On April 4, 2019, cast members Caitlin Mehner, Nadej Bailey, Babou Casey and director, writer, and producer, Robin Bissell studded the NYC premiere and screening of The Best of Enemies.
Anne-Nakia Green, who is Ann Atwater’s grand daughter, was also in attendance, along with Taraji P. Henson, and Sam Rockwell.
We spoke with a few of the cast members to gain insight on the impact that the film had on their perspective of integration and some of the film’s larger themes of community and compassion.
The Knockturnal: Tell us about the journey of putting this film together.
Robin Bissell: ”It’s been a long road. I first heard about this story in 2005 so it’s just nice to finally get it out there. A movie like this depends on belief. And you find the right person along the way. It was early on a couple of people, and then Taraji believed and then that put you into another momentum, and then the financiar believed and then STX believed. So that takes time. It’s a long road, but the process was worth it. I grew as a person, I became a better listener, I learned so much, I made lifelong friends and that’s the good part about doing this.”
The Knockturnal: How are you feeling about the film and what do you hope viewers will take away from it?
Anne-Nakia Green: “Good. Happy. I think it’s funny that I can feel happy, sad, and all of that at one time because I really wish that my grandmother could be here tonight just to witness this. I didn’t do any of the work, my grandmother did it. She just passed away in 2016 and she was very much involved, and she approved of the script. She approved Taraji playing her, so yeah, she was very much involved.”
Caitlin Mehner: “I think it’s an important story to tell, the kinds of things that fear will do to people even people that are firm in their beliefs and righteous in their beliefs and I think playing this character is actually very timely. I don’t want to give anything away but in a #MeToo era, playing this character and telling this story, I think is important.”
Nadej Bailey: “I’m really excited that everyone gets to hear Ann Atwater’s story. Prior to this movie, I didn’t really know about her, but I finally got to learn about her and learn how remarkable she is. I can’t wait for it to reach everyone and I can’t wait for her story to be told.”
The Knockturnal: What did you learn about yourself that you were surprised to learn during the production? Was there anything that changed for you?
Robin Bissell: “A couple of things. I realized very early on that I wanted to tell this movie. It wasn’t until I first started talking to Ann Atwater in 2013 when I first got the rights to the book back when it really hit me that this story is about all these really important things. And I’m a white dude from the suburbs of Philadelphia, and so I better [bring it]. And no one else was telling this story so I thought: I’m going to do it. And what I realized was that I didn’t’ know anything about a lot [of stuff]. I had to get Ann’s and C.P.’s family to really keep me on track. So I learned to be a better listener because as an artist you’re like, oh I know what I’m doing. But then when you have a movie, you have all these experts around you. Costume designers, actors who are artists and they were changing my mind about things for the better.”
Caitlin Mehner: “What I learned during this film was how to drive a stick shift [laughter]. An actual thing that I learned and can apply those skills. But I definitely think this film, and I saw it last week, it reminded me that we just have to take more time to listen to people and be more compassionate. Because even people that are different from us, on the other side of the spectrum, they’re human beings at the end of the day. And I think you kill them with kindness. So the film reminded me of that.”
Babou Casey: “Actually, since playing the role as well, I have tried to take on more of that. For instance, we have brexit in England which is driving everybody up the wall, but actually, everyone that I listen to is a remainer. I never listen to someone that wants to leave. So since then, I’ve tried to be more open minded about that. Generally, I just think, look, if you’re not hearing what the other side has to say or the so-called other side, how will you ever know anything? I just don’t know how we can work things out that way.”
Nadej Bailey: “It’s all about empathy and stepping into someone else’s shoes and knowing that I’m helping to tell someone else’s story. I have to be as real as possible. I just have to make it my all. This is my first role of something so deep and so serious and it was just really great to tell the story about something that actually happened in the world. I’ve done movies like this before but this one was more personal to me and it was just great.”
The Knockturnal: What was it like working with Taraji P. Henson?
Babou Casey: “Phenomenal. I had this one hour of sitting back and just watching them [Taraji and Sam] do what they’re doing and work it out on the spot and it was mind blowing. It was a masterclass. Brilliant.”
Nadej Bailey: “She’s so awesome, she really is. She’s so professional and so great to learn from. It’s always good to watch the greatest actors; she put on her best performance. One minute she’s Taraji and the next minute she’s Ann Atwater.”
For ticket information, click here.