.
GALLOWAY: What makes a great improv artist?
PEELE: A great improv artist is, it can come in many different forms. I like to think that any one of us can train and become a great improviser. It’s almost like if you would imagine being born with a musical instrument that’s unique to you, that no one’s ever seen before. You know, someone can train a bunch of people how to play music, but you can only learn what your specific technique is and your style is. So with that said, the thing that you cannot be a good improviser if you’re not good at is listening. You have to be a good listener. And you have to listen before you respond. And that becomes hard when you are onstage. Especially early improvisers and improvisers continuing the career will have this battle of confidence and ego and the need to be funny, the need to be the one speaking and the need for that response. The really good improvisers, and there are some really amazing ones out there, are listening, are engaged with their partner and are really trying to craft something beautiful and in its spontaneous collaboration. The best laughs come as a result of two people trying to put together a real scene the best they can, to do it justice.
GALLOWAY: I have a friend who is an incredibly gifted comedy writer. I mean, he has done many major comedies and I once spoke to him about this and how you create the laugh and he said, “I actually am happy when they don’t laugh.” And that wasn’t his goal at all. Even when he is doing sitcoms, you know, which made me see that whole genre in a different way.
GALLOWAY: 2003 — you are performing, then in the night before the next night, you see another performer. And that is Keegan-Michael Key. What was he performing in and how do you feel about that first encounter?
PEELE: So, I had come back to Second City after several years in Boom Chicago in Amsterdam. I had come back for this thing called a stage swap. So Second City has two stages. It has the Second City main stage, the Second City e.t.c. stage. Both different shows, equally funny. The main stage happens to be the original stage that they were performed at. Boom Chicago did the swap, so their main stage cast came out to Amsterdam to do their show and us from Boom Chicago went to their show. So all of a sudden, I am performing in the next room from Keegan-Michael Key, who I had heard about, but I had never met. And all I heard is you have to see this guy. And so we basically, I went and sat at the back of his show, and saw, and he just has this energy like no one I had ever seen and since in all of comedy. It’s like, you know, there’s a couple people who have that kinetic energy that somehow still feels true. And he had that. And, I was just in awe, and you know, maybe a little bit of like “Oh, this motherfucker is good.” [LAUGHTER]
GALLOWAY: “Maybe he’s better than me.”
PEELE: Give me a run for my money over here, you know. And then, he came and watched, you know, me and my show as well, or maybe he did that first, and he claims he was equally as impressed by me and we just clicked. We bonded, we went out to a diner and just geeked out about comedy for seven hours or something.
GALLOWAY: Not knowing him, what would surprise us about the man?
PEELE: What would surprise you about Keegan? I don’t know that this would necessarily surprise you, but on a set, he is the guy who remembers everybody’s name, he is the guy who remembers everything about everybody. He is engaged with everybody. He really is like diesel fuel of happiness into the set. Which is important on a TV show because it’s a grind for everybody.
GALLOWAY: But then does he go home and cry or… [LAUGHTER]
PEELE: Probably. We all do. We all do.
GALLOWAY: You all do. Yes. Yeah.
PEELE: But yeah, I mean, he is one of a kind. And anybody in the comedy scene, anybody who knows him will say, and anywhere else, in the theater he’s doing now, in the films he is in, will tell you you are not going to come around across a guy like this. He is just infectious.
GALLOWAY: If I asked him the same question about you, you know, not knowing Jordan, what would surprise me about him, what would the answer be?
PEELE: I think he would probably describe me as mischievous, as dark, as somebody who doesn’t — this is my phrasing of it, but I’m not as gregarious as the character I play. You know, I’m kind of reclusive.
GALLOWAY: Are you?
PEELE: Well, you know, I thrive in a one on one. And I do pretty good with two more people. I do all right with three. The bigger it gets, the more of a mask I kind of put on.
GALLOWAY: What’s the mask?
