Get Out: Jordan Peele Explores Race With His Social Horror Flick 

– by Edward Douglas

After many years establishing himself as a comedian--first on Mad TV and then teaming with that show’s Keegan--Michael Key for the equally successful Comedy Central show Key and Peele--Jordan Peele has decided to go behind the camera to make his directorial debut with the horror-thriller Get Out.

It stars Daniel Kaluuya (Sicario) as Chris Washington, whose girlfriend Rose Armitage (Allison Williams of Girls) wants to take their relationship to the next level by having him meet her parents, who she hasn’t told that her boyfriend is black. At first, it doesn’t seem to matter, but as they spend the weekend together at her parent’s remote house, they’re joined by family friends who are acting equally oddly around Chris.  As Chris tries to figure out what is happening, he is led down a dark path towards something quite malevolent and deadly.

It’s quite a fantastic debut as it adds to a year that’s already produced great horror films like M. Night Shyamalan’s Split and Gore Verbinski’s A Cure for Wellness, both by more experienced filmmakers.

LRM got on the phone with Peele last week to talk about his decision to make a horror movie, due to having been such a big fan of the genre.

LRM: I gotta say it’s really fun seeing this movie with a New York audience. Universal are really good about having us see their movies with a big audience of real moviegoers rather than just a room full of critics, which can be rather dull sometimes.

Jordan Peele:  Oh, great, great, great… did it get cheers? 

LRM: It got very rowdy.

Jordan Peele:  
It got rowdy… good, good, good… that’s the idea.

LRM: I’m going to try to avoid spoilers, because the movie is more fun that way. If we go into any area like that, just let me know. How long ago did come up with the idea to do this and how did it evolve into what the movie became?

Jordan Peele:  
It marinated starting eight years ago for about five years before I had the whole outline and premise worked out. I wrote the actual script about three years ago, but the real genesis of it was that I love horror movies and was really trying to figure out what my voice could be in horror, what I can bring to the genre and thought that race in horror was a rather untapped sub-genre.

LRM: The idea of this, in theory, could have been a comedy movie or sketch, but you decided to take it and go for the scares more…

Jordan Peele:  
Yeah, like I said, it’s my favorite genre, and there’s levity and humor. I wanted to make a movie that was fun, like Scream or The Stepford Wives, but yeah, I call it a social thriller, and it has some satire to it, but it’s really my favorite genre to work in. 

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LRM: I’m glad you mentioned “The Stepford Wives” which is kind of what I was thinking of, but I’m not sure a lot of younger people are familiar with that movie, at least not the original one which wasn’t a comedy, but was really creepy. This really reminded me of that because you don’t know what these people are thinking and what they’re up to, which makes you uneasy that people act that strangely.

Jordan Peele:  
Right. That's part of what’s similar about both of them. I mean, Stepford Wives is to gender what Get Out is to race, and within both movies the reality of the situation plays as absurd as the heightened place that both movies end up at. In other words, it was easy to figure out how to put the protagonist of this movie in a position where he’s not sure what he’s looking at is par for the course and just the way the world works, or that there’s something deeper, darker going on underneath. That ability to allow a protagonist to doubt themselves helps make it more real that he’s not running out of the house as soon as something weird happens. 

LRM: “The Stepford Wives” came out in the early ‘70s and that decade is still considered one of the best for horror, and I think a lot of that has to do with what was going on in the country. It really got people thinking about worst case scenarios like if your baby was the son of the devil. That seems to be coming back, even if it’s in movies like “The Witch” or “It Follows.” Have you felt that as well as a horror fan?

Jordan Peele:  
Yeah, well, in the ‘70s, of course, we were in a world that was responding to things like the Vietnam War and the Manson cult, so what you ended up seeing was not only the emergence of serial killers as a phenomenon and a hopelessness that was in the zeitgeist from the quagmire of that war, but yeah, you see a lot of great, dark, edgy and somewhat satirical films coming out of that period.

 LRM: Besides the movies you mentioned, what are some of your favorite go-to horror movies?

Jordan Peele:  
Mm.. how many do you want? 

LRM:  Give me your three top ones…

Jordan Peele:  
Besides the ones we’ve talked about, let’s say The Shining, Rosemary’s Baby and Candyman.

LRM: Nice, so how did you hook up with Jason and Blumhouse? They seem to be the place to go for genre films at this point, but did you find them fairly organically?

Jordan Peele:  
Several people were interested. We had a partner with QC Entertainment who read the script and was prepared to fully finance the film, but then when Blumhouse expressed interest, it was a no-brainer, just because of Jason’s track record in pushing the boundaries of horror and the ability to get a shot at a Universal wide release as a platform is a very special thing for a horror film. 

