This is the third part and last part of a recent interview about the series and Van Peebles career.
Q: I like actually some of your (unintelligible) stuff that you did like Full Eclipse and Solo and such. Now that you’re doing this show …when you’re writing a show like this and such, how do you keep yourself from going into tropes and stuff, especially when you’re dealing with family and such because, you know, your character’s relationship with his son and, you know, I hope we’re not forewarning this, but, you know, the death of the other son and stuff. Like, how do you keep yourself from not going into those tropes of, oh, the son hates the father and all that kind of stuff. So, I mean, is it kind of a challenge thing for you or is it just kind of easy for you to kind of go around and maneuver?
Mario Van Peebles: Oh, good question. I mean, I think, you know, part of it is drawing on life experiences that we have. You know, in the writer’s room, a lot of the writers brought, you know, experiences they had. And all of our experiences vary. So, I think, finding that line between where something can be entertaining is a concept, and, you know, where it’s real. And I think one of the ways that we avoid it is by really by having great actors that bring that to the role that, you know, that there are fathers and sons and mothers and daughters. And, you know, so allowing them the space to say let’s take this and rework it. So there’s sometimes where we’ll rework a scene, you know, together. And we’ll find it together and make sure that it’s based in – you know, that there’s a sense of reality. And I think even in this first pilot you get a sense of, okay, there’s stuff going on but there’s layers to this cake. So it’s not simplistic. I think you get a sense that they are stronger together but they have real issues to work out. And that’s how we’ve been finding our way so far by understanding that the script is a blueprint often. It’s a good blueprint but we have to make sure that the human element, the family element, feels right. And there have been times when we say, you know, that doesn’t feel right. It doesn’t even feel culturally right for us sometimes. So there’s sometimes thing we go and we’ll try it on and go, no, it bumps for us. And we’ll find another way around it and that’s part of the process. I was just doing a scene just now and one of the second team guys came up to me and he said, you know, I’ve got this idea. And, you know, often there are filmmakers that don’t listen to ideas from other people. And I find some of my best ideas weren’t my ideas at all. Well, before you tell me, I’m going to pretend it’s my idea. And he came up with a great idea. So, I said, oh, it’s got to be. We made the adjustment in the script right then and boom we did that. And so there’s a fun in that in that I think everyone knows they can bring their creativity to it and their perspective to it and you don’t have to leave yourself at the door. And I think that’s what makes it fresh. I think there’s sort of timelessness to La Rochelle that this fictional town that we’re in that also makes it fresh. And also, I think, the more multi-culty dynamic just terms of cast gives it a different perspective. In this particular episode we’re doing right now, there’s a character called Uncle Bubba who is played by the comedian Bruce Bruce from Atlanta. And he brings a whole other vibe to it, you know, just a whole other fresh look. So we mix it up and you go, oh, this cat is in it? And then Jasmine Guy comes into an episode. And, you know, someone else comes over here. And, you know, it’s exciting to see that this is a show that folks want to come in and out of. And I think that’s partly due to the writer’s room, you know, hopefully making it smart and character driven. You know, if you don’t care about who’s running and jumping and kicking, you don’t really care. You don’t give a shit. So you’ve got to go, oh, wow, I like – I want to be with these people. And here’s the other thing, you know, and they’re not doing stupid things. So sometimes in horror movies people do stuff you would never do. If we get to the page, and go, man, my character would never go back in that haunted house looking for the kitten. He’d be, like, I’ll come back tomorrow. You know, so we try to read it that way with the bullshit meter and go, man, I would not do this. You know what I mean? You know, so how does that happen? How do we make sure that Robinne Lee’s character Bea is elegant and all that great stuff and a loving mom but still might, you know, cock that shotgun when it comes time to be mama bear? You know what I mean? So that each character is 360, you know, each character is multidimensional. And that’s part of the fun of it. And that’s part of the challenge.
Q: Let’s talk a little about 2012’s We the Party.
Mario Van Peebles: My partner on this show, Superstition, is Barry Gordon. And Mike Radloff did the publicity for We the Party and they were my partners on that movie along with Michael Cohen. And so we teamed up again after the experience of doing We the Party, we said, hey, let’s do something else. And that’s part of how we teamed up to do Superstition.