PEELE: The mask is somebody who’s happy to be here. [LAUGHTER]
GALLOWAY: But you are happy to be here? Say it!
PEELE: I am. Well, see, right here, it’s me and you.
GALLOWAY: It’s like one on one.
PEELE: I’m not seeing these people. They terrify me. [LAUGHTER] But it’s interesting, one of the first sort of nuggets that went into the fear I wanted to explore and get out, before I zoned in on the fact that there hadn’t been a movie that dealt with race was based on this dream I had of I was walking through a bank, the lobby of a bank, bunch of people were bustling around, and I turn the corner into an elevator area and the bustle stopped behind me. So it just went quiet. And you know, I sort of did this little lean out and everybody that had been walking around in this lobby of this bank was now standing there facing me. Just like this. And it was like this very sort of shining kind of moment and a moment very similar to one that I have in the movie when Chris goes upstairs in the party, you know, we reveal that everybody is, whatever they’re talking about is all script. They’re all paying attention to him. And there’s something about this idea of unwanted attention that I think is a real primal fear.
PEELE: And it’s also really I think captured in that shot when he’s looking through the camera and you know, he sees Dean, played by Bradley Whitford, talking to a bunch of people and he goes “Hey, look, hey, hey, hi.” Everybody turns at him. And that feeling to me was, you know, first of all, something I was experiencing a lot having been on Mad TV and having been on television now starting to get recognized, and you start realizing “Hmm, this is not the same world I grew up in.” It’s creepy.
GALLOWAY: You have this amazing Mad TV, then Key & Peele, just these iconic sketches — it’s interesting because when we’re choosing which clips to show, there are actually so many. Anay, our producer, and I were debating which ones to show. So I want to show you one.
GALLOWAY: You will know these, but this is I guess the moment when I really discovered you, which well, let’s take a look at the first sketch. And I want to talk to you about your gift of mimicry and where it comes from. Somebody said Laurence Olivier was an extraordinary mimic and I’ve been trying to understand what’s the psychology of that. You know, deep down, is it about identifications, is it about protection. So let’s watch the clip and you can ponder the, you know. Here we do. [LAUGH] They all know it.
PEELE: I mean, that’s the power of Keegan. The impression was obviously a big part of that and it was necessary, but you know, it’s like with Keegan, it’s like we’ve got this laser sighted heat seeking missile that he never doesn’t get the laugh he is going for. So it’s remarkable.
GALLOWAY: But it’s also a combination of the two and the fact that you don’t crack up smile and then you get Obama dead on. So let’s sort of dissect it a bit. What was the genesis of that sketch and what was the challenge of actually pulling it off?
PEELE: The genesis of that sketch was related to the genesis of Get Out. It was that we felt there was, since he came into office, there was a lack of substantive response to racists. And criticism of Obama that we felt like was racially charged, like the Birther bullshit for example.
PEELE: You know, we knew that Obama was in this position where, you know, (mimics Obama) he couldn’t quite, you know, become the angry black guy. That wouldn’t end very well. And we knew he had to sort of show this restraint, so we felt, and when we felt like, man, everyone in America who sees what’s going on needs Luther right now. And he needs Luther. And so that’s where it came from. Having studied in Chicago, the great Del Close, he wrote a book called The Truth in Comedy with Charna Halpern. And it really breaks down how it emphasizes and sort of drills into your head that comedy is truth and truth is comedy. And when you get a laugh, it’s because something rings true. There’s a cathartic moment in that. And so we knew that that would have that effect.
GALLOWAY: But what are the mechanics? So one of you has that idea or you go and you have writers for a meeting every day and you’re bouncing ideas like, well maybe we have an angry someone else, you know, what’s, where does it start and how does it become that?
PEELE: Sketches come about many different ways. This one was one of the first sketches we came up with. So that was a Keegan and I, we rewrote the pilot just the two of us, and that came from, it came from a bit of strategy, right? I mean we had, it was this, it was in this era where no one had an Obama impression or a take. And people were saying “like he is you know, unimpressionable” — is that a word? I don’t know.
