Nina Yang Bongiovi is Forest Whitaker’s production partner at Significant Productions and the CEO of their other production company JuntoBox Films.
She is probably best known for her work on the indie hit Fruitvale Station. Her latest film Dope hits theaters June 19. We spoke with Nina on the red carpet for the opening night of the American Black Film Festival, which also marked Dope’s New York premiere. Read our exclusive interview below:
Q: So tell me why this project was so special to be a part of?
A: Well everything that Forest and I produce has to be special, unique, quality driven. So after Fruitvale we got so many different opportunities. And Forest and I took a risk on this because a lot of the studios didn’t understand it, they didn’t want to take the chance on Rick and his new project so we decided to take it on and ran with it, and once again independently financed it, produced it, made it to Sundance, made it to Cannes, we are here, so it is a unique voice, a unique perspective.
Q: And speak about what makes writer/director Rick Famuyiwa so brilliant.
A: Rick is such a great writer so we got it right away. And working with him through the process, seeing his perspective on the different characters he portrayed in the movie was something that I haven’t seen in the marketplace in a long, long time. So it makes him so brilliant to foresee and have that foresight.
Q: And you have the legendary Pharrell as part of the project so speak about having him on board and what it was like to work with him?
A: He was such a beautiful soul and cares about artists as much as Forest and I do so it was a perfect collaboration because he brought so much to the table with the music, with also style, and fashion, and everything about culture. So it was just a perfect complement for us.
Q: And what about Diddy being involved?
A: Diddy also brings a different perspective. So the team itself was so diverse yet so together and cohesive so we just wanted to bring all our strengths forward to tell a unique story for everybody.
Q: And I think the three actors Kiersey Clemons, Tony Revolori, and Shameik Moore are going to be big stars. Speak about watching these young talents work.
A: Oh my gosh, they are so different in their own ways. Tony is actually a pro even though he is very young, he was in Grand Budapest Hotel. He brings something so relatable to young people today. And working with him is like working with an old soul. And then Kiersey, Kiersey is going to become a superstar. She is – you see her on screen and then you see her in person and you’ll think ‘is that the same person?’ but that is what a real actor brings, to transform into characters that we create and filmmakers create for them. And Shameik is one of a kind. We looked and searched the entire country looking for the perfect Malcolm and when his audition tape came in Rick said, ‘We found out Malcolm.’
Q: You have a lot of big hip-hop people in this film; you have ASAP Rocky, the famous model Chanel Iman, what was it like working with people who are not typically movie stars?
A: When people have natural talent they will shine. And both of them did. Chanel took a really bold move – this is her first feature film and to act crazy and let it go was such a wonderful thing to witness. And seeing A$AP Rocky, I can’t say enough about him, he is not only just a rap star, hip hop mogul, but this guy is – he is going to create a legacy.