Yahya Abdul-Mateen and Teyonah Parris on Why Candyman Is Still Relevant Now - VRGyani News and Media


Friday, August 27, 2021

Yahya Abdul-Mateen and Teyonah Parris on Why Candyman Is Still Relevant Now

From filmmaker Nia DaCosta and considered a “spiritual sequel” to the 1992 original, the horror flick Candyman follows Anthony McCoy (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), a visual artist struggling to have a breakthrough in his work until he finds inspiration in the horrifying legend of the supernatural killer with a hook for a hand. While his partner, gallery director Brianna Cartwright (Teyonah Parris), tries to understand why his sanity seems to be unraveling, gruesomely violent events begin to happen that lead Anthony to question whether the myth is real.

During a global press conference with members of the media, co-stars Abdul-Mateen and Parris talked about why the story of Candyman is still relevant now, what excited them about this project, portraying a character that is both victim and villain, why it was important to shoot in Chicago, and whether either of them has said Candyman five times in front of a mirror.

Question: Why was now the right time for a new Candyman? What do you feel makes the idea relevant in 2021?

TEYONAH PARRIS: Unfortunately, the story behind Candyman is one that’s repeated and is still happening for different generations. We’re 30 years later, from the original, and unfortunately it’s still quite relevant and it’s quite appropriate to shed light on this issue. The way that we’ve re-imagined it and are telling the story explores the issues of police brutality, brutality against Black bodies, Black trauma healing, and what it takes to heal from generational traumas and things that you didn’t necessarily even know you were affected by because it happened to your ancestors, but it’s in the DNA, it’s in the blood, and it’s in the history. We have these traumas that we have to face and deal with, and that’s still relevant today. I hope that this film will help us have those conversations and take actionable steps to healing and calling things as they are, like violence, trauma, brutality, or whatever it is, and hopefully move closer towards that healing that we all seek.

YAHYA ABDUL-MATEEN II: One of the things that I like to think about is taking ownership of our stories and the things that happened to us. Not necessarily ownership, but taking control of what happens now. With the original Candyman, there was a real specific fear with, what if Candyman were real? After leaving this movie, that question has a completely different meaning with completely different implications. The implications behind that now are more about agency and about taking back a narrative and the power that can come from claiming that type of authority over your history. I think that’s gonna be a very unexpected and exciting part of the conversation of this film.

RELATED: ‘Candyman’ Director Nia DaCosta on Working with Jordan Peele and Keeping the Romantic Nature of the Character

What was it about this project that made you want to do it? What did you think of the script, when you first read it?

PARRIS: For me, what I was excited about, in doing this project, was working with Jordan Peele and Nia DaCosta. I had seen Nia’s work with her film Little Woods, and I just loved what she had to say with it and how she used, different elements to bring the story to life. I was really excited to have a chance to create with her.

ABDUL-MATEEN: I had an opportunity to work with Jordan Peele. I had a small role in Us, his second horror film, and I knew from that experience that I wanted to work with him again. About a year later, or sometime around that time frame, they called me up and said there was an opportunity to do Candyman, under the brilliant direction of Nia DaCosta. I met with Nia and really fell for the way that she talks about film. We talked very little about the script and about Candyman, but we talked about films and her favorite films and what she wants to do, as an artist. I asked her, “Why do you want me to do this?” We really got to know each other, on an artistic level. And then, beyond that, after that conversation, I knew that I wanted to work with them, and the Candyman story proved to be the best opportunity.

Yahya, your character experiences his own levels of darkness and the shades of what it is to be both a victim and a villain. How was it to research your character and find that balance?

ABDUL-MATEEN: With stories like this, the research is never very, very far from my own life and my own experience. We talked about the experience of what it’s like to be a Black man in America, living with the fears of trauma at the hands of the police and trauma at the hands of white oppressors. We have those stories that are passed down, from generation to generation, and eventually landed on us. For me, I drew upon all of my own experiences, but also historical experiences to portray an Anthony that was being weighted down by an unavoidable history that eventually turns into his reality. Anthony is a tragic figure, in the sense that he had his whole life ahead of him. His fate was unfortunately unavoidable. That’s how I thought about him. I tried to advocate for him and his story, to keep him alive as much as possible until fate would happen to take over.

Nia DaCosta has said that The Fly was an influence on this film. Was that informative for you guys, when building the love story between your characters?

PARRIS: Not particularly for me. I hadn’t seen that. I do remember Nia talking about it, but I hadn’t seen that movie.

ABDUL-MATEEN: The Fly was one of the ones that she recommended to me, as well as Rosemary’s Baby. The Fly was one that I watched and paid attention to the physical and psychological deterioration of that character. But in terms of the relationship between the two of us, that was something that I connected to in the room, after meeting Teyonah and just having an opportunity to tell the story of a young, successful Black couple with very high aspirations and a real desire to build a life together. They were at the start of something. One of the ways I like to think about storytelling is, what are these characters in love with the most? Most of the time, if it’s a good story, the thing that they love the most, the actions of the story or the plot will try to take that away from them and eventually you have to fight to hold onto those things. Anthony was a person who was very much in love with his relationship, but also in love with the possibility of being an artist. As he is striving to grow both of those things, fate and the history of Candyman and Cabrini, and the traumas of those locations, eventually pull him away from the things that he loves the most. There was plenty to fight for.