PEELE: No one thought he could do it. And so we I had this impression that I kind of worked on and crafted, and we knew that that was good. And then we also just had this kind of eureka moment where it was I think, for me it was this idea of let’s have me and my comfort zone, let’s put Keegan in his comfort zone. And what if we let the audience hear what we know Obama’s truth is. And that was the key to us, is that whatever is said, we all have to know that is what Obama thinks. He can’t say it, but that makes sense, he would be thinking that.
GALLOWAY: Thinks or feels?
PEELE: Well, either or.
GALLOWAY: So when you’re looking at that, are you thinking, OK, Obama is so controlled, but there is raging emotion underneath, and that’s what this expresses? Or, are you thinking deeply about Obama when you go into something like that?
PEELE: Yeah, every line of every one of those we wrote, we would… you know, because sometimes you write a line and it’s something you want to say, but you realize that’s not what’s going on. If Obama was unleashed to say, speak his mind, he wouldn’t go there. And you know, obviously Obama’s not going to be calling anybody crackers. But, to what you are saying, the feeling must be there on some level that he’s out here. He’s been, he has worked to become the first African-American president, the highest office in the world. And there is a reality show host saying he is not from this country. And he is got to be thinking on some level like, fuck this guy.
GALLOWAY: I was thinking though that, you know, when I introduced you, I said, these two artists, the artists of the sketches and the artists of the film, seem on the surface to be different people. But I don’t actually think they are, because I think you must be probing very deeply into the psychology of what’s going on. And I was always amazed with Obama, who was so controlled and classy, can you imagine the unbelievable emotion that he’s buried, that’s propelled you to this position. And what that sketch does is review…
PEELE: That’s right.
GALLOWAY: That’s what you were thinking. You were thinking along those lines and did you discuss those consciously like that?
PEELE: I don’t think we discussed it in terms (of) that spot-on in terms of, you know, we know he has passion to get to this point, we know… It was more I think we discussed it on terms of as a black man to be on this stage and to essentially have your race used against you, is… that is something that is a buried down often buried down anger and something that, you know, what Get Out is about is there’s an element to it that we’re dealing with our entire lives and getting used to. And then there are ways where that, you know, anything that’s buried, anything that you’re swallowing needs to come out. And so I think that’s kind of more where it was coming from was this cultural idea. And we were thinking about, people in the, in front of their TVs, going “Yes. That’s what, that’s the guy I kind of want in there, that’s the guy who’s representing you know, my feelings about that as well.” But you know, we’ve also, we’ve done work about Obama and having to straddle both worlds as well. That’s the code-switching thing. You know, where, and by the way, we witnessed first-hand, because we got to meet him.
GALLOWAY: Oh you did? You met him as well as Keegan?
PEELE: We did. Yes.
GALLOWAY: Where did you meet him?
PEELE: Gosh, a year and a half before the correspondents dinner where Luther became Luther.
PEELE: The actual Luther.
GALLOWAY: And Obama did a pretty good impersonation of Peele.
PEELE: Yeah, well he says, he goes (mimics Obama), “You know, I do a pretty good me, too.” [LAUGHTER] Very funny guy.
GALLOWAY: Where did you meet him?
PEELE: We met him, he had done a little tour around, he was at the Beverly Hilton, sort of, like, he was shaking hands with his motorcade. You know, so (mimics Obama) “Thank you, thank you very much. Thank you very much. All right.” And then we come up and he’s like, “Key and Peele. Tuck it in. Let’s go.” You know, he sort of Bro hugs and we’re just like, “Oh shit.”
