Jordan Peele, Bradley Whitford Lead Hollywood's Last-Minute Georgia Push: "We Need to Win"

Bradley Whitford and Jordan Peele
John Sciulli/Getty Images

Universal Pictures released Jordan Peele’s feature directorial debut Get Out in February 2017, a horror entry that, in addition to shock and scares, had much to say about racism and what it means to be Black in America. Audiences went all in: From a $5 million budget, the film raked in north of $255 million and paved the way for Peele to become one of Hollywood’s hottest auteurs.

On Sunday night, ActBlue hosted the filmmaker opposite one of the stars of the film, Bradley Whitford, for Get Out the Vote: A Conversation With Jordan Peele. The virtual fundraiser, which benefited the Democratic Party of Georgia, was one of a slew of high-profile events featuring Hollywood insiders held in recent days ahead of Tuesday’s runoff in Georgia. The election pits Democrats Reverend Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff against Republicans David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler in respective races that will ultimately determine the control of the U.S. Senate.

Whitford kicked off the conversation by saying that more than $80,000 had been raised before he even asked his first question. Once it got rolling, they covered everything from how Get Out got made to how the overwhelming success impacted Peele, who won an Oscar for best original screenplay at the 2018 telecast. Awards aside, Peele said the reception that mattered most to him from Black audiences.

"I knew I was making a movie for us," said Peele, who followed it up with a film titled Us, another breakout hit. "I knew I was making a movie for the me that didn’t feel represented in the genre and for everybody, for all the Black people who are screaming at the screen, 'Have some sense, get the fuck out of the house, get some Black people in here so somebody can do the right thing.' When that hit home and I felt that, it was just extreme warmth. Everything else after that was just gravy."

Peele said the film also resonated with white audiences, something that proved to be encouraging. "The one thing I will say about the unconsciously racist white liberals is they’re ready to watch that movie and try to understand, there’s a penance that some people are ready for. … I was happy that white people seemed to get it. It spoke to me about the power of story."

The film tells the story of Chris Washington, a young Black man who accompanies his white girlfriend for a getaway to meet her parents for the first time. As the weekend progresses, he discovers the family is harboring a shocking secret and he may not make it out alive. Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Catherine Keener, LaKeith Stanfield, Betty Gabriel, Lil Rel Howery and Whitford round out the cast.

Even with the overwhelming breakout success, Peele said he always falls back on the idea that the story and the film are bigger than him. "The biggest thing that gets into an artist’s way is his or her own ego. I truly believe that," he continued. "I’m always trying to figure out ways to keep my ego in check because when that sneaks in there, it fucks shit up — almost always. I submit to this idea that the film, the movie, the story is important. I’m less important. It frees me up to be competent. It’s not about me and I just have to execute this thing."

Speaking of execution, he said it's always best to "embrace the collab" while knowing that what you’re doing it just one of the many ways it can be done. "Part of what gives me a certain power as a director and as a screenwriter as well, is the same script can be done an infinite amount of ways and be great. There’s an infinite amount of ways you can blow it, too," he explained. "If I was one of the type of directors that was like, 'No, no, no, there’s one way and there’s one vision — it’s mine. If anything goes off that rail then it’s done.' Like, that would be too stressful."

Whitford and Peele had a humorous exchange after Whitford recalled the moment when the two first met to discuss the project over a beer. They happened to be in the same place as Tony Goldwyn, and Peele joked that he would have gone after the Scandal star for the role as Dean Armitage had it not worked out for Whitford. "I remember looking down and Tony Goldwyn was at a [nearby] table. … I was looking at him like, if Brad turns me down…" Whitford laughed and replied, "I’m the road company Tony Goldwyn."

Later, Whitford, who praised Peele and his Get Out experience as the best he’s ever had on set, asked the filmmaker about the reports that he’s truly done with a career in front of the camera due to a "total lack of interest." Peele, who made a name for himself on MADtv and Key and Peele among dozens of other credits, confirmed that he’s thrown in the towel.

"I like watching my movies. I can watch the films I direct [but] watching me perform just feels like, it’s a bad kind of masturbatory. It’s masturbation you don’t enjoy," he explained. "I feel like I got to do so much and it is a great feeling. When I think about those great moments when you’re basking in something you said that feels funny. When I think about all that, I think I got enough."

