During the fall of 1989, young Filmmaker JOHN SINGLETON began writing what would become his Academy Award-nominated 1991 masterpiece, BOYZ N The HOOD!!!
Now more than 25 years later, JOHN SINGLETON, Actors CUBA GOODING Jr., ICE CUBE LAURENCE FISHBURNE, NIA LONG, REGINA KING, Musical Composer STANLEY CLARKE, and Producer STEVEN NICOLAIDES reflect on the groundbreaking film with Journalist SHIRLEY LI for ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY Magazine.
Here are some interview interludes:
JOHN SINGLETON [writer-director]: I would write all night into the morning, sleep, and wobble my way through a couple of classes. I didn’t have the money for everything, so I had to use the public computers at school to write. I sat two feet away from people writing their term papers, and I would stand up periodically and walk around and say, “I’m writing the f—ing best screenplay of my life.” People were looking at me like I was crazy. I was so obsessed with what I was writing.
STEVE NICOLAIDES [producer]: I was in Massachusetts on vacation with my family, and Stephanie called and said, “This is the greatest script I’ve ever read.” I read it in one sitting. It really got to my soul, so I said “I’m in,” and when I met John at his mom’s house, I asked, “Why me?” He said, “Because you worked on my favorite movie, [Rob Reiner’s] Stand by Me.”
LAURENCE FISHBURNE [Furious]: When I read the last three pages, I was in tears. It was a story about the African-American community in South Central L.A. by one of its sons. The scene with me giving Cuba a haircut, the idea that I’m sitting down and cutting my son’s hair in the kitchen, is very specific to our culture.
NIA LONG [Brandi]: My story is very close to Brandi’s story. At the time I wondered, “Why are they making a movie about this? This is just my life.” But for most people, it wasn’t. People who had no concept of how black people live were enlightened.
REGINA KING [Shalika]: We were so excited to be telling a story about a world we knew. We all had never seen a movie like that, we’d never seen a TV show like that.
CUBA GOODING JR. [Tre]: I could see how Tre expressed a street hunger necessary to transcend his environment. It became a character and experience I could craft from real people I came into contact with. I felt no other actor could bring what I could to the role.
STANLEY CLARKE [composer]: Ice Cube was so young. I remember a moment when he and I were in a trailer with a couple other actors, and he goes, “You know, one day I’m gonna write my own movies, I’m gonna have my own production company, and I’m gonna do this, and I’m gonna do that.” And he did it.
MORRIS CHESTNUT [Ricky]: Because Cuba had already been in the industry and done a pilot, every time I saw him, I would ask him questions. I’ll never forget, one day he came out of his trailer and I happened to be coming out of my trailer, and he pretended like he had to go back into his trailer to get something. [Laughs] I mean, he was very good to me. I was just green.
SINGLETON: The first people that read for Tre were Morris Chestnut and Cuba Gooding Jr. Morris comes in and reads it, and he’s good, and then Cuba comes in and reads it, and he’s great. So I said, “Well, that’s it, that’s done. He’s gonna play Tre, and the chocolate one is going to be Ricky. I’m hungry, I’m going to lunch.” [Laughs]
NICOLAIDES: Laurence Fishburne was the Yoda to all this young cast. He gave lessons and gave support.
LONG: I had to run across the street and say, “Ricky got shot,” and I had never played hysterical in a film. Laurence pulled me aside after I did it one time. It was fine, but he whispered in my ear, “Give it all you’ve got,” and I knew exactly what he meant. I did it again and I just remember looking at him after, and he said, “There you go.”
FISHBURNE: Cuba had access to his emotions in a way I wished I had when I was his age. We were rehearsing the scene after Cuba’s been terrorized by the black cop. He’s in tears, and he starts punching wildly around the room, and he actually punched a hole in the wall. I was like, “Woooow.” That was rehearsal.
SINGLETON: When Doughboy kills the people who killed Ricky, half the audience cheered, and a guy in the audience goes, “Why y’all cheerin’? Don’t you know what this is sayin’?” I loved that.
CHESTNUT: When I’m walking down the street, the thing I hear the most is “Ricky!” I don’t mind it, because people are still touched. After all these years, it’s still extremely relevant.
NICOLAIDES: After the movie came out, I was in a van with Rob Reiner for A Few Good Men, and he said, “Why’d you fade out Ice Cube at the end like we did with Chris in Stand By Me?” And I said, “You don’t get it? The whole movie was an homage to your movie!” [Laughs] Rob was like, “Oh my God. I missed allof that!”
FISHBURNE: As long as there are human beings, there will be boys, and boys need to be made into men. But in order for boys to become men, they need to be initiated, and they will either be initiated in the light by men like Furious or they will be initiated in the dark through jail time or gangs or whatever. That’s just a humanistic, universal truth.
Watch below for the trailer to 1991 classic film BOYZ N The HOOD.