PEELE: “This is cool.” We’re like, “Yo, secret service, we’re good, we’re good.” [LAUGHTER] So we got to see this thing and there is like, part of you, to your question about impersonations, I think there is part of that ability that is, that comes from an internal identity crisis. I think, at a young age. Which I think is a common thing for racially ambiguous people. Certainly, Keegan and I, and I would imagine Obama as well that… but also others. And like I said, there’s I think everybody has that, some identity crisis around a certain time. But, I know for Keegan and I, it felt like there was a desire to create our identity or to take charge of our identity, which probably gave us some push into acting and character work and impersonation as well.
GALLOWAY: I think Zadie Smith did a very good piece about you in the New Yorker. Either she wrote or someone in the New York Times wrote that in some ways your identity is more clear than his. That we feel your identity even when you, though you are mimicking people, we feel we know who you are. Do you feel that?
PEELE: No. I am sort of too close to us to be able to tell that. And I feel like I do have a strong sense of my identity but then other days it’s you know, I have no idea what’s going on. It’s, there’s, everyone’s identity has so many hues, so many shades and there are so many emotions and characters bouncing around that, in preparation for Key and Peele, I had to do some standup because standups are about honing that identity. Whereas improv and sketch is about who can I become.
GALLOWAY: Which do you prefer?
PEELE: Oh improve and sketch, 100 percent. Standup is grizzly. It is very vulnerable, it is very hard, it’s hard to, you know that feeling of being in an improv stage and having a bad moment, it’s only amplified I think in standup, which is like, pretty masochistic.
GALLOWAY: So let’s take a look at another sketch, and then I want you to walk us through the genesis and the challenges, because I’m sure these sketches go in different directions before you find the arc of where you’re going. Here’s the “Bitch” sketch.
GALLOWAY: You know, when I asked you about the classical and the avant-garde, you are taking very modern language and subjects, but there is a great classical structure behind these sequences. They have beginnings, middles and ends, they have clearly defined characters. That’s not where they begin. What was the very beginning conversation on this?
PEELE: On this, it was a piece of reality television. So, which is, they’re, I watch a lot of reality, yeah.
GALLOWAY: You do, what?
PEELE: Well it’s embarrassing. [LAUGHTER]
GALLOWAY: It is embarrassing. And you should be embarrassed.
PEELE: And bad. I will say that this one came from an episode of The Bachelorette. And what happened, it was just, and this kind of gives you a good idea of what fascinates, why I’m drawn to reality television. Is I remember there was, a guy took the bachelorette, it was the first episode, he was in the house while she was out talking to another guy. And one, some other guy like kind of started to pick at him. Pick on him or something. I think he was a weatherman or something. That started being, calling him names for being a weatherman.
PEELE: And the guy sort of just took it. And then he came out for his one on one time with the bachelorette, and he goes, he said something like, “Yeah, you know, those guys out there. You know they’re, you know, they’re being dicks, but I told them what was what. This, I called him an asshole, I called him an asshole.” And it’s, and we saw it, he didn’t do that. [LAUGHTER] And so I remember telling Keegan about that moment, and then and saying well what if this was, this very relatable concept of the thing that guys act like this sort of alpha dude, and what they represent their relationships differently when they’re with each other, and that was the genesis.
GALLOWAY: And then do you sit in a room at a computer, do you act it out, how do you go from that to a five-minute scene?
PEELE: Yeah, it’s sitting in the room with the computer, it’s sort of improvising a couple lines at a time, and then going back and saying or what if this, or you know, or oh, and also we’ve got these other games in here that we can heighten. So the idea of heightening is a big sketch, comedic improv tool. And that, so if, for instance, the little games that we’re heightening is we’re getting farther away from earshot. That came continues to heighten. We’re telling, go ahead.
GALLOWAY: And so beautifully moves from the real and almost naturalistic to the complete surreal.
PEELE: I mean after, it’s all about subverting the audience’s expectations too. So as soon as they catch a hold of the pattern, you have to break it. So if we are in a field, because we’ve moved so far away, you know, the audience will be like, where are they going to be next, China? No, you take them to space. [LAUGHTER]
GALLOWAY: Yes, yes.