Whitford and Peele also recounted the experience of shooting Get Out in Alabama in a much different America than the divisive country that has emerged under President Donald Trump. Whitford noted that there were members of the crew that were obvious Trump supporters but that tensions did not boil over in the way that they have in the more recent years of his presidency, which has included a rise in hate crimes and racial violence.

"We shot [the film] with people who were of different political persuasions and it was cool. I liked them. I liked the people down there," Peele recalled. "There was this feeling of America that was still happening where we have different beliefs and I may even kinda think you’re racist but we’re stuck here and we’re going to be cordial to one another and hey, maybe we might even connect. There were all these possibilities. The vibe shifted…it’s crazy, even as soon as he was voted out, all of a sudden it felt like I could fuck with them again now that he’s gone."

Whitford, who campaigned in Wisconsin for Democrats there, closed the conversation by urging those watching to call and text friends on the ground in Georgia, a tool he said was the "most powerful way" to get people to the polls. "We need to win these two seats," he said.

Their conversation followed a series of events as Hollywood stars jumped in to help get out the vote in Georgia. Tonight, Oprah Winfrey is partnering with Black Voters Matter for a Zoom call with special guests to discuss the election. Darren Criss tweeted over the weekend that he drove to Georgia to help make sure registered voters had plans to get to the polls. He also appeared on IG Live today with Gigi Pedraza of the Latino Community Fund Georgia talking about their work on the ground. Also today, Kerry Washington tweeted an invitation to her 5.5 million followers that if anyone needed a ride to the polls they should text her.

On Sunday, Live for Live Music in partnership with HeadCount presented "Georgia Comes Alive," a virtual music festival that raised more than $170,000. Featuring performances by more than 50 artists and acts, the event supported grassroots organizations like Georgia Coalition for the People’s Agenda and CivicGeorgia with the help of such artists as David Matthews, Foo Fighters, Big Freedia, Nathaniel Rateliff, Ben Folds, Musiq Soulchild, Amos Lee, Portugal. The Man, and the debut of The Lame Ducks, a one-off supergroup featuring Bob Weir (Grateful Dead), Dave Schools (Widespread Panic), Jeff Chimenti (Dead & Company) and Jay Lane (Primus).

Also on Sunday, Michelle Obama’s When We All Vote hosted "Celebrate Georgia!", a drive-in concert experience in partnership with Live Nation Urban, ONE Musicfest, the New Georgia project, BET, More Than a Vote, and others. Held at the Cellairis Ampitheatre at Lakewood in Atlanta, the event featured co-chairs like Obama, Janelle Monae, Tracee Ellis Ross, Kerry Washington and Chris Paul along with ambassadors Jeezy, Common, Jidenna, Criss, Sophia Bush and others. Performers and hosts included Monica, Rick Ross, DJ Drama, Jack Harlow, Pastor Troy and others.

Meena Harris and Brad Jenkins’ recently launched Phenomenal Prods. released “#MyName Is,” a video starring Kumail Nanjiani, Kal Penn and others to encourage South Asian American voters to get to the polls. The clip was in reference to Senator Perdue’s mockery of vice president elect Kamala Harris’s name at an October rally for Trump.

Progressive Change Campaign Committee also released a new video today, this one as a Get Out the Vote satire newscast featuring Lewis Black, Bob Wiltfong, Yvette Nicole Brown, Alysia Reiner, Beth Dover, Aparna Nancherla and Manju Bangalore. The clip lampoons Senators Loeffler and Perdue amid reports that both profited off the COVID-19 pandemic. See the video in full below.

Last week, GLAAD and Georgia Equality released voice messages from actors and Georgia natives Tommy Dorfman and Kat Graham that were sent to LGBTQ voters and allies in the state. Their messages were meant to remind voters about the runoff election as well as key issues in the state. Also recently, Tenderfoot TV teamed with Crooked Media and the team behind Pod Save America for the podcast "Gaining Ground: The New Georgia," hosted by Atlanta native Rembert Browne and Jewel Wicker.

Tyler Perry weighed in on Instagram, pledging his support to Warnock and Ossoff and encouraging any of his 6.1 million followers in Georgia to head to the polls. "We have to change what’s happening in the Senate," he said. "I want to be sure that all my fellow folks in Georgia get out and vote. This is so important."