From the director of box office hits such as The Nutty Professor, Liar Liar and Ace Ventura: Pet Detective comes a different, inspiring film of resurrection and perseverance.
Brian Banks [Aldis Hodge] is an inspirational true story of an All-American high school football star whose life gets derailed after he is wrongly convicted of a crime he didn’t commit. Due to a broken justice system, Banks was hit with a decade of prison and probation. Years later, with the help of Justin Brooks [Greg Kinnear] and the California Innocence Project, Banks is able to reclaim his life and freedom. The Knockturnal met with the cast for an exclusive interview about justice for those wrongly accused, present day life for Brian Banks, and so much more. Check out the interview below!
The Knockturnal: Tom what attracted you to Brian’s story and what made you want to tell it now?
Tom Shadyac: Well I think the timing of the universe is perfect and so it’s more about the powers that are unseen that say, now is the time. It moved me because I had been living a different life in Memphis, Tennessee and at the time I’d been teaching at an historical black college and Brian’s experience felt like the kid’s experience, my kids of color who had not been experiencing the same America that I’d experience; going to jail for crimes they didn’t commit, not getting their stories told and then I met the man. He moves with such positivity and power coming out of such difficulty and I thought, he could have an effect on my students, turn their lives into something more positive and I think he can do the same for America. We need to do something about our criminal justice system.
The Knockturnal: And Brian, seeing this movie, your life story on the big screen, did it stir up some old emotions for you?
Brian Banks: Absolutely. There’s no way to shake a ten-year, traumatic experience. Some experiences last a matter of seconds and will stick with a person forever. This was a ten-year ordeal, not just for me but for my family. It was definitely tough to be on set, watch this be created and now also seeing the final creation and being in a theater and watching this and watching the reactions that people get from it, it’s tough. It’s a tough film, it’s a tough watch, it was a tough experience, but it’s needed, it’s absolutely needed for so many other people in similar situations.
The Knockturnal: You guys actually both experienced unfortunate, kind of monumental, life changing situations, you being falsely accused and your bicycle accident; is there something positive you can take away from these painful experiences?
Tom Shadyac: Well I think Brian’s an example of the darkness and finding your way to the light. It’s a death and resurrection story. We killed Brian’s youth off but somehow, he was able to resurrect, prove his innocence. He educated himself, he stayed positive, he changed his mindset, he got free while he was behind bars in perspective and now, he’s gonna use his story to free others. There’s a parallel because I went through something as well as you said. I had a literal near death experience because of a bike accident and somehow, I was able to pull through it and find enough positivity and tell a story about that in a documentary called I Am, we found each other and got to work together on this story.
The Knockturnal: I appreciate the fact that the movie didn’t focus too much on the accuser, it was really more about your story and moving forward however, do you feel that there should be some consequences for anyone who falsely accuses someone of sexual assault?
Brian Banks: I absolutely do. I think that everyone on this planet should be held accountable for their actions despite you being a man or woman, whatever the case may be. People lie. It’s not a man lies or a woman lies, people lie and so I think it’s important we stress and put pressure on our judicial system to get to the truth about what happened in these difficult situations because people will do what they need to do to protect themselves.
The Knockturnal: So, what is life looking like for present day Brian Banks?
Brian Banks: I am a father of a six-month-old, beautiful young king. I wrote my book, What Set Me Free that came out July 2nd so it’s on the shelves now everywhere. I’m continuously advocating for other wrongfully convicted people. I sit on the advisory board for the California Innocence Project and the National Registry of Exonerations and I’m travelling the country speaking. I’m a nationally recognized speaker so I’m just spreading the word, my message, the stories of others, educating people on the effects and causes of wrongful convictions, just staying in my lane and doing the best that I can to help others.
The Knockturnal: Well first, congratulations on the film. It was really, so, so good. You guys are both playing real people, so what steps did you take to make sure you were portraying them accurately?
Aldis Hodge: It was mostly just conversation. I mean for me with Brian it was conversation, sort of taking me through all he went through, and he was really emotionally available to me to allow me to do that and then the physical change of trying to put on weight. I put on twenty pounds throughout this whole thing but really just spending time with him, feeling him out, getting to probe his mind about his understanding of certain things; life, appreciation, we talked about everything. Just understanding what his core was, who he was as a man to bring out on the screen.
Greg Kinnear: Justin Brooks is a lawyer who started the California Innocence Project out here and they’ve exonerated a lot of people. He got caught up in Brian’s kind of unstoppable force of nature and they ended up helping him through this process but Justin’s an incredible guy, very positive guy. I think he works in a very frustrating world of no’s and you can’t do it that way. He gets to really see, front and center how broken certain aspects of the criminal system are, and you’d think that’d make you frustrated and cynical and he’s not. He just accepts it and moves forward and says that tomorrow is another day and we’re gonna keep pushing the rock up the hill. It was great meeting both of these guys. What a blessing to be able to work on the movie, have these guys around, become friends with them and to watch them as guys you respect but then also be able to call them as an actor and say, I don’t know what I’m doing in this scene and they’ll tell ya.
The Knockturnal: Aldis it seemed like you formed a real relationship with Brian, is there anything you learned from him throughout this journey?