PEELE: And you know, the execution here too, you know, also leads to throw huge shout outs to Peter Atencio, who’s the director.
GALLOWAY: Your director.
PEELE: And Ian Roberts, Jay Martel, who were our fellow producers and show runners. But yeah, that’s kind of how, it starts with a piece of inspiration, it starts with something that makes us both laugh, if we laugh, and we laugh good, there’s something that can be mined there, to create a scene. So, after that, it’s about applying the structures we know, always heighten, always bring it more, always subvert if the audience is on to us here, the, we’ve got to reveal something else.
GALLOWAY: In any drama, once you know, or you can predict what’s going to happen, it, you lose interest. And I remember Cold Mountain, you know, I love Anthony Minghella, who was the most wonderful man. But at some point, when you know that Jude Law has seen Nicole Kidman, the moment they see each other, you know they’re going to fall in love and suddenly what, and then once you watch them do that, you’re gone from the story. That we always have to be surprised.
PEELE: Yeah. And I think we lose respect for something that we can get ahead of as an audience. And I think most importantly people feel like they are not given the respect. People like to feel smart. And we like to know that whatever is, whatever we are watching is presuming we are as smart as we are. And so it’s very disappointing when something’s going to happen in a movie and then it happens. It’s kind of like, well you know, so Get Out for me one of the most important techniques with making this movie palatable was actually this idea of when an audience thinks they know what’s happening here, that’s my opportunity to use that momentum against them. Which earns a respect from the audience. And especially when all the clues from where I was going, are there in front of their face. So it’s not a reveal or a twist, it doesn’t work if just out of nowhere you say, “Oh, by the way, they’re all aliens, and that’s just cause,” because you didn’t know that was going to happen. But, if you’ve laid the breadcrumbs earlier and they can go back and go, oh my god, he, the first thing that happened he told us they were aliens. We were just watching for a different thing. You know, the first line of the movie was hi, we’re new to the neighborhood. There’s a dance: you have to be engaged with the audience, and my feeling is assume the audience is brilliant. Because they are.
GALLOWAY: What wrong path did you take on the screenplay, if any? Did you have a different hero, did you not have some of the big scenes? I know you had a different ending at one point. Which ways did you experiment with going before you landed where you wanted to be?
PEELE: I went many ways. The very first incarnation of this before I realized I had to make a movie about race, was, it was just, it wasn’t guess who’s coming to dinner, it was a couple going to meet her friends from high school. And that feeling of being the weird guest of honor but also being not knowing, not being in on all the private jokes and that uneasy feeling and then at some point I realized, “Holy shit, this isolated thing I’m going for could be a movie about race and that’s, I haven’t seen this movie.” So then from there I had versions of the movie that ended darker. So the one.
GALLOWAY: You shot a version that ended darker, what was, where you’ve all seen the film, right, so no spoilers, but Daniel’s character does get caught and taken away at the end in the original version. Was that the very original ending or was it just one of many that you thought of?
PEELE: No, that was the second to last ending, and that one we actually shot was Daniel getting arrested and six months later Rod is coming, trying to help him figure out what this mysterious secret society was up to. And Chris kind of letting Rod off the hook by, in not so many words, saying look, “I made my sacrifice and I’m fine with that. We know how this story has to end,” in walking away. Very dark, this gut punch. Before that I had several different ones. There was a while where it was more of a gated community environment. And we sort of get to Chris’ breaking out, and but right before he breaks out, he meets some sort of final test that we don’t know how it ends. We cut to Rod a couple months later breaking into the gated community, going down the sort of main street of it and seeing Chris just looking into the reflection of a window. And he comes, he goes, “Chris, I’ve been looking for you, you know, all over. You got, are you OK?” Whatever. And Chris turns to him, and goes, “I assure you I don’t know who you’re talking about.
GALLOWAY: But was it always Chris and the Allison Williams type character in the, Catherine Keener, Bradley Whitford, or did you have a whole different family, different type of girlfriend?