Q: And for this particular show, when you were bringing on the concept and also as you are shooting it, do you see your father in you and if so, what are some of the things that you experienced with him that you see yourself doing now?
Mario Van Peebles: Quite often. You know, that’s an interesting question. And I think that’s one of the things that is so terrific about life — if you’re lucky enough to live a long full life as I am, so far anyway, knock on wood — is that, you know, one day you’re the child. And the next day you’re climbing over trying to pick apples from your neighbor’s yard. And the next day you’re a homeowner and you have an apple tree and that kid is climbing over into your yard. And now, you know, one day you’re chasing someone’s daughter and the next day you have a daughter. You know, and so life gives you a chance to play all those different roles and learn from each perspective. And I grew up seeing my dad do a lot of this. And I learned, you know, what to do and what not to do. And, you know, often he had these great Melvinisms, you know, he’ll just say certain things that just – you know, he like, for example, someone would ask him, well, Melvin Van Peebles, do you feel lucky? And he goes, oh, luck is preparation meets opportunity. You know, and I find myself, yes, if you’re prepared and your life provides you the opportunity, then you’ll be lucky. You know, if you’re not prepared and life provides you the opportunity, your ass is not going to be lucky, you know. So he had these great Melvinisms. So he had this way of talking that he calls ghetto gothic, which is he’ll hit you with a nice big word, but then he’ll break it down into sort of everyman style. And there’s a fun to that. And one of the things that I sort of thought about with my character of Isaac, is that he can be lofty and he can quote from, you know, an African quote or something from the Motherland and something from, you know, a European quote. But then on the other side, he can talk to that everyman brother in the street. And that’s a really great thing. I look back at the Kipling thing, I go, talking to the crowds nor lose your virtue, walk with kings nor lose the common touch. And there’s a great – he has a great sense of humor and getting the joke of life and has never been bitter. That’s the thing, you know, he’s gone through a lot. I mean, this is the cat who started directing when there were no Black directors. And he went to Columbia Pictures and said I want to direct movies. And they said we don’t need elevator operators. And he didn’t get bitter. He said to me, son, there’s three kinds of people in the world. There’s people that watch stuff happen. There’s people that complain about what happens. And there’s people that make things happen. And the Van Peebles, we get out there and make it happen. You might not like the show. You might not like the movie but rather than just complaining about what’s on TV or what’s not on TV, get out there and put it on TV. And hopefully if you build it, they will come. And so that’s very much a Melvin Van Movie sentiment. So, you know, and Barry has that, Barry Gordon has that. And Joe, my partner on this, and, you know, we’re all scrappy guys that have had to make our way out of no way. And that’s fun. You know, so it’s a fun team like that because we’ve all been poor kids. And when you make a movie like that or you make a show like that, you appreciate all of it, you know. So I think there’s a lot of that – you know, there’s a lot of – I like to think that I’m a good – I’m not a boss, but I’m a good boss if I am a boss.That I’m fun and I can create a climate where people can do their good work. But they know to take it seriously. They know to work hard. They know I will call them out, you know. You know, if they got the same last name as me, they better get there early and leave late, you know. There will be no weak link – you know, and the other thing is we, in my family, you never confuse people that you love with being people that are good at what they think they want to do. Case at point, I have a child — I’m not going to name no names — that is a wonderful singer. She’s got a voice like Whitney Houston, I mean, awesome, in her head. But to the rest of us she sounds like a dying cat when she sings, right? I know in her head she’s Mariah Carey, but to the rest of us she can’t sing a lick, okay? Luckily, she’s very smart. So I will say, baby, singing might not be the way. Maybe you should work on your law degree. Now she’s killing it, making laws in the Senate. She’s doing her thing. She’s a powerhouse. You know, my mother, my mother loves to act. And I’m sure my mother in her head is Ingrid Bergman, but I never hire her because the girl can’t act. That doesn’t mean I don’t love my mother. You know what I mean? So I may, if I love you, I’m going to tell you the truth. That’s just a part of the Van Peebles mantle. So I don’t just put you in because you want to be in. You better bring something to the mix.
