Barry Jenkins, Trevante Rhodes, Ashton Sanders Talk ‘Moonlight’ At The Gotham Awards

Winning the Best Feature, Best Screenplay, Gotham Audience Award, and a Special Jury Award for Ensemble Performance was Moonlight, director Barry Jenkins’ stunning triptych-structured story of the life of a young black man from childhood to adulthood as he struggles to find his place in the world.

Moonlight is the first film in the history of the Gotham Awards to win four awards and the first to win both Best Feature and the Audience Award. Read our interviews from the event below:

Speak about, since you won for the screenplay, what was your process like adapting the screenplay?

It was very fluid, to be honest. Tarell and I talked for about four or five months, and then he won a MacArthur Genius Grant, so he was too busy to do the adaptation himself, so I kind of took it on. It was really nice, because in this way, it wasn’t even an adaptation. I kind of took Tarell’s piece as a starting point. It was like a relay race, and I just got handed the baton and kind of carried it forth. I wrote the first draft in 10 days, and I think part of that was because it was so specific about the world Tarell grew up in, which is the same world I grew up in, and the things his mom had gone through. It just kind of came out of me, you know? It was very fluid to fill in the spaces, to fill in the gaps.

In 10 days you wrote the draft?

The first draft. Now, no first draft ever ends up being the finished film.

Where did you write it?

I wrote it almost three years ago to the day, in Brussels, Belgium, and I had no friends, no email, no phone. All I did was wake up, make coffee, drink, and write.

Have you spoken with Tarell?

No, I think my shoulder is buzzing right now. I’m pretty sure he’s talking to me right now. He would have been here, but he has kids to teach, and that’s always the most important thing, to him.

What are you working on next?

I’m doing an adaptation of Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad as a limited series, not a feature.

How many episodes?

Six to eight. We’ll see.
Congratulations on the Ensemble award. What does this honor mean to you?

Ashton: Man, we’re both just very humbled and very blessed to be here. Very blessed to be respected for the artistry that we put in. Definitely.

Trevante: It’s a beautiful time. It’s a beautiful time to share all of this with a bunch of beautiful people, the cast, the crew, everybody. It’s an incredible moment.

What do you admire about Barry’s filmmaking?

Trevante: Barry’s a genius.

Ashton: He’s simply a genius.

Trevante: I admire the fact that he just breaks barriers and tries to do any and everything to get the most truthful story across. He’s incredible.

What did you gentleman discover about yourselves making this movie?

Trevante: I discovered that loving yourself is really the most important thing. Loving yourself, trying to understand yourself as best as you possibly can and understanding people around you. Because you never know what happened to that person that day. It’s really important to just try and empathize and sympathize with people.

How was working with Andre?

Trevante: Andre’s beautiful, man. I love him. I look up to him like a big brother so just to learn from him and to be in the space with him was everything to me.

Anything you want to add about this journey so far?

Ashton: It’s been amazing. It’s been amazing to be a part of this process and to be able to have worked with these amazing artists. We’re just grateful, I’m grateful.:

You’re very, you’re both very busy now aren’t you?

Trevante: We’re trying to keep the ball rolling. Trying to pick the right things because it’s very difficult but, yeah man, working with the right people, doing the right things, yeah.

Can you tell us about one project you’re working on?

Trevante: Horse Soldiers is what I’m working on right now. Then we have Predator coming up after that. Just knocking them out.
Tell me a little bit about Horse Soldiers.

Trevante: Horse Soldiers is a story. It’s me, Michael Shannon, Chris Hemsworth, Michael Pena. It’s really a story about a small group of special forces. We go over to Afghanistan right around 9/11 and we handle business over there right around that time. It’s exciting, it’s a true story, it’s a bestselling book so I’m really excited to bring it to life.

Did you go drinking with Michael Shannon?

Trevante: Of course. Very interesting. Very beautiful person. It’s a good time.
What’s coming up next for you?

Ashton: I just signed on to this project called Captive State. It’s a post-apocalyptic project with Focus so that should be pretty rad. Look out for that. A couple more things that I can’t talk about right now but stay tuned.

The evening was presented by Fiji Water, deep Euphoria Calvin Klein and Landmark Vineyards.

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