PEELE: Well it was the same family. But casting really, it informs you so much more who those characters actually are. So, I think the vision for the characters was different, it was maybe written slightly different. But, the physical vision for them, that is, but the characters in there you know, I think Bradley, the Dean Armitage role was maybe a little bit more rustic, kind of a big barrel-chested guy.
GALLOWAY: The casting is so brilliant because you also bring what you associate with those actors. You know, that Bradley is the guy from The West Wing.
GALLOWAY: So he has to be a good guy. You know, Allison is you know, the good girl from Girls. So she has to be OK.
GALLOWAY: The surprise, did you consciously think of that with the casting?
PEELE: Yes, and I think my favorite sort of thing that I was able to do in many aspects of this film is you know, in talk of subverting the audience’s expectation, is to use what the audience comes into the film against them, as well. Which, to me, I think the best example is in the reveal that Allison Williams is the, is evil. That the, what I’m doing there is using, some people are kind of on to her, at some point, some people don’t see it coming at all. I think most people who are on to her at the same time feel like, “but they wouldn’t do that. They wouldn’t have this character you know, I, it could be, but I don’t see it.” And the expectation I’m playing off of there is the white savior in films.
PEELE: Right, every film about race has at least one white character that is sort of this olive branch to the white audience member. What I sort of realized with this film was the audience members don’t need an olive branch. They are your protagonist. You know, the white audience members are not coming in and identifying with the racist white people in your movie. They are identifying to the protagonist. Whoever you tell them that is. So the fact that that’s the rules of movies to me was the perfect subterfuge. I knew I could get, you know, we’ve got her bringing him into harm’s way, we know that. How do you hide that reveal, and you know, the history of film hid it for me. Same thing with the casting, it’s you know, Bradley and Catherine are like liberal god and goddess.
PEELE: They’re like the perfect, they are the perfect example of if you could have any sort of in-laws you would want it to be them.
GALLOWAY: Yes, short of Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn.
PEELE: Right, that’s right. And even more so because they blink. There’s no hiccup when they see Chris. They just, they power through, yeah, they’ve got little clumsy micro-aggressions but who doesn’t, we all do. I love things like Misery, the movie Misery.
GALLOWAY: I thought you were just miserable.
PEELE: I love misery in general, obviously.
GALLOWAY: I read that when you were a teacher you’d just like it when it rains.
PEELE: I love it when it rains. I’m happy when it rains. Which is why I’m miserable in LA.
GALLOWAY: Move to England.
PEELE: You’re right. I always wanted to live in England. I assure you, it’s on my mind. I hope I get to. But I love the Cassavetes character in Rosemary’s Baby, who are disarmingly just the gossipy, quirky old couple down the hall. And this feeling how could that be the villain of this movie, I just don’t see it. That to me, those are the best villains.
GALLOWAY: When you wrote the script, because it’s hard to gauge those things, did anybody give you any great piece of advice?
PEELE: I got good advice, you know, I read, I was, I had screenwriting books.
GALLOWAY: Which ones?
PEELE: I had like everything from like So Your Screenplay Sucks, or something like that. To you know, screenplays on, to books on you know, multiple drafts, you know, it’s, none of these books I kind of picked up and went all the way through, but I’m just kind of cross referencing this thing, how to make a good script great, I remember was one. I had like one of Robert McKee’s books, I can’t remember which one, that I was kind of leafing through. But I took as much as I could get. As much advice and just knowing that you can get in trouble if you get too locked into any certain method. But, looking at this wide variety of, save the cat, you know, all.
PEELE: The complex ones, the ones that sort of break it down simply. I think there’s one called How to Write a Script in 21 Days.
GALLOWAY: Did you?
PEELE: That, you know, I wrote, no. I planned the plot over a course of you know, four or five years. I sat down and wrote the actual script in two months. The first draft.
GALLOWAY: Were you tempted to play the friend, because or had you already decided at that point to give up acting?