Aldis Hodge: A couple of things. My first conversation he tells me something he adapted when talking to people is don’t judge me by what I went through, judge me by how I dealt with it and then also he told me he wasn’t bitter towards the woman who accused him about the whole situation he just wanted to move past it. The anger had its time and place but now he just wants to be happy, so it showed me a sense of being able to own your situation, own yourself in it and not let a situation define you or control your happiness. You have the control; you have the power to move forward however you choose to, so it was really sort of an education on how to maintain your solvency through a difficult time.
The Knockturnal: Wanetta Gibson which is Brian’s accuser, she never really faced any consequences, which frustrates me, but do you guys feel like she should have?
Greg Kinnear: I would say yes if I hadn’t seen the movie and I feel like the movie throws that whole thing on its head because if you just heard it at face value you would be like, wait, what happens, why aren’t we getting justice but that’s not the point of the movie, it’s not the point of Brian’s story, it’s not what he’s about and I think the success of the movie is that it works and that’s not a problem. You don’t walk out of there going, but the bad guy didn’t…that doesn’t matter. You understand what the journey is and how success is reached here, and it doesn’t involve looking back.
The Knockturnal: So, the movie was a little bit heavy although it does have a great ending. Is there anything you guys did or do normally to just wind down and relax after filming a really heavy, deep scene?
Greg Kinnear: He’d just go to work out for another four hours at the gym, that’s how you’d go kickback right?
Aldis Hodge: Honestly, yeah.
Greg Kinnear: He’d finish a scene and he’d be spilling his guts out and I’d be like, what are you doing now, and he’d be like, I’m going to the gym for three hours with Brian. I’d be like, see ya!
Aldis Hodge: I had to. As soon as they’d yell cut, I still had to go to work. I had to keep size on, and it was not easy but something Brian and I did was, we found this spot called Wing Guru right, which is like the spot. I mean, they have a spot in Memphis called, Gus’, great chicken, so Gus’ is the spot, but Wing Guru is also…they got this little siracha garlic wings, um yeah! So that was our happy place. We’d just go up in there, gave us about twenty, thirty wings and we would go to town, yeah!
The Knockturnal: What attracted you guys to the script?
Melanie Liburd: For me the…Brian, Brian as a real person, the real story, the hope in this story, how inspiring it is and Karina, the character of Karina with Brian. I just think they bring such a light, their story and help heal each other.
Sherri Shepherd: I read it and immediately, Leomia just jumped out of the page because Leomia when you meet her, she says, I didn’t do anything special, I just loved my son. That’s what she says all the time. In the love that you had for your son was the bedrock of him being sane and him being able to keep moving forward when he was incarcerated and the things that she did to show her love for her son. She sold her car, mortgaged her home, she went to see him three and a half hours there and back, she wrote him a letter every day, she was available for every phone call, she basically stopped her life for her son and that fight and her faith just…I called my agent and said I gotta get this script, please give me an audition, I know they don’t want to see me because I make you laugh but please, please let me get in there and audition for this role.
The Knockturnal: Well Sherri you did a great job. You gave a strong, heartfelt performance which made me think, what do you think about when having to portray these hard scenes like watching your son get ripped out of bed and accused of rape?
Sherri Shepherd: At the time that I read the script, my son Jefferey was twelve years old and I said, Jeffrey could be Brian Banks. He’s now fourteen and he’s a silly little boy but he’s got a mustache and he’s kinda…with a deep voice and he could be Brian Banks. That emotional thing of seeing my son be ripped away from me is devastating and is real for me so to portray and give honor to Leomia and her story of, she did everything she could to keep Brian away from any kind of element and even still, it happened to a person that’s supposed to be playing pro right now, ball. So that kind of thing is what informed me and then Brian, how he would talk about how much he loved his mother and how much she meant to him.
The Knockturnal: At a time where the Me-Too movement has a platform and we’re saying, believe women, do you think shows or movies like Brian Banks and When They See Us takes away from that message?
Sherri Shepherd: You know it’s funny because you never want to believe that your child is lying, you always want to believe your child but I think this movie shines more of a spotlight on the failure of the judicial system in Brian Banks’ life as opposed to not believing the victim. I think that the judicial system failed him in the fact that if they had done their due diligence and went and done the necessary investigation just by walking a hallway because he was charged with kidnapping, just by walking the hallway to see that there’s no possible way he could’ve kidnapped this woman, that it might’ve been so different for this boy’s life so I think it speaks more to that, this movie, than anything else.
Melanie Liburd: Also, the relationship that he has with Karina. You know you have Brian’s story and he meets Karina who was a victim of sexual violence and who wasn’t believed so then to come forward and meet someone like Brian and to have her view change and believe him because he’s such a wonderful guy and to help each other in that way, that’s why they’re a great balance to the story.
The Knockturnal: This is kind of a different role for both you guys. We see you always so bubbly and light, are there any specific roles or characters you’re hoping to portray in the future?
Melanie Liburd: Yeah, everything! Everything please, I’m up for it!
Sherri Shepherd: I want to have a love scene with Idris Elba, I swear to God or Channing Tatum, those two! I won’t settle for less girl! I’m hoping this movie propels me to that place.
Melanie Liburd: Action, drama, comedy…
Sherri Shepherd: I want to kill somebody! Like I want to jump off a roof and like do some damage. I would like to kick somebody in the you know.
Melanie Liburd: What else can we do? Horse ride, dance, we can do it all!
Sherri Shepherd: All of the above girl! Yeah, a sex scene is definitely in my future, I don’t know about you Melanie.
Brian Banks is in theaters August 9.