The Knockturnal got the chance to sit down with director of “Five Star” Keith Miller, along with actors Primo Grant and John Diaz. Five Star tells the story of one of the head members of the Bloods, along with teenager John Diaz. This movie explores what it means to become a man.
Keith Miller, how was the idea of the movie born?
I had just finished “Welcome to Pine Hill”, my last movie. … In a lot of ways that is an internal movie, a meditative movie; I wanted to do something that was a little bit more external, physical and that would address what it means to be a man. Shanon Harper from “Welcome to Pine Hill” said “do you want to meet this guy who used to bounce at the same place that I did, and is a Five Star of the Bloods?” So Primo and I did a one-hour on camera that day (I just happened to have my camera on me), and it was a great conversation, really interesting. I edited down and realized that Primo is great on camera.
We hung out a lot of times, just hanging out, and became very close. He liked the final product I created from the conversation and we started talking about collaborating on a larger piece, Primo was into it. I developed the idea and architecture for the story that had an older person who is at a transitional point of their lives and the other character who is also at a transitional point of their lives, and in a way they kind of parallel but are separated by years.
Primo, you are familiar with the areas in which you shot many scenes. Did anyone who knows you see you shooting this film? What was their reaction?
We shot in many different areas, and almost every area I have lived in, so I know a lot of people. Some people knew about it, some didn’t. Everyone’s reaction was pretty much the same positive, saying, “do your thing, we support you.” Everyone was happy for me, it was just great.
This is your debut as an actor, but you mentioned that you had always wanted to do acting before?
Yeah for me it was a dream. I would always stand in front of the mirror and pretend. I would watch Jim Carry, “The Mask”, and I would joke around, Robert Niro and try and impersonate him. And now I am fulfilling my dream.
John Diaz, how did you get involved in this project?
I met up with Keith at Starbucks (was it?).
Keith intervened: It was actually in front of WNYC. It was right around the time of the release of “Welcome to Pine Hill”. I just happened to be there and John is from the Lower East Side so we met up.
John: I knew he was filming a movie and he was auditioning and looking for a character. I was in a short film with a guy named Jeremy. Once he told me about Keith’s movie and told me I had to meet him I jumped in a cab.
Keith: I met him and, you know, when we started auditioning, we auditioned probably like 60 or 70 guys for that part. When I first saw him, I thought “He could do this”. The most important part was when we had the callbacks, the chemistry between him and Primo happened in the first minute.
Were any of the scenes improvised?
Keith: A lot of the scenes (or the specifics of the scene) come directly from the conversations I had with Primo. They are very much based on what we had talk about in his life. Like the opening scene, it is a real monologue. We had a conversation earlier that day, and he said basically the same stuff so I said, “let’s try that”. It was so moving and intense.
What is something that you wanted to audience to take from this movie?
This movie is a movie about people that is set in a specific world. Hopefully there is a lot of different things the audience can take away. I wanted to show the human side of it. Primo and I were talking before, and it is also a movie about choices. Somebody asked him this morning “so, being in a gang got you into prison?” and he said “no I got me into prison”, so it’s choices. Deciding to change those things and realizing: even if it seems like you don’t have choices, you might have more than you see. Also in the case of John’s character, what I was hoping to show is the legacy of his father, he has the neighborhood, he has the pressures of everyday life; but he’s trying to figure out what it means to be a man for him. Primo, the older character, is also trying to figure out how he is going to live, how he is going to be what others want him to be but most importantly how he is going to be who he wants to be.
The film opened in NY on July 24 at the IFC Cinemas and will open in LA on July 31 at the Arena Cinemas and on VOD and iTunes August 4.