PEELE: Yeah, I had, it came up a couple times, and the only reason I would have played it is that, because we didn’t have a lot of money. And I didn’t know, I felt like, maybe you know, not paying myself to be in this movie, will kind of add more value than bringing in somebody that nobody knows. But I was lucky to find somebody that people know and was the role, in LilRel Howery. So my intention was not to perform, I wanted to concentrate on directing and I’m glad I did.
GALLOWAY: Did you always call it Get Out or did it have a different title?
PEELE: Originally it was called Get Out of the House. As in, “Get out of the house!” [LAUGHTER]
GALLOWAY: I want to show you a clip and discuss it and then we’re going to go to student questions, so when we stop playing the clip, those of you with questions maybe you can stand by the mic. Or scream them out, you know. But one thing that interests me is this, which is I associate racism with, also with classism. This is not about that, this is about just middle-class prejudice, and hidden prejudice, how much is racism based on class and people speaking in a different way, people are representing the poor, they’re threatening, do you think? Or is it more widespread than middle class liberals like myself even imagine?
PEELE: I feel like being black in this country, whatever class you are in, you are subject to a common type of racism. And there are different levels and different ways it affects people in poverty than people not in poverty. But, you know, black is black, at a certain point. And part of what I wanted to point out with this movie is that even in a comfortable environment where a black person is the other, or the lone black person at a party. I think, you know, Chris is respected in this world, he is the guest of honor in a way, but there is even an insidiousness to a lot of behavior in that environment as well. That has a relation to the guy who maybe doesn’t have an ID who is walking in a white neighborhood after dark and he could get killed.
GALLOWAY: Like at the beginning of the film. Is racism getting better or worse or neither?
PEELE: I think that, I would say neither, I mean I have a pretty dark view of humanity. In that I feel like I mean, in 500 years if we all you know, if we all end up being one caramel color, single race of people that will figure out some other way to discriminate against one another. That being said, there, I think where there’s expression, where there’s art, where there’s communication and conversation, there’s progress in things like race and racism. You know, obviously things are not the same way they were in slave times. Or in Jim Crow America. That being said, we don’t talk about the fact that many things are the same. Ava DuVernay’s documentary was the best essay on this I’ve ever seen of how the prison industrial complex is slavery renamed. And reimagined and sort of organically we got to this same point where this vast, disproportional amount of black people are providing free labor and captivity for this country. So yeah, it’s hard to say what progress looks like, but obviously, this would not, my story would not be possible in the past.
GALLOWAY: I was shocked: I’d been reading a lot about the British Raj, in India, the Raj was the name of the British Empire. Thinking well, as one assumes things will become more liberal. And in fact the racism increased, so that when the British who went out to India at the beginning, it was OK to have an Indian wife, at the very least, an Indian girlfriend; 150 years later, it was completely forbidden. And what you realize is that all these systems are sort of based on “them and us.” If you can’t define the them, well how can you maintain them and us? So these things, it becomes more threatening, and I wonder because of that, if there’s going to be some kind of return of even more racism in America.
PEELE: Well, yeah, I mean it’s interesting also you know, right now I think people would argue that we are in a point right now where it feels like there is more racism, I would argue it’s not, it’s out in the open. It’s exposed. Racists feel more emboldened to talk.
GALLOWAY: Is that good or bad?
PEELE: Well, I think the bad part is when we see actual policies, actual violence, happen. The good part, for me personally, my feeling is that I’m less afraid of the guy who calls me nigger, than I am the guy who is thinking it. Sitting near me. So, to me, it’s almost like when communication stops, that’s when the real insidious stuff is left to fester and so that to me is why the eight years of post-racial America that we spent, essentially not calling out people like Trump for blatant racism, and that was a danger, that was where this time we are seeing now was born. So that is the more dangerous, I feel like now although, it’s ugly, and it’s violent, and it’s potentially extremely dangerous on a very large scale. I like to think that we’re in a time of healing because you know, expression is being heard. Conversation is happening. And expression, conversation, art, that’s you know, Martin Luther King Jr. showed us that is our weapon against violence and racism.
