Interview: Mario Van Peebles – Superstition – Part 1

superstition-11427Mario is not only the star of the show of Superstition, but also an executive producer, director and writer on the show. So he wears many hats.

Syfy just announced that the first episode of Superstition will now premiere, Friday the 13th, on Syfy’s YouTube channel, other digital platforms and on demand at syfy.com. The TV premiere remains on Friday, October 20, on the Syfy channel.

Q: Hi. Thanks for talking to us today.

Mario Van Peebles: Hi.

Q: Hi. So I want to know – how hard is it to kind of do all these things at once, to direct and write? And it looks like some of them even you did the same episode, you know, being in and writing and everything. So how much harder is that than just picking one?

Mario Van Peebles: Yes. That’s a good question. I think part of it is that when you grow up – if you grow up on a family farm, you learn a little bit about feeding the chickens, plowing the north 40, taking care of the horses. It’s all sort of part of the Zen of farming. And, you know, when you grow up with Melvin Van Peebles – or Melvin Van Movies, my dad, you know, and you’re an independent filmmaker, you learn as a kid to take care of the cables, to be a PA, to be an editor, to do all those things. And it’s all part of the Zen of, you know, independent filmmaking in that you kind of need to know it all. And I didn’t really realize until later on as an adult that those were sort of carved up into different sections because it was all part of the family filmmaking thing. So I kind of grew up doing it and being pretty fluid. And I saw my dad do it if you think back to when my dad did Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song in 1971 that became the top grossing independent hit of that year. And I grew up seeing him do it. He was acting in it. He wrote it. He produced it. He worked on the music with a new group called Earth, Wind and Fire. And so I kind of grew up, oh, that’s what filmmaking is. Gee, I didn’t know any better. And my family is kind of like the Jacksons without the talent. You know, we just get in there and we’re scrappy. And we make it happen. And then 20 years later, almost to the month after 1971 and 1991, I directed and acted in my first feature, which was New Jack City.

So I guess I grew up with it and it feels very organic to me. And I think sometimes as a filmmaker/director, I mean, as an actor/director, it’s easier to actually direct other actors because you kind of give them what you want to get. So you create a climate where they can do their best work and you sort of, you know, you have a different bedside manner if you’re not only a doctor but you’re also a patient. So I think it allows me to talk with them, you know, and speak the language and really get in there and mix it up. So it’s actually something that I grew up with.

Q: Well, I’ll tell you first of all, I mean, I’m all about diversity this year. And I’m totally loving, you know, the cast and how it’s all set up. It’s great. As far as the mythology of the show, did you do some research along with your writing partner to kind of come up with a certain type of mythology that you wanted to use on the program?

Mario Van Peebles: Yes, well, it was really – this has been a collaborative effort. So it was Barry Gordon and Justin and Chris and Joel, you know, and really looking at it saying this is, you know, sort of an underserved demographic. And the world is getting more diverse. America is getting more diverse. And we kind of kicked around and laughed about – first of all sort of the American South is sort of this very rich sort of setting, sort of this fictional town of La Rochelle that has this sort of American Gothic kind of quality. But it had so many – because, you know, America is a melting pot. And, you know, you take a place by America, and you take, you know, Italian immigrants and Africans who maybe didn’t come voluntarily and Native Americans and Asians and Jews from Europe. And you put us all together and you do get sparks. But out of those sparks you get great art and great music. And so out of America you get jazz and rock and roll and hip hop and gospel and all this great music and all this texture. And that’s because you’ve got all these folks in this sort of cultural human melting pot. And we thought the New South really reflects that. You get Republicans and Democrats and climate change deniers. And, you know, especially a place like New Orleans and around there, you get all kind of people who voted for the president. People who didn’t. All kind of folks. And you get sparks and you get friction. And it’s exciting. And we thought this is a very exciting diverse America that we wanted to show. And I think part of the other thing we kicked around was this notion that, you know, what would the Obamas really be like when the cameras go off? You know, if you took a family that was a pretty tight family, had a lot of love, smart family, when the cameras go off, if they had to deal with infernals and demons and fight the forces outside, what would that family look and feel and sound like? And that became sort of something we kicked about as well. So it was a number of things, but the notion of seeing America like you don’t traditionally see us, all of us, and all our flavors and that on both sides of the equation, the “human and infernal side,” you’d see all flavors, all colors, all choices.

Q: Awesome. No, I’m totally digging that. And, yes, a setting in the South is perfect. I mean, literally, superstition, you know, is really part of the fabric of the South. So it’s great.

superstition_screen_shot_0Mario Van Peebles: Yes. And again, because, you know, you get so many different demographics that come live there who have their own sort of old country superstitions as well as how that melting pot, if you will, evolves and becomes the fabric of America.

Q: So I remember all your TV shows and love New Jack City. And I remember you on All My Children. I loved it when you were on All My Children with Erica.

Mario Van Peebles: Right. Yes. I’ve had a little run at this. Well, Clint Eastwood said to me once during Heartbreak Ridge. He said, you know, you can’t be flavor of the month for 30 years. So if you hang in there, you’re doing something right.

Q: I enjoyed the first episode and my question is sort of based on sort of the ending of the first episode. Are we going to see more of your character in the show or are you going to be like a kind of Obi-Wan type of character? Can you give us any details?

Mario Van Peebles: Oh, okay. Yes, well in the town of La Rochelle, you know, and in Superstition all things are possible. So, you know, I think I’ll have to do like our president does and just something big is going to happen and you’ll see when. And Mexico is going to pay for it.

Q: That’s right. Well, at least yours didn’t sound like a threat.

Mario Van Peebles: More to come. Yes, no, no, no, no, okay. All I can say is I’ve been sworn to secrecy and they tell me I’d have to kill myself if I told you. More things happen and I think that I have to leave it at that otherwise they’d zap me. But some big things come up and, yes, so it’s, like, in the land of La Rochelle a lot of things happen that you go, oh. But the fun of the show, I think, to me, is that, you know, hopefully it works on a number of levels. And one level is that it is a bit of mind bender and that it hopefully, you know, it’s fun. It’s entertaining. It’s fun to watch. But I think it also hopefully provokes a little thought. And that’s one of the things, I always think there are three loves in life. Love what you do. And I love the field I’m in. Love and enjoy the folks you do it with. And many of these people I’ve worked with, including my daughter Morgana, who plays Garvey. So it’s been bring your daughter to work day for the last four months.

Q: Oh, cool.

Mario Van Peebles: And then love what you say with your work. And if you get those three to line up, you know, love what you do, love who you do it and love what you say with your work, then you are rich no matter what the paycheck is. And in this particular case, a lot of what the show has to say at its core, I really enjoy. I like that the infernals, which would be, you know, the bad guys if you will, are coming now more than ever to put us human beings in check because of our recklessness and how we’ve sort of not cared for the planet. And so that the notion of, you know, which end of the telescope you look through, and who then is the bad guy if they’re coming to do that. And Isaac, you know, has sort of been charged to some degree with keeping, and his family, with keeping the balance. And it’s a tricky one because there’s no all good or no all bad in this show and you have to discern a little bit, you know.

Q: Well, great. I look forward to seeing the rest of the episodes and getting to know the mythology because I was really interested in that.

Mario Van Peebles: Oh, yes, yes. And it comes out. And, again, a lot of it is steeped in things that you can Google and look up and are usually based in some sort of real American mythology that goes way back. And that’s part of the fun of doing this is it’s really a discovery for us, all of us, that way.

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