Jordan Peele's Us has received over $100 million at the box office, making it a huge hit. The director already had a brilliant level of success for his movie, Get Out in 2017. Us kept the theme of socio-political lessons and symbolism, but Peele still managed to surprise and wow his audience by making the takeaway more broad and challenging to unpack.
So what kind of work went behind this movie anyway? What inspired such a wonderfully unsettling thriller? While many movie-goers are looking up what to make of the ending, some of you should definitely be curious as to how the movie was made in the first place. So here is a list of behind-the-scenes facts.
It is easy to see why those movies were in a list for Nyong'o to see before filming. Us did feature creepy twins similar to the ones in The Shining. The ending of Us also had a similar mood to the ending of Hitchcok's The Birds, where the main characters drive away with a sense of dread in the wake of a massive attack.
The character simply known as Red was a mysterious figure in Us. A trait that set her apart from all else was her voice. In an interview with NME, Lupita Nyong'o said that Red's voice was inspired by a disorder called spasmodic dysphonia.
"It's a condition that is brought about by a trauma, sometimes emotional, sometimes physical, sometimes just inexplicable where your vocal chord folds start to spasm and they create this kind of irregular pattern of air," explained Nyong'o. "It's an interesting modulation of the voice. I built off of that from something in the script that said that she hadn't used her voice for a long time. I worked very diligently to be able to do it without hurting myself.
Rabbits played a certain role in the film, primarily as a source of food for the tethered in the underpass. When questioned about the rabbits role, Jordan Peele admitted that he found rabbits to be unsettling.
"I'm not afraid of them but I do find them scary," he said. "They're very cuddly but they also have a sociopathic expression, and they kind of look past you in a creepy kind of way."
In a way, Peele shared his unsettling feeling of rabbits at the beginning of the movie when the camera slowly zoom out from a rabbits face in a cage. You don't know what happening at that moment, but whatever it is, it's definitely ominous. Is it also a coincidence that the movie came out near Easter?
One of the most memorable scenes in the film is definitely the duality between Red and Adelaide's ballet dances as children. One was wide and out in the open with the freedom to move while the other was deep underground and crashing into walls as she tried to match the other.
The dancing was to an orchestral arrangement of Luniz’s "I Got 5 On It," however that wasn't always the plan in the film. In fact, it was originally going to be to Tchaikovsky’s "Pas De Deux" from The Nutcracker. When Peele tried it with the first cut, he changed his mind. He said he found the piece to be too "old-school" for the movie.
There was more than one piece of imagery that was Michael Jackson related in Us. The most recognizable one is the thriller t-shirt from the 1980s flashback scenes. However, some fans may have also noticed an eerie resemblance to the red jumpsuits the doppelgängers wear and the "Thriller" red jumpsuits. Also like Michael Jackson, the doppelgangers wear a single glove.
"Michael Jackson is probably the patron saint of duality," said Jordan Peele. "The movie starts in the '80s — the duality with which I experienced him [Jackson] in that time was both as the guy that presented this outward positivity, but also the 'Thriller' video which scared me to death."
Jordan Peele has connections with the Twilight Zone, and it's not just about him being in charge of the show's reboot. He has said that a certain episode from season one of the show strongly inspired Us. The episode was called "Mirror Image." In it, a woman finds a doppelgänger of herself at a bus station and becomes convinced that the double intends on replacing her.
“It’s beautiful, really elegant storytelling,” Jordan Peele said, “and it opens up a world. It opens up your imagination.”
Get Out was a major hit in 2017, being a horror comedy about a black man meeting his white girlfriend's family. However with Us, Peele wanted to be able to have black characters without the message being about black identity and racism. Get Out also had genre confusion since comedy and horror are a unique mix, so Peele wanted Us to be purely horror.
"As much as the point of [Us] is setting out to make a movie where it’s not about race, America is about race," said Peele. "It’s always about race. So you can’t really get away from that and people’s experience of the film. I think it only highlights how important it is that we try and forge into the territory where a black family is just a black family and that’s it."
Besides the "Thriller" t-shirt and red jumpsuits, many other outfit choices in the film were made to hint at character identity. Kym Barrett was the costume designer and she decided it was important for the protagonist to wear white through the film. "I wanted her to be the lantern that led her family,” Barrett said. “Along the way, that light is continually flickering … She’s getting more and more and more covered in blood. The idea was that [by the film’s end], she’s almost as red as Red.”
The husband on the other hand, Gabe, picks outfits to communicate where he belongs and who he is. The son, Jason, has clothes that reflect he's a trickster from his white-tuxedo t-shirt to his JAWS shirt. Zora wears a lot of rabbit-themed shirts. As for the shade of red the tethered wear, Barrett said, "It’s half the color of wet blood; it’s half the color of dried blood. It’s like an old wound.”
In a movie about doppelgängers, the actors had the challenge of acting with key characters missing. Nyong'o had to act as Red without Adelaide and act as Adelaide without Red. However, Jordan Peele decided to help the actors by making himself a stand-in for the missing character. Actor Winston Duke even said that Peele had a talent for mimicking their lines and mannerisms from the day before.
This way, the actors had another character to bounce off of and communicate with. So many could not picture the movie until they saw it for themselves since they played two individual parts that had to interact with each other!
Actress Shahadi Wright Joseph shared with Buzzfeed that Nyong'o's portrayal of Red on film set was a scary experience. She said that Nyong'o was so dedicated, that she would often stay in character even when they were not filming.
“She really kinda spooked me out a little bit,” Joseph said. "She would really get into character and wouldn’t talk. It was kind of creepy.”
This does tie in to Red's special voice, which the actress said she had to practice and find a way to use it without hurting her vocal chords.