Brian Banks, which arrives in theaters this week, tells a powerful true story with the help of the man who lived through it. After the promising young football star was sent to jail for a crime he did not commit, Banks lifted himself up and stood up to the system. Now that he's exonerated and able to tell his tale, he has the support of artists such as director Tom Shadyac, who were committed to bringing his story to the big screen. Both men chatted with Screen Rant recently about the filmmaking process and the importance of California Innocence Project.
Congratulations, you guys, on Brian Banks. Your story is so moving and powerful; I was really moved by it when I watched this last week. Tom, how did you get involved and what made you want to tell Brian's story?
Tom Shadyac: I got involved because the script came my way. And it was a script that in some ways I had been living, because I worked in an underserved neighborhood of people of color. And these kids were going through a very similar situation – I was teaching at historical black college – and they had lived a version of Brian's experience. I loved them, and it broke my heart. And then I fell in love with him when I met him, and his story is powerful. It's emblematic of other people's stories, and it's going to help set some of those people free.
And it seemed like you were really involved in the process of making that film, Brian. What was it like for you to be able to really tell your truth on such a large scale?
Brian Banks: It's an honor, it really is, to get this recognition that our other exonerees and people who've been through this don't get. To be in this position, to be a representation of an experience that so many have been through, it comes with a lot of responsibility and a lot of honor and respect. I'm really happy to be in this place to share our experiences.
I'm sure there were moments that were difficult to relive or to go through again, but were there any that were fun, that you had fun being like “No, it wasn't like that?”
Brian Banks: Yeah. Just reliving those high school football moments, man. Just seeing it be recreated: the jerseys, the games, the intensity, the crowd. That's how I left the free world. I left at that moment, when those things were happening. To see it, even when we filmed – just being on a field and just kind of being in those Friday Night Lights again – it was really special.
And I think that you had a lot to do with the balancing of the light and dark moments, Tom. And you're known for comedy, but you did such a great job with this film. How did you achieve that balance?
Tom Shadyac: Wow, I don't know. It's a good question. Again, I wanted the film to be authentic. I think I was just reflecting the balance that Brian had achieved in his life. There was a lot of darkness, but he just didn't let it get him down for long. So, when you see darkness in the film, he stands up after that darkness. He has his moment, takes it in, feels something, and then he spins into something. So, it was really just following our leader.
In the movie, it seemed like some of that light inside of you came with the help of Jerome Johnson, played by Morgan Freeman. Can you talk a little about that bond in real life and about Morgan playing him?
Brian Banks: Mr. Johnson is still my mentor to this day. He was someone who extended his hand in a very dark place to pull someone out and try to help restore their light. And what he will tell you is that he never teaches you anything, he only helps you to rediscover what you already know. And so [it was] just being in his presence, that journey of rediscovery and self-enlightenment, and being challenged in ways I had never been challenged before, mentally and emotionally at such crazy time in my life. I'm so thankful that he was there, and that I had an opportunity to cross his path.
And having Morgan Freeman play him? He's happy. He was happy. You know, in a very wise way. I said, “You know Morgan Freeman's playing you?” He just gives me The Nod. Like, “Okay.” But I know he's happy; I'm happy. I'm very honored to have Morgan Freeman be a part of this story that he was gracious enough to lend us his skill. He really embodied Mr. Johnson. He did a great job.
Thank you so much, both of you.
- Brian Banks (2019) release date: Aug 09, 2019