Wed. May 18th, 2022

IIf you want to know who’s hot in Hollywood, take a look at the lineup for the fair and noisy new western The Harder They Fall. It is produced by Jay-Z and has a magnificent seven: Idris Elba, Jonathan Majors, Regina King, Lakeith Stanfield, Zazie Beetz, Delroy Lindo and RJ Cyler. Among such talents, it is the film’s writer-director, Jeymes Samuel, who has the lowest profile. But the 42-year-old Londoner is not a low-profile guy. Even via video call, Samuel makes an entrance. He often refers to himself in the third person (“That Jeymes is an interesting guy!”) And launches detailed critiques of classic films at the slightest provocation; his thoughts on Breakfast at Tiffany’s (“Holly Golightly is actually a really terrible character”) culminated, for example, in a a cappella rendering of the Moon River. And it’s all within the first five minutes.

It’s a personality that matches the size of the great prospects in the New Mexico desert where The Harder They Fall was shot, with a reported budget of $ 90 million. The plot is a simple cowboy tale of revenge – Nat Love (Majors) hears that the man who killed his parents (Elba) has broken out of prison and then collects his old bag to seek justice – but it unfolds in wonder to a large extent: a standoff with a steam train, gangs galloping across the open prairie and lots of daring shooting in dusty border towns.

The Harder They Fall director Jeymes Samuel on set with Idris Elba.
The Harder They Fall director Jeymes Samuel on set with Idris Elba. Photo: David Lee / Netflix

While Samuel may be new to filmmaking on such a scale, he is not new to the game. He has been making music since the turn of the millennium, producing and collaborating with an eclectic range of artists, including Damon Albarn, Mos Def and Charlotte Gainsbourg. In 2013, he collaborated with Jay-Z and Baz Luhrmann on the music for The Great Gatsby and released his own album, De Die By Dawn, under his musical name Bullitts (film enthusiasts will note the nod to the 1968 car chase classic starring Steve McQueen).

This album, featuring guest spots from Lucy Liu and Rosario Dawson, was his springboard for filmmaking — accompanied as by a 51-minute western of the same name, starring Dawson alongside Erykah Badu and Michael K Williams. Samuel became particularly close friends with Williams, who died suddenly last month. “It’s strange, man talking about him in those days,” Samuel says. “As far as I was a filmmaker that people wanted to work with, it started with Michael K Williams. This man had no proof that I could shoot anything, and he was like, ‘I’m in!’ “

In addition to writing, directing and co-producing, Samuel has composed the soundtrack to The Harder They Fall, which, as suggested by the title’s reference to the influential 1972 Jamaican crime thriller, combines reggae beats with Ennio Morricone-like melodies. So is Samuel a musician who became a filmmaker? Or a filmmaker who makes music? Nor does he say, “They come from the exact same place. When I write and these words come out, so are melodies and song and score. ”

This mix began on north-west London’s Mozart estate, where he grew up, the second youngest of five children, born to a Nigerian mother and an African-Brazilian father. It was a creative family. His older brother is Henry Olusegun Adeola Samuel, better known as the Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Seal. However, it is their cinephile mother that Jeymes credits for putting him on her path: “She said her relationship with the Western world came from the cinema. It was like taking the plane every time she saw a movie. ”

After Samuel was expelled from his first high school, he spent a few months at home in front of the TV. “Charles Laughton, John Mills, Jack Hawkins, Alastair Sim, Alec Guinness, David Lean: I wanted to know all about these actors and directors from my mother.” There were also always musical instruments around the house, and at the age of 13 he had grabbed a Bolex 16mm camera. “From there, I always shot, always made music, and they would influence each other.”

Despite now spending much of his time in the United States making films in the most archetypal American genres, Samuel insists that he remain British all the time. “Literally you can walk on Portobello Road at any time and you will see me with a bunch of my dudes – ‘dudes’ meaning guys and girls.” He’s so British, he says he has Jacob’s Cream Crackers Fed-Exed for his sets. “I can eat a whole packet dry as long as there is a drink near me.” Not bourbon or sarsaparilla, mind: “I wash that shit down with Ribena!”

It was Hollywood westerns that really captured his imagination as a young film obsessed, and it was what the genre lacked that inspired the most. “It simply came to our notice then [130-minute-long] Tombstone was too short a film. I wanted more! So I wanted to go and get more information about these characters, and then I would like to know where are the black people? And where are the women ?! The young Samuel began to read aloud to the real historical people who would eventually become characters in his films: the outlaw gang leader Rufus Buck, gun-carrying postman Stagecoach Mary, the aforementioned cowboy hero Nat Love. He quickly discovered that the mostly white classic western was not based on historical fact, but a choice made by mostly white filmmakers; The Smithsonian Institution estimates that about one in four cowboys in the Old West were of African descent.

In part, The Harder They Fall is an attempt to correct that. “Just at a low level, see how much swag is missing when you delete black people from the story,” Samuel says. “Look what happened when they put Lando Calrissian in [The] Empire strikes back! “-Here is an impression of Princess Leia and Chewbacca swimming over the smooth-talking smuggler-” Billy Dee Williams was amazing. “

Zazie Beetz and Jonathan Majors in The Harder They Fall.
Zazie Beetz and Jonathan Majors in The Harder They Fall. Photo: David Lee / Netflix

To that end, Samuel has cast his films with the measly stars on this side of the Mississippi. How does he gather all these big names? It’s simple: “For me, great artists always want to make good art.” He does not have to pitch, he says, he’s just talking about his own projects – and in Samuel’s presence, it’s easy to understand how such enthusiasm can be contagious. “When I do something, I do it because I think it’s evil, and The Harder They Fall is an evil movie!”

As for the introductory introductions, Samuel makes them his own, the old western way: “I literally throw The. Best. Parties. On. That. Planet. “These gatherings, known as The Saloon, are legendary in Hollywood, he says.” I met Al Pacino at Soho House, and he said to me, ‘You must be Jeymes Samuel. DiCaprio will be there next to Jay-Z and the girl who served me a sandwich at Starbucks, and everyone’s stuck. ”

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However, to answer Pacino’s questions, The Saloon Doors will reopen next month after a two-year hiatus, as the official afterparty to The Harder They Falls LA premiere. It will be an important occasion and one that almost never happened: Samuel’s galvanizing spirit was tested the ultimate in March 2020, when Elba got Covid and Netflix shut down production. “We were one day before the shooting was to start… And many people thought we were shut down forever. I received all these emails from people who said, ‘I’m so sorry!’ “

The person who sent these messages clearly did not know Samuel very well. When production finally got underway again – one of the first to do so during the pandemic – Samuel had to instruct wearing a mask and goggles at a distance of six feet. Instead of admitting defeat, he turned his inexperience to his advantage. “It was like learning to drive a Bugatti; Mini Cooper, Bugatti – who cares? Just tell me where to sit and brrrrrrm! I’m making this movie! I’m from Kilburn Lane! Nothing will stop The Harder They Fall from being made! ”

The harder they fall will be released in select theaters and on Netflix on November 3rd.

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