GALLOWAY: So you’re not so dark after all. [LAUGHTER] Let’s watch a clip. This is the hypnosis scene.
GALLOWAY: I feel you should be studying that as a master class in pure directing. How did you work on this scene? Once you cast those actors, did you have a long rehearsal period? Did you storyboard it? How did it go from nothing, from a script to this?
PEELE: I knew that this needed to be, this was such an important scene in the movie. As far as the structure of the movie, we’re at a point where I’ve asked the audience to wait for something. And they have no idea what’s coming and people like a little bit of clue in that direction. So I knew this scene was important. I needed it to be really good. As far as the acting goes, we rehearsed a little bit, we, I remember you know, getting into a room with Catherine who had gone and seen a hypnotist in preparation, to kind of get the vibe of how a hypnotist puts somebody, helps somebody into this state of heightened suggestibility.
GALLOWAY: She never hypnotized you or anything?
PEELE: Never, I don’t think so. But.
GALLOWAY: You may still be. Wake up. You are not Oscar nominated.
PEELE: But it may, yes. If. That’s right. That one, I’ll take that sunken place, I’ll be there forever. So we did a rehearsal, I remember Daniel comes in, and he’s like, “All right, so what we doing?” You know, “So should we start off from the,” and she just was in character and goes, “Have a seat.” And I had them kind of improvise it. And you know, Daniel to his credit he went right in, and he, and it was like this perfect dynamic of you know, Daniel the actor actually getting caught off guard. And being sort of brought in, so they did it once, Daniel had rehearsed, had auditioned with that sequence as well, but they did it once, they kind of improvised their way and sort of got to the essence of the scene, then it was beautiful. And, Daniel’s the kind of performer that he doesn’t want to over rehearse. He doesn’t, he wants to save that best time for on camera. So yeah, we didn’t over rehearse it with the actors.
GALLOWAY: Multiple cameras? Did you storyboard it?
PEELE: I storyboarded it. Very influenced by Johnathan Demme’s Silence of the Lambs.
PEELE: You know, just those two person exchanges between Clarice and Lector were so charged with energy, with sexual energy. With manipulation. And terrifying, and it’s just these two people. So I knew that this.
GALLOWAY: And not many scenes, and yet he resonates so powerfully.
PEELE: That’s right. And, there’s nothing scarier than somebody who can just move through your psychology at will, and toss up a little point of suggestion, see where you go, and kind of go there with her. So, we had to have Missy be a couple steps ahead of him, obviously. But more importantly, she had to be a couple steps ahead of the audience. Because this was a scene where I thought one of the big challenges here especially because we’re watching this character that’s very important to black people, certainly that the one black horror, you know, protagonist doesn’t step into danger. And here I have him stepping into what we know is, don’t get hypnotized, motherfucker. Don’t. Don’t do it.
PEELE: So emotionally we had to justify why he would be in there. And that makes sense. You don’t run from your potential mother-in-law. You know. But we also had to have him on guard, and be just as wary as we the audience were. And when we realized that he is being hypnotized, it has to, we have to already be in it. So we can’t be like, “Look, look, the teacup, the teacup.” That was why that you know, that sort of mundane thing is just a little symbol for oh don’t worry, it’s already happening. It’s already happening.
GALLOWAY: How many days did you shoot it over?
PEELE: One. That was one day.
GALLOWAY: And how long did it take to edit that scene right?
PEELE: You know, the, we edited over months, and that scene was something that was always returned to. It was much longer, it was longer, it was really and so this is actually the squeezed version.
GALLOWAY: Oh wow.
PEELE: As you know, as most things are, but the, yeah there was a lot more.
GALLOWAY: Thank you so much. I hope we will be doing many more of these over the years.
PEELE: Thank you.
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