LRM: Very true. Was the movie always called “Get Out” or did that title come about as you were making it? Or was that title from the beginning?

Jordan Peele:  
Great question. No one has asked this one yet, but originally the working title was Get Out of the House, so it was sort of a longer version. By the time I actually wrote the script, it was quite clear that we wanted something a little more simple, iconic, and a little bit of a throwback to ‘70s sensibility.

LRM: It’s a great title but it’s one of those things about marketing a movie is having a really catchy title and I wondered if that’s something you knew even while writing it.

Jordan Peele:  
I had to convince a couple people here and there because one of the early concerns, before I had made the movie, was of course, that this would end up too comedic? Even in the title Get Out if someone is reading the script, they could possibly interpret it as a spoof or a parody pretty easily, which it’s not, but yeah, I think we made the right decision and people are really getting it, because really, Get Out is more of a concept than it is anything else. 

LRM: One thing you haven’t mentioned is Hitchcock who is the king of the thriller and there are moments in the movie that build with the music like Hitchcock, but you also cast Daniel, who has a bit of a Jimmy Stewart quality as Chris, which is interesting. How did you find him to play Chris? Had you seen him in something else?

Jordan Peele:  
Well, first of all, I think it’s a really great observation that he has a Jimmy Stewart quality. He does.  He feels familiar, like somebody that we know as a best friend or brother, and he also feels extremely perceptive and intelligent, so the audience feels very taken care of with him as our surrogate. I really fell in love with his work on Episode 2 of Black Mirror, and then I was only validated in my love of his work when he was in Sicario. I think he’s brought so much humanity to that role, even though it was a relatively minor one.

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LRM: I didn’t even realize Daniel was British when I saw him playing an FBI agent with Emily Blunt, who is also British.

Jordan Peele:  
I know. The British invasion continues. I was very conscious of that and at one point felt like it was important to get an American actor to play the role, but meeting him, talking to him, seeing him audition, it just made it a no-brainer that he was the right guy. Obviously, anybody who sees the movie would have to agree. 

LRM: Absolutely. Seeing it with an audience, it’s pretty obvious that LilRel steals the third act. Is he someone you’d worked with before? I also noticed that your character in “Keanu” is called “Rell Williams” so I wasn’t sure if there was a connection there.

Jordan Peele:  
Oh, yeah. My mother noticed that, too. That’s actually a total coincidence, but “LilRel” is somebody I first caught wind of maybe a year and a half ago, so shortly before we started shooting, and as a fan of his stand-up, when he came in, he really just was the character. That was a situation where the character I was picturing in my head was him, so it was pretty obvious when he auditioned as well. 

LRM: When I spoke to Jason Blum, he was very confident in your ability to direct a movie, and I was curious about jumping into that after working on the show for such a long time. Was there anything that surprised you about taking on the directing chores for your first movie?

Jordan Peele:  
I mean, it’s extremely difficult, but really fun and really rewarding. I’m hooked. 

LRM: I’ve spoken to a lot of horror directors who want to branch out and work in other genres. Besides comedy, do you have other types of movies you’d want to do or genres you’d want to explore?

Jordan Peele:  
You know, I really love the social thriller. I feel like I might mix in some more action in the future, possibly some sci-fi, but generally, horror is my favorite, so I’m not going to go too far. I want to be a horror director. (laughs) 

LRM: So you want to be one of the icons like Wes Craven or John Carpenter…

Jordan Peele:  
Well, hey, yeah. You know, a man can dream, can’t he?

LRM: You have to do a lot of horror movies to get there, but this is a good start. Are you still developing stuff with Keegan Michael-Key?

Jordan Peele:
Yeah, we’re developing things. He’s in New York right now and he’s pursuing a very successful acting and producing career. I’m in this writing/directing bug, so that’s just the reality of it, but listen, we had such a blast together and that sort of created synergy only comes around once in a lifetime, so we won’t take that for granted. We’ll have some stuff at some point that will be fresh and new.  

LRM: Well, you had a great run together, and you’ve done some great stuff each on your own, as well. By the way, did you get to see your movie with an audience sometime during the editing process at all? Did you get to do some test screenings during post to see what worked?

Jordan Peele:
Yeah, we did a little test at a certain point, and yeah, then I’ve seen it with three audiences in the past few weeks, so yeah. It’s meant to be a crowd pleaser. It’s meant to be an audience film, so definitely, I want people to catch it in the theater if they can.  

Get Out opens nationwide on Friday, February 24 with previews Thursday night.  Look for our interview with producer Jason Blum of Blumhouse Productions before then. 

Film, Interviews, LRM Exclusives, Featured Jordan Peele, Get Out, Horror, LRM Interview, LRM Interviews, LRM Exclusive, Allison Williams