Barry Jenkins talks chemistry and challenges on Beale Street

If Beale Street Could Talk is Oscar-winner Barry Jenkins’ follow-up to Moonlight.

A story about a young couple, Tish (Kiki Layne) and Fonnie (Stephan James) who must fight the corrupt system which has wrongfully imprisoned Fonnie as Kiki is pregnant with their child. Adapted from the James Baldwin novel, this film is a lesson in love and dignity.

We spoke with Barry, as well as star Colman Domingo and composer Anton Britell, at London Film Festival.

Barry Jenkins on the red carpet at London Film Festival 2018

The two lead characters have such incredible chemistry between them – what was the casting process like?

You know, it’s interesting – on Moonlight we didn’t do a chemistry read, but on this film we did. So we found Stephan James pretty early in the process. He doesn’t look like the character in the book, or in my head, so we put him through his paces a bit, but once we settled on him, it was about finding as you said someone with that chemistry. And so Kiki [Layne] sent in a tape of her own will – you know she’s a very strong willed young woman – and we put them together. 

It was really important to me and to this film that these characters read as soulmates. And so this chemistry you’re talking about was super important. On Moonlight we didn’t so a chemistry read, but on this film we absolutely had to. And once Stephan and Kiki got together it was pretty clear they had the chemistry. 

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This movie is about love, but it’s also about justice – did you find any part particularly challenging to explore?

Not to explore – I think the gift of adapting James Baldwin is that everything is so eloquently expressed in the source material. For me, aesthetically, working with eight actors sitting in a room was difficult because I’ve only ever worked with like two people talking across a diner table, so it was very challenging in that regard, to preserve the feeling of being on a small set with all these actors; and all of them are gifted and have important things to say.

But as far as the issues the film is dealing with, those issues are very relevant, and so if there was a challenge it was in doing them justice, but not in being willing to address them.

If Beale Street Could Talk is in cinemas from February 14th.

Sneh Rupra

Co-founder & Editor

Sneh co-founded Outtake Mag with Laura. She has a day job in film PR and dreams of a day when everyone has equal opportunities in the film industry. Her opinions are always right, so jot that down.