Teyonah, what were your inspirations for creating Brianna? Was it someone you know in real life?

PARRIS: What I loved about Brianna, when I talked to Nia and read the script, was that she is very ambitious and she’s in a space that isn’t typically occupied by people of color, particularly women of color. Being in this art space, as a curator and an art director at the gallery that she works at, was really fun and an interesting thing to explore. I actually had the opportunity to speak with Naomi Beckwith, who is the senior curator at NCA, and she was just a wealth of knowledge for me. I was asking her things like, how do you feel when you’re in these spaces? And she was giving me tips for things I didn’t even think of, like how you present yourself. You can’t distract from the art that you’re presenting, and things like that. I also was afforded the opportunity to speak to Joeonna Bellorado-Samuels, one of a group of women in art called Entre Nous. They were really helpful for me to mine their experiences and gather information from.

RELATED: 'Candyman' Clip Reveals the New Film's Connection to the Original Movie

Yahya, since the film is inspired by very emotional real-life cases of social injustice, would you consider this to be the toughest role you’ve had to face?

ABDUL-MATEEN: No, this is not the toughest role that I’ve had to face. This was many things, but to be honest, it wasn’t tough. It was an enjoyable experience because it was a community experience, making a story like this with artists that cared about the subject matter and that were delicate with the subject matter. Sometimes people attempt to make stories like this without the right people involved, and those stories become tough. From my perspective, this story was made with a lot of love, a lot of care, and good intentions. So, in terms of making it, it wasn’t tough. There’s something that is tough about knowing that the art we’re making is in response to these violent patterns in the world, and then the art that we’re turning out will be relatable. There’s an audience who will definitely relate and understand it directly. But also, movies don’t come out for a year sometimes. In this case (because of COVID), it was more than a year. It was two years. An yet, you still know that the movie will be relatable when it comes out, down the line. You can depend on these issues not going away. That is one of the tough things about making movies like this, that tend to deal with these issues. We make it in good faith, to speak to the issues and also somehow provide more than just conversation, but actual actions that are designed to improve our conditions. Sometimes we make art knowing that when it comes out, it will still be relevant. That’s an important thing to do as an artist, but sometimes, as a storyteller, that’s one of the difficult things to do as well.

What are Nia DaCosta’s greatest talents, as a filmmaker?

PARRIS: For me, what I love that Nia brought to this film is that it’s not often that I get to work with a Black female, as a director. Having that opportunity, there are things about my character, about this relationship, and about the history and trauma that we’re bringing to the forefront, that she just understood. I didn’t have to explain my existence, my being, and why a particular decision or choice wouldn’t make sense. I felt like it gave us opportunity to dive deeper quicker because there was a mutual understanding and a shared history of certain experiences. Not all of our experiences are the same, which is what makes it amazing and great and layered in texture, but there was a baseline for us to start with. And I love her visual aesthetic. She knows how to speak to actors and I feel like she is very much an advocate for the actors.

How did you find the experience of shooting this on location in Chicago, working in these historic neighborhoods?

ABDUL-MATEEN: The story of Candyman, and the story of Cabrini-Green, is not only specific to Cabrini-Green and Chicago. Without stripping it of its own history and individuality, there’s a Cabrini-Green, all throughout America. To go to Chicago specifically, it was our duty to go back and to pay our respects. We’re talking about a neighborhood of people who have been made to be the other in their own neighborhoods and are now outnumbered and outresourced, but yet still there and still resilient and proud of where they’re from and living full lives. So, I thought it was our duty to go back there and say, “We have not forgotten about you. We’re gonna make another Candyman, and it’s only right that we come back to Cabrini-Green and to Chicago.” It was important to do that. You see it, and you can’t miss it. You have Cabrini-Green, and then you have everything surrounding Cabrini-Green and you wonder how long that’s gonna be left and what the faces are gonna look like. You talk about ghosts and things like that, and the old residents of Cabrini-Green are now the haunts. It’s eerie, when you look at what’s happened there from an economic standpoint and you see how the faces have changed.

Would you ever say Candyman five times in front of your mirror?

PARRIS: I would not.

ABDUL-MATEEN: We mutually came to the consensus that we’re not messing with that.

PARRIS: Nobody’s got time for that. Although, as a child, I did attempt to do that with my brothers. We never got to five.

ABDUL-MATEEN: Even as a child, you know better.

PARRIS: You get tempted a little bit. You do it maybe three times, and then you get out of the bathroom.

Candyman is now playing in theaters.

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