Kenya Barris & Nia Long on Nailing Comedy Quickly
ComingSoon Editor-in-Chief Tyler Treese spoke with You People director Kenya Barris and star Nia Long about the upcoming Netflix movie. The duo discussed Barris’ directing style and the music used in the movie. You People will begin streaming on Netflix on January 27.
“A new couple and their families find themselves examining modern love and family dynamics amidst clashing cultures, societal expectations, and generational differences in this comedy from Kenya Barris,” reads the movie’s logline.
Tyler Treese: Kenya, this movie has a fantastic soundtrack throughout. I love that you got Nipsey Hussle’s “Last Time That I Checc’d” on it. Can you speak to paying tribute in that small way? Because it feels even more special when you see the great performance that Lauren London gives
Kenya Barris: We wanted to write a love letter to L.A., all parts of L.A. I think Nip is part of L.A.’s DNA — in L.A.’s fabric. And I think to have that song early on in the movie and also as a tribute to Lauren and what she’s gone through and she signed off on it and was too gracious. I think, in general for me, music is emotion lotion. I heard Quincy Jones say that and it resonated with me and everything I do, I like to have music be …
Nia Long: Another character.
Kenya Barris: Another character, ubiquitous … I think it adds to everything going on. So I’m glad that you picked up on that. So thank you for that.
Nia, I wanted to ask you about working with Eddie Murphy since you really do feel like a married couple in the movie. There’s this great dynamic where even when you’re bickering, you can tell that there’s love at the core of it. So how is working off of him?
Nia Long: Oh, man. Well, I met Eddie in the 90s and I’ve always wanted to work with him. I think when you’re black in Hollywood, you become friends with everyone at one point or another. I was always slightly too young to play opposite him or I would just not get the job and it would be the other girl. So to have this opportunity at this point in my career with such a stellar cast … it’s truly a blessing. Eddie is just an OG. He has not changed. He’s Eddie. You know what you’re getting, but you don’t always know when that funny-as-shit joke is going to pop out of his mouth. So that’s what makes him a great comedian. And he’s just cool. He feels like family.
Kenya Barris: I think looking at both of them — and Lauren, honestly — black don’t crack. My favorite joke was in black-ish one time. It was when the boss was like, “I have trouble telling their ages.” You know what I’m saying? But I do feel like you look at Eddie and Nia and like, it’s hard to imagine how long they’ve been in this business, you know what I’m saying? We all look at Eddie and we’re like, “How old are you and what’s going on?” He been famous 40 years, and he’s still … it was great. To be honest with you, actors are beautiful people and I looked and I was just surrounded constantly by beautiful people and I was like, “Fuck these guys.”
The dialogue is so funny throughout in this movie. Can you speak to the collaborative process of writing with Jonah [Hill]? It really feels authentic and there’s so many references that could feel corny otherwise, but you nail the delivery and it all works.
Kenya Barris: I think a lot of that goes to … we hopefully did a great job on the script enough to get people to sort of sell it and get people involved. But I really do feel like the collaboration honestly came a lot with the actors. I feel like all the actors, even Dave [Duchovny], people felt like they wanted to make sure that their character felt authentic and felt true to the character.
Not true to to Duchovny or Nia or Eddie, but true to who the characters were. Especially for me being a first time director, I tried to be as open as I could and it actually, I will tell any other director that this is … it made the script better, because those actors have to take those words and have to bring them to life and have to filter them through their vehicle, which is their voice and their bodies. To make an actor feel that they believe what the character’s doing … I think it always comes off on in the movie.
Nia Long: The other thing I’ll just add to that is when you get together and there’s an ensemble cast, there’s this mutual respect that instantly happens between actors, usually, that is unspoken. If you know everyone’s cool, it’s like, “Oh, I can trust.” So if Julia [Louis Dreyfus] throws me something, I know how to catch the ball and pass the ball. Because it was collaborative and it really felt like we’re here to do something great and everyone’s going to have their moment and if we just trust the process, lean into Kenya for his expertise, we’re good.
Kenya Barris: In as few takes as possible.
Nia Long: In as few takes as possible.
Kenya Barris: It’s one of the things I will say from directors I love, like after … I know Fincher has a different process and he’s one of my favorites, but in general …
Nia Long: With comedy.
Kenya Barris: Things don’t get funnier the seventh time you do them, you know what I’m saying? So you want to try to see the first take and make the adjustments then and try to get out of there and move on because people want the pace to go because these actors are doing something that’s really hard and making people laugh.