Q: So I’m looking forward to the journey that this family is going to take us on this season. With that said, after I watched the pilot, again, me loving sci-fi and horror and supernatural and all things, I got to thinking, have you personally experienced any strange or unusual phenomena? And if not, can you talk a little about what it is about the sci-fi genre that you enjoy exploring?
Mario Van Peebles: Yes. That’s a good question. So to the first question, have I personally experienced any strange or unusual phenomenon? Yes, I have. Yes. And I’ve known other people that have, too. Now, strange usually means things that folks don’t understand, right? So you can go to the middle of a field and take a box with you and get music out of that box. You don’t see the jazz player or the bass player. You can change the channel and get hip hop. And that’s called a radio. Now if you didn’t understand what radio waves were, you would go, okay, in this physical plane or in this dimension, I don’t get how this works. Do you know what I mean? I don’t really understand, really, truth be told, how an airplane works. But I get in there. I get in the big metal tube with everybody else who seems to believe and somehow we land somewhere else. There are things we don’t understand. Water can be in a solid, a liquid or a gas, do you know what I mean, the use of energy. That we know that this phone I’m talking to you right now is not solid. It’s actually particles vibrating very close together. So it’s held together by energy and information. Now once you understand the keys to that energy and information, you realize that we’re all semipermeable membranes. Part of the fun of this was going around and going through sort of, you know, the history of Americana and saying what superstitions, what belief systems, what sort of cultural nuances and idiosyncrasies can we play with? And how do we do that with each episode and play with it? What do we do when someone gets lost in the mirror world? What do you do when someone gets caught in a clock in a time warp? And, you know, what’s the concept of the time? Speaking of time, they’re telling me I don’t have much time left to talk on the phone. So I’ve experienced some of this. I won’t go into too much personal detail. But, yes, I’ve definitely experienced it. I’m not talking about just taking airplanes. I’ve experienced, you know, something that happened with sort of a past life regression that I went into. I didn’t believe it. But, man, when I saw it, I said, oh, yes, this is very familiar and I don’t want to go back to that lifetime. I’ve had that happen with my kids where we went to do things together and someone did a reading for us and it was very, very illuminating. And it really actually helped me be a better parent. But I’m a weird guy in that I’m personally okay with saying, I don’t know. I don’t really know what happens when we die. I’ll find out. And I look forward to finding out. I don’t want to find out too soon. I want to enjoy what I’m doing right now. But I look forward to finding out. I don’t really know which belief system is always the best. I suppose the one that makes us kind is probably a good place to start. So there’s a lot of things. We have one superstition about people reading the grinds in a coffee cup. It was written in there. We Googled it. We talked about it, discussed it. My cameraman came over and said how did you guys know? I said what do you mean? He said, this has happened to me twice. I had a woman read the grinds in my coffee cup and predicted that I would have a child, predicted when, predicted that I would shoot the sequel to my movie, predicted when. People can come at this game from all kinds of places from Vedanta theory, from past life theory, from religious aspects, from all kinds of places. There’s a lot out there that we human beings don’t understand. And that’s part of the fun of playing in the area of superstition.
Q: How many episodes are we going to have this season? And what’s the title of the first episode, the pilot episode? And will we see – the story arc that started in this first episode, will we see the finish of it by the time the season ends?
Mario Van Peebles: Yes. Good question. There are going to be 12 episodes. And we’re filming them right now. And I’m going to have to run back to set because I’m directing, working on Episode 9 right now. And it’s exciting. Oh, man, it’s just getting better and better. But yes, you’ll see some of the themes that started out in Number 1 are weaved throughout the season and finish, or culminate if you will, by Episode 12. So there’s things that definitely pay off so, you know, that are like building blocks that build one to another, which is kind of exciting. So you sort of figure out your story, your narrative to some degree in long form. And then each one has its own particular, you know, signature and, you know, characters that they deal with in each episode that are different but some that line up all the way. Now I can’t tell you too much more than that without giving stuff away. So there’s some exciting stuff coming up.