“Judas And The Black Messiah” has been building buzz ahead of its release, thanks to performances from a cast that includes Daniel Kaluuya, LaKeith Stanfield, Dominique Fishback and Jesse Plemons. Now, director and writer Shaka King says he wrote the script with those actors in mind.
“It was in the scriptwriting process I wrote it for Daniel, LaKeith, Dominique and Jesse,” he tells ET Canada’s Keshia Chante. “Those four people I had in mind when the pen was on the pad.”
With a premiere at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this month and Golden Globes and SAG Awards nominations for Kaluuya, the biopic about FBI informant Bill O’Neal’s involvement in the takedown of Fred Hampton, Chairman of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party, the cast reveals they knew King’s story was special after reading the script.
“I’m reading this script and I’m hopeful and so once I finished it, I wrote him this long email about all the things that I loved,” breakout star Fishback, who plays Hampton’s partner Deborah Johnson, explains. “I said, ‘I have two thoughts but I don’t want to overstep, so let me know,’ and he said, ‘Oh you’ll be playing her, you can’t overstep give me your notes.'”
For Plemons, who plays an FBI agent in the film, even though the word “important” is tossed around a lot when it comes to telling stories on screen, he knew “Judas And The Black Messiah” was just that.
“This is really the first film I’ve been involved in that really does feel like that,” he explains. “Not only is it unfortunately so relevant, it’s told in a way that sort of has a maximum emotional human impact which I think is the most you can ask for. Biopics are really hard to do well sometimes and Shaka did an amazing job.”
Tasked with taking on a real-life figure of almost mythic status, Kaluuya says he turned to recordings of Hampton to get into character.
“I would watch clips and see how his spirit moved me,” he says. “And I was like, ‘Oh my North Star is I want to move people the way he moved me.”
Stanfield hopes viewers and the people who knew O’Neal and Hampton in real life with “appreciate the truth and honesty” the cast and King put into the film.
“My intention is definitely not to create more disarray. I just want to help tell the story,” Stanfield adds.
“Judas And The Black Messiah” opens on Feb. 12.