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THE MOVIE: Cadillac Records

Adrien Brody • Jeffrey Wright • Gabrielle Union • Columbus Short • Eamonn Walker • Mos Def • Beyonce Knowles
DIRECTOR: Darnell Martin

Leonard Chess (Adrien Brody) and Muddy Waters (Jeffrey Wright) THE CONCEPT:
The rise of Chess Records in the 1950s in Chicago by Leonard Chess (Brody), and the turbulent lives of some of its recording artists, Muddy Waters (Wright), Little Walter (Short), Chuck Berry (Def), Etta James (Knowles) and Howlin’ Wolf (Walker), whom Chess would give a Cadillac to when they had their first hit record.

U.S. RELEASE: December 5 2008, Nationwide
• Rated: R


ADRIEN BRODY on his research for the role:
Adrien Brody as Leonard Chess“The more well known the character or person you're playing is, the more pressure there is on the actor to embody them and their qualities and do them justice. For me, there was a little bit of leeway because although there’s a lot of documentation of the history of Leonard Chess and his family and his upbringing, there isn't that much of him out in the media.”

Jeffrey Wright as Muddy Waters“There's a fair amount of material on Muddy, a couple of biographies and several documentaries. But for me the entry way into the character was through the music, because there is a specific, cultural and historical place that the music comes from. What I adore about the blues is that it's a celebration of the language of the black American south, the language I grew up with. My grandparents were from southern Virginia/North Carolina so I've always had a deep, deep love for the language and the sounds and the music that's expressed through that.”

Eamonn Walker as Howlin Wolf“I went to the Internet; that was my main source. YouTube is great. There was a lot of pressure because there are definitely Howlin’ Wolf fans, and people in my circle in London were completely enamored when he came to London and played, so I had a lot to live up to. For me there was a long way to go, the Mississippi accent, and the huskiness in his voice. The thing that scared me the most was the singing, I had to go and find a research person and a jazz singer to help me with my voice.“

Columbus Short as Little Walter“Little Walter was daunting because there’s very little information out there about him, there are no tapes, there’s not a lot of footage and so you go to his biography. He was a harmonica nerd and was a loner, all he cared about was that harmonica and he created the Chicago Blues, it has harmonicas as a part of it now because of Little Walter. There’s no one left to speak for Little Walter, so it was extremely important to me to be that voice so that [the audience] could meet him and love him, accept him for his flaws and his greatness and his accomplishments in this film.”

GABRIELLE UNION (Geneva Wade, Muddy Waters’ mistress):
Gabrielle Union as Geneva Wade“There was very little to go on, there was nothing first person, there were books about Muddy in which she’s referenced, there is really only other people’s perceptions of her. There was one picture that Jeffrey showed me, which made me think, ‘Well, Darnell (Martin, the director), what did you see [in me]?’ She was thinking outside the box, which I appreciate. Basically, it left me a lot to be able to create, because there was not that much on her.”

WALKER on what he hopes the audience will take away from the movie:
“I’d like for people to take away from these Blues Men that they had demons, and they worked with them through their music, and with each other, and through the exploitation maybe that was going on. They either had to stand up, or learn to stand up for themselves, and we touch on that in this movie, everybody does that part of the journey and they get there at different times. At the end of the day he was not going to end up with a car and no money in his pocket, and that’s what I would like people to take away from Howlin’ Wolf.”

”I hope that people will see Muddy, Howlin’, Little Walter or Chuck Berry, beyond the music, who these people were. Leonard Chess was a man who was impoverished, and came and created what was the catalyst for this music coming into the forefront. But there was a softer side to him, although he was hustling the brothers, let’s be honest, and that goes on today. I hope that you take from Little Walter, and all the characters, the other side beyond the music, their vulnerabilities, their failures and their triumphs.”

“When I was younger [I’d say], ‘If anybody ever cheats on me,’ and [I’d] tell everyone what I would do. As you get older and life happens, you make different decisions. I just wanted to show that staying doesn’t mean you’re weak, you can still have strength and dignity in staying and keeping your family together, We shouldn’t make such snap judgments about women who choose to stay, and I wanted to show that for all the women who have ever stayed.”

“It’s very important for me that I am able to convey the complexity of an individual, and sometimes it’s very difficult in a film because you have a script, you have a character that is written for you and you have a point-of-view. These are all very complex individuals and I think that is something that everyone accomplished; not only their own complexities and their own struggles to overcome their demons and their self-destructive nature, but also the complexity of their relationships with one another. I think there’s a lot of richness in [this movie].”

“Elvis Presley features in this movie a little bit, particularly the time when we’re mourning Little Walter’s death, and if Elvis was the King of Rock and Roll, then Muddy Waters was the God of Rock and Roll, because he created that musical universe, along with a couple of other Gods; let’s give these cats there [due].”

Written by Judy Sloane. Back to top

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Feature © 2008 Visual Imagination.
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Film Review, #701, December 2008 cover

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