With only days left to the much anticipated George Lucas film ‘Red Tails’ which will be released in the UK and Ireland by Momentum Pictures on June 6th, the 68th anniversary of the D-Day landings, today we bring you the last part of our interview with the film’s cast and crew, with none other than director Anthony Hemingway.
Inspired by the true story of World War II’s first African American fighter squadron, Red Tails is a thrilling action-packed film with the most realistic dogfights ever to hit the screen.
When did you first hear about the project?
I got a call from my agent and he said, “George Lucas wants to meet you.” I was like, “Yeah right, sure, me? Why me?” Being considered amongst, I’m sure, all off my colleagues, this opportunity was huge. The interesting thing is I was a PA in the early 90’s on The Young Indiana Jones TV series. Of course, this is something I didn’t share initially until they offered me the job, and then I was like, “This has come full circle.”
Describe what it was like first meeting George Lucas?
When I first met with George, I was nervous, and as I walked out his office I said “May the Force be with you!” Why did I say that?
What does this heroic story mean to you?
Red Tails is a celebration of life and a celebration of breaking down barriers. In celebrating the lives of the Tuskegee Airmen we all have something to gain. I didn’t learn about the Tuskegee Airmen in school. The world needs to know this story.
How did you prepare yourself in making the film?
Rick McCallum and I went to visit and talk with some of the remaining airmen. They are the true history books. Understanding what kind of men they were, not only inspired me beyond words, but also really helped me with the casting process. Their stories are so unique and important. We needed to bring together a cast that understood the magnitude of this project and the responsibility we all had in getting it right.
What was it like preparing the cast for the film?
We had an opportunity to bring the Tuskegee Airmen and cast together, which was really incredible. My mother came in to cook us all a meal. It was like we were all at home, in someone’s house and it was huge. They were able to talk to the cast about their first hand experiences. That helped add a bit of significance to everything – they were actually meeting the heroes they were going to portray. You could really see the camaraderie that the guys had, and it’s something I stressed over and over in the beginning and why I was very strong about them doing the boot camp. Thankfully, Rick allowed us to do it. I don’t think any of them knew what they were getting into. There were days I would pass them while they were doing their drills and they would just shoot me daggers (laughs). I think they all wanted to take me into the woods somewhere and sacrifice me.
How did the boot camp prepare them for their role?
The flight training and swimming pool test and drills allowed them to understand the camaraderie that they needed in the air. I didn’t feel like anyone, even myself, understood what it was to pilot a plane. I took the cast to an airfield so they understood the G -forces and got to experience the feeling of hanging upside down, all the aerobatics, etc. I wanted them to have the opportunity to experience it.
How important is prayer in your approach to filming and what was the significance of that huddle scene?
Prayer is important in everything I do, especially when we go up in those planes. I wanted to pray for safety! I remember the day we shot the prayer circle. Every time I see it I get chills. It was a scene we added, it wasn’t originally scripted. It wasn’t until we shot it that I heard it. I laid the responsibility on Marcus playing ‘Deke.’ I could have written a prayer for him, but I wanted it to be true, it needed to come from him. I was proud of him and the whole cast for what they brought to the film. Everyone continued to know and understand what we were doing.
Anthony Hemmingway on The Tuskegee Airmen
What does the story of the Tuskegee Airmen mean to you?
This film is so personal to me. I love human stories, stories about really awesome people and this is one of them. Red Tails is based on and inspired by Tuskegee Airmen, their courage, their bravery, their dedication and sacrifice is the foundation of this film. For me to be behind this and helm this is such a huge responsibly. When I first went to Tuskegee, Alabama and stood where they trained and studied and actually stepped foot where they started, that was in itself crazy. Red Tails is not just a black story. It’s a universal story that many people can take something from, especially young boys and girls. We want to let them know that anything is possible if you dream and believe.
How important was it to have them around the set during filming?
The importance of having the Tuskegee Airmen present during much of the process was essential. I wanted to make sure we were headed in the right direction. We had some of the guys come and talk to the cast first hand. I really wanted to give the cast some real life reference that would help them understand how amazing these men are, and how important it is to celebrate their legacy. For me, they are the stars – the Tuskegee Airmen are the real heroes of the film.
Anthony Hemmingway on the casting process
How much of a challenge was it casting the roles in Red Tails?
Casting Red Tails was such a challenge. There were so many great actors that came in front of us. I had already had relationships with the cast of The Wire and when some of them came in to read, it was obvious that they were the character.
Could you talk about the casting process?
After I met with Terence, I knew it. Physically he was right. Creatively he was right, and we vibed. So, Colonel Bullard was checked off our list.
Cuba was someone that I always wanted to work with. He knew immediately that he wanted to play Stance. Cuba beat me down (laughs). He found all the connections to get to me. He called George’s office. He sent a message to producer Rick McCallum. Everything pointed to him saying “Look, I want this role!”
David Oyelowo came into the audition and killed it. It really made it hard to consider anyone else. It was like wow, that’s ‘Lightening’.
Nate was someone I considered as ‘Easy’ from the beginning. l really love this brother – he’s very talented.
Elijah I knew. I called him, we had already had the conversation, and he said I’m going to church. I’m going to pray about this. His prayers were answered and mine were too because he was the right person for it.
I knew Tristan was going to be a big star. He was someone I met early on in his career on The Wire, when he was 15-16 years old and I wanted to help him stay on the right path.
Michael and I met on The Wire, much like Tristan, and I actually got to tell him he got the part myself. To see his face light up, he just completely started balling. I said “You’ve got to stop because I am going to start crying.”
When I saw Ne-Yo audition I was like, “Alright, this brother has talent.” Ne-Yo kind of stays in the background, but when he lights up he lights up and it’s really beautiful to see.
All in all, the cast we ended up with was absolutely meant to be in this film.