'Moonlight' Cast Toasts Film Fest Favorite at L.A. Premiere

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From left: Trevante Rhodes, Barry Jenkins, Alex Hibbert, Naomie Harris, Mahershala Ali, Janelle Monae and Andre Holland at the Los Angeles premiere of 'Moonlight.'

"People can relate to living in a world where as you are trying to define yourself, people are constantly telling you who you are," says director Barry Jenkins of the film's appeal.

Actors Naomie Harris, Mahershala Ali, Janelle Monae, Andre Holland, Trevante Rhodes and Alex Hibbert reunited with director Barry Jenkins on Thursday in Los Angeles to celebrate festival favorite Moonlight, which already has been garnering awards buzz.

The film follows the life of Chiron at different stages of his life: as a young boy (Hibbert) who seeks a stable home away from his drug-addicted mother (Harris), as a teenager (Ashton Sanders) who encounters school bullies suspicious of his homosexuality, and as an adult (Rhodes) who is still struggling to define his identity.

Despite the challenge of having three different actors portray the same character, Rhodes says that they did not collaborate on their performances.

"Barry was really adamant about not allowing us [to] do that so that we can depict how you can change so drastically throughout your life, particularly with this script, where there are such impacting moments in his life," says the actor. 

The central figure in Chiron's life is his mother, Paula, who is battling with drug addiction and often neglects her son. Harris (Spectre) says that the biggest challenge of the role was "getting over my own prejudices and judgments so that I could really learn to love and have deep compassion for my character. She's very hard and often abusive to her son, so I had to find a way to understand how she got to that point and have compassion for her rather than be judgmental."

Director Jenkins, whose debut film was 2008's Medicine for Melancholy, says of the years in between his first and second film was a result of "working on the wrong things." He adds: "I will say I don't think I was mentally or emotionally prepared to make this film after Medicine so sometimes these things take the time they need to."

Moonlight is based on Tarell Alvin McCraney's play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue, and Jenkins explains that he and McCraney had very similar upbringings, both growing up in Miami's Liberty City and raised by a mother who had drug-addiction problems. "[There were] extreme similarities, which is why when I first read the piece, I could see it as a film so quickly," Jenkins tells THR. "There wasn't a lot of work to be done for me to visualize the film. Because our lives synched up so well, it wasn't like I was imagining someone else's life. I could very easily see myself and what Chiron went through."

After receiving rave reviews at Telluride, Toronto and London film festivals and winning the audience award at the Atlantic Film Festival, Moonlight is attracting buzz for the upcoming awards season. "The buzz is great," Jenkins says, "in the sense that the more people talk about the film, the more someone who wants to see themselves represented is more likely to see the piece."

He adds about the film’s wide appeal beyond gay audiences: "I think people can relate to living in a world where as you are trying to define yourself, people are constantly telling you who you are."

Moonlight will be released in theaters Oct. 21.