Jeymes Samuel has assembled a cast of superhero proportions for his upcoming Netflix film, The Harder They Fall. Between Regina King, Delroy Lindo and LaKeith Stanfield, who are all fresh from the 2020-2021 awards season for One Night in Miami, Da 5 Bloods and Judas and the Black Messiah, respectively, Marvel stars Jonathan Majors, Idris Elba, and Zazie Beetz, For All Mankind star Edi Gathegi and Power Rangers star RJ Cyler, the Old West is once again the new cinematic playground for bigger-than-life characters.
The irony is that the Old West has always been home to bigger-than-life Black heroes, such as the real Lone Ranger, Bass Reeves. During a video call with Shadow And Act, Samuel said he has wanted to explore the world of the Western through the lens of Blackness, a lens not often used to showcase the American West's history.
"I've been a follower of westerns since I was a child," he said. "I really, really loved westerns, but I would just see a really clear inconsistency with the portrayals of people of color, basically in the Old West and being such a fan of actors like Woody Strode, who was amazing in Spartacus but then you'll see him pop up in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance and he couldn't get a drink in the bar. I just grew up wanting to know more about people of color and women and all of these ideas of the Old West that I was not getting from the Hollywood movies. And so I would just buy books and would...uncover amazing characters--both heroes and villains, both men and women of all colors.
Samuel said that The Harder They Fall, which follows Nat Love (Majors) who seeks revenge for his parents' murder after their murderer, Rufus Buck (Elba) is released from prison, fits "amazingly" into the broad western canon because of how it embraces the new, similar to how westerns of the '50s, '60s, and '70s embraced new ideas.
"While I tip my hat to the Old West [aesthetic] and the movies that came before us…what I think is amazing about The Harder They Fall is that it's totally new," he said. "It's totally new voices. Totally new storytelling, totally new portrayals. It's totally fresh. I think the freshness of it makes it fit perfectly in the same way that when Sergio Leone made A Fistful of Dollars and had Ennio Morricone score it. It was just a whole new experience."
"What's great about The Harder They Fall is that people of all ages could watch it and not really being aware that they're watching a western because human beings don't change. So you're showing them on these characters that existed a hundred years ago and more, but you can relate to them today," he continued. "And I think because of those choices I believe that The Harder They Fall fits firmly in the western [canon], because the western, when Hollywood was doing it, was fresh. The choice of music they would use, it was fresh at the time. It wasn't actually cowboy music. So, it's a perfect addition to the genre and brings it into 2021 and forward."
"One thing all artists have in common is they all want to make great art, right? And all of these, these amazing actors, they're artists, a lot of them in The Harder They Fall are multifaceted," he said. "Idris is a musician. Lakeith Stanfield is a musican, RJ Cyler is a musician, Regina is also a director. A lot of them ar multifaceted. Everyone at the root is a storyteller, we are all storytellers. So we all kind of bonded and came into each other's lives out of wanting to tell a truer take on what was known as the Old West."
"We all came together with that mission in mind And what's amazing to me is all these actors. I love them. I'm a fan of every single one of them. And we're all kinds of fans of cinema," he continued. "So it's amazing when you're surrounded by people that also don't tell you you're crazy; [they tell you] 'We existed in the Old West and let's tell the story, together.' It was almost as much a cushion of your own belief systems, right? It's as much a comfort zone filled with people that have your own beliefs or what should be as it is a dream to work with all of these great talents."
The fact that his cast is stacked with stars of comic book cinematic universes isn't lost on Samuel, who described himself "as much of a Marvel geek and DC geek as the next person."
"When we're on set, I'm not necessarily thinking about what else [the actors] have been in. You know you just have a mission and you're ready to tell the story. But…once I'm finished. I'm asking them all about the Marvel stuff," he said. "My son calls Jonathan Majors 'Uncle Kang' because he's cast as Kang the Conqueror in the new Marvel movies. So it's a trip. It's an absolute joy and a wonder and I try to mine them as much as possible for secrets. But, you know, Jonathan has signed the NDA, so he can't really tell me much. I just have to wait. Idris has already shot, his Avengers stuff, so I get my bits and pieces from him."
Along with Cyler, who donned the Power Rangers suit in the 2017 film, King, who also starred in HBO's Watchmen, and Beetz, who was Domino in Deadpool 2, the film's cast are well-equipped to play characters based on real-life superheroes audiences can look up to.
"These people are like real life superheroes who existed, who we can read about over a hundred years Later. So even for me, it's also awesome knowing that they've played fictional characters and now they're playing real characters in a fictional story. It's just a trip all around," he said. "I always say the film we make is for the public but the making of the movie is for us. So I try to have fun all the time on set. And when you have a cast like that, it's really easy to have immense fun."
While his relationship with his cast is important, Samuel also counts his relationship to collaborator Jay-Z just as crucial.
"I'm fortunate he's one of my closest friends," he said, recounting that they began working together when Jay Electronica was signed to Jay-Z's record label. They also collaborated on the 2013 adaptation of The Great Gatsby.
"Working with Jay is like breathing. It's literally just like breathing," he said. "He's a really great collaborator. He really believes in collaboration and bringing everything together. What the public doesn't know and what [would surprise them is how versed he is in all these different aspects of art. So even when I'm writing the script, I'll be going back and forth with him all the time. I'll be stuck on a particular scene, and He would have actually been through something like that in real life and advise me on how the outcome would be or what the character's motivation would be."
"He was involved in the writing process all the way through post production, so it's just a really awesome thing," Samuel continued. "Working with Jay-Z is like breathing. He's an awesome collaborator. He's super knowledgeable in various areas and fundamentally believes in the magic of cinema, as much as he believes in the magic of music."
With so much going in the right direction, its clear that The Harder They Fall is looking to be one of the surprises of 2021. Indeed, it cements for Samuel that he's following his purpose.
The film and its cast, he said, "lets me know that I've done the right thing with my life," he said. "…I'm where I need to be."
The Harder They Fall will debut on Netflix and in theaters fall 2021.