Every now and then, it’s fun to take a breather from the capes, tights, and explosions and take a look at some of the more auteur-driven films hitting the scene. One movie in particular that caught our eye was Sorry to Bother You, a film that had a unique take on the industry of telemarketing. But this ain’t one of those movies that brings you down with the morbid reality that comes with the cutthroat business. Rather, it uses that as a starting point to bring in more magical realist and fantastical aspects into the story to tackle some real issues.
LRM had a chance to sit down with writer-director Boots Riley, where we had a chance to discuss the film, his own personal experiences with telemarketing, and a surprising voice that pops into the movie.
Sorry to Bother You hits theaters on July 6!
Riley: Last night was 1,400 people at the Ace Hotel. And well it seems like people like it.
LRM: Great, yes. I mean, how does it feel? It’s like your new baby. Right?
Riley: Yeah, yeah well I have to make sure that everybody sees the new baby. Taking it around. And so I’m making the rounds, showing it like the artist in the movie Mother.
LRM: So I say this is like a new baby but this is a different kind of baby you’re used to… on the music material. But…
Riley: It doesn’t s**t.
LRM: [Laughs] Yes. So tell us about “Sorry to Bother You.”
Riley: So, this is an absurdist dark comedy with magical realism and science fiction inspired by the world of telemarketing. And, its a very different film than… different kinds of style and film than many people have had and it doesn’t fit neatly into any one genre.
LRM: Right. I did see that it’s got a unique touch to it. It’s like a mixture of real-world and fantasy. I think that people will definitely enjoy it. So why telemarketing? Why that office field?
Riley: Well, it’s one of the many terrible jobs I’ve done in my life and I think there’s a lot to be learned from that… from that whole thing and you might have the old uncle that can take any story from their life and make it have meaning to whatever you’re going through? They’ll like tell you, “Let me tell you this story.” So, that’s kind of what I did here. And, because you can find all sorts of parallels to what’s happening in the larger world in any small- short- in any more of a microcosm that should present. So, yeah I just wanted to talk about that journey.
LRM: Yes no problem. So, you mention that you did telemarketing in the past and maybe that’s where it comes from. But is there anything, did you have someone — like a colleague — that gave you this tip that definitely helped you succeed in that field?
Riley: No, I just kind of looked around and figured stuff out. And as far as you mean like the white voice tip that Langston gives to Cassius? Yeah, no, that was just something I figured out at the time and I wasn’t able to make a magical one like Cassius and Langston are able to do.
LRM: Well, thank you for sharing that part in reference to the movie for those that have yet to watch it. I actually enjoyed it, I thought that was a really comical part of the voice. The voice was definitely a good touch.
Riley: Thank you
LRM: So going back to speaking of voices. I had a kick of that creativity you had when I came to the elevator voice. I mean, that was entertaining. It was like, after the first time it’s like waiting for the next elevator ride. How did you come up with that part?
Riley: I don’t know how I came up with it exactly. I mean, I wanted things to represent — I wanted physical objects — to represent aspirations. In this case, it’s an elevator and I felt like that particular aspiration that it represents sometimes comes along with this sort of machismo “kill or be killed” sort of attitude and I wanted to elevate it to be expressing that to him.
LRM: Gotcha. Well, that was definitely a nice thing to also add. Usually, you know elevators…
Riley: That was Rosario Dawson doing that voice by the way.
LRM: How did she come into it?
Riley: She’s just friends with our costume designer, Deirdra Govan, and so I remember that Deirdra worked with her and I hit up Deirdra and was like, “You got her number?” And I called her up and Rosario was like, “Who is this?” And I explained myself and she was like, “Okay. Rent out a studio, I’ll be there.” It’s one of those things that will be soothing to people because it, it sounds familiar but they won’t necessarily know, so they read the credits.
LRM: Is there anything that you by any chance — when it comes to the film — that you let out?
Riley: Yeah. Definitely, there’s so many… I would prefer to not talk about anything in there, but I know that some of the stuff is already in the trailer so whatever’s not in the trailer would be good to not talk about. Whatever’s not in the first trailer would be great to not talk about. So, definitely not the exo-sapiens. ‘Cause I feel like one of the joys of the movie is not knowing what’s gonna happen next.
LRM: Yes it definitely kept us on our toes. Is there something you can tell us that you may be working on? I mean, you have a great start with this film. I mean, now we want more.
Riley: Yeah, you’re gonna get more but just like I don’t want to reveal what happens in part of the movie, I want that the next stuff is gonna be a surprise as well.
LRM: Okay, well great, we definitely look forward to it and yes, thank you for this feature. It’s different, it’s like I said, fantasy, reality, awesome job-
Riley: I think what makes the fantasy work is that the performances, of the actors, the performances are naturalistic. They’re not overacting, they’re not like soap opera or any much TV, it’s just real. You know?
LRM: Yes, that’s definitely something you definitely did an awesome job in keeping and it shows, it reflects. Thank you so much for your time, and again, congratulations on the movie.
Riley: Thank you!