Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Interview: Mario Van Peebles Talks "We the Party"

Interview: Mario Van Peebles Talks "We the Party," Yahoo! Voices, Written by: Karen Benardello

Teenagers have always been perceived as only acting in their own best interest, and what immediately will be most beneficial to them. However, the new comedy "We the Party" shows that teens can succeed in whatever they put their minds to. The film, which was written and directed by Mario Van Peebles, who also stars in the movie, ultimately helps prove the idea that teens can mature and overcome any obstacle that gets in their way.

"We the Party" takes a contemporary look at the struggles and coming of age of the first generation of high school students affected by the Obama administration. Set against the latest trends in music, dance and fashion in an ethnically diverse Los Angeles school, the comedy follows five friends, including Hendrix Sutton (played by Mandela Van Peebles), as they struggle with romance and money.

While Hendrix is concerned about making money to buy a car and impressing the older Cheyenne Davis (portrayed by Simone Battle), his father (portrayed by writer-director Mario Van Peebles), who is also one of his teachers, wants him to improve his grades. Hendrix is caught between impressing his peers and pleasing his father, and must decide which road he wants to pursue.

Mario generously took the time to speak over the phone about what inspired him to write and direct "We the Party." The filmmaker also discussed why he enjoys working with his children and father, and why he thinks it's important to feature contemporary issues plaguing society in movies.

Question (Q): :"We The Party" is a hip-hop infused dramedy about the first generation of high schoolers to come of age during the Obama years. What was your inspiration in chronicling the struggles of modern day society through the eyes of the current high school generation, against the latest trends in music, dance and fashion?

Mario Van Peebles (MVP)
: Well, the big inspiration was my five teenagers. (laughs) I have three boys and two girls, all going through various stages of teenagedom. I felt like I was taking a crash course in it.

I wound up going out with them. They wanted to go to parties and all-age clubs, and my response was heck no, you can't go without me. We went back and forth, and finally one son said how about you go out with me, but not as my dad? You go out with us as our bouncer, as our friend. (laughs)

So I went out with them to the clubs. We heard all the bands playing, and heard all the rap groups. I saw what they were going through, and I started writing the movie. That became the basis for "We the Party."

Q: Speaking of your children, you cast several of them in "We The Party," including your son, Mandela, who plays the main character, Hendrix. What is your motivation in working with your family on your films, and how did you come to decide that Mandela would be the right choice to cast as Hendrix?

: Part of it is when I direct shows like "Boss," "Damages" or "Lost," when you direct a series, it's almost like you know the characters well. You're putting them in new situations, and seeing them grow and evolve in different places. I felt like I grew up with my kids, and I knew them well, and I could really write their voices well. They've been acting with me since they were kids.

I saw their friends, and Snoop Dogg's sons and P. Diddy's son. It felt organic, because I knew their voices so well. So a lot of the characters and the things that happen in 'We the Party' are inspired by them. So I think that was a big part of it.

For example, my one son was studying with a girl who was a 4.0 student. They were studying over Skype, and that's in the movie. He's on the debate team, and he's very, very bright. They nicknamed him Obama, and that's in the movie. My oldest daughter's a big drama queen, and knows all that's happening socially. So that was in the movie.

A lot of things in the movie are based on things they did. That's what made it so much fun, and made it feel so authentic, and their voices are real. I really worked on getting their real voices.

To continue reading this interview, please visit Yahoo! Voices.

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