After garnering international acclaim for his on-screen performances in “Get Out,” “Judas and the Black Messiah” and “Black Panther,” Daniel Kaluuya is now behind the camera to produce the satirical comedy “Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul.”
The Focus Features film, which premieres Sept. 2 in theaters and on Peacock, follows the comeback journey of Pastor Lee-Curtis Childs, played by Sterling K. Brown, and his wife, Trinitie, played by Regina Hall, after a scandal threatens their elite status.
Kaluuya, who produced the film through his company 59%, sees the comedy as elevating the mockumentary genre and was involved in the project when writer and directed Adamma Ebo floated the idea of having “a Regina Hall type” play Trinitie.
For Kaluuya, who was giving script notes to the likes of British playwriting royalty Jack Thorne and Lucy Kirkwood by the time he was a teenager, producing comes naturally — and is something that he plans to continue. “A lot of my acting career, I’ve always thought of it as helping a director tell a story. I see producing as the same intent, just in a different accent,” he told TheWrap.
Next, the “Nope” actor will make his screenwriting debut on a futuristic Netflix film, “The Kitchen,” which 59% will also produce.
TheWrap sat down with Kaluuya ahead of this film’s release as he discussed his passion for being on a project from early development to post-production, and how he sees acting and producing as the “same intent, just in a different accent.”
Kaluuya also gave his reaction to the widespread success of “Nope,” which he filmed during production for “Honk for Jesus,” and why he’s excited that many are “embracing original cinema.”
What initially drew you to this project?
[The movie represented] what we stand for as a company and new voices, new perspectives, marrying interesting tone with a world that hadn’t really been married before. There was an interesting tone and it just elevated the genre of mockumentary, in terms of the subject matter. It was fresh with depth — that’s what really felt like to me — and [those are] the kinds of projects that we want to stand for [and] champion.
How was your experience been as a producer behind the scenes rather than an actor in front of the camera?
It was good. It was good. I fell in love with it because it was collaborative; you tell a story with people, and I love that about it. So it was a way to keep on doing that. And [I] love seeing something grow, because we were on it before even Adamma said, “I want a Regina Hall type.” So to see the journey and of the project, and them as filmmakers, is always an incredible thing to witness that you don’t really get to see in the acting side of it. [With acting, you] kind of jump on and when it’s kind of built, and then you go and do your thing, and you have this incredible experience on set and then you kind of go off your way. And you show up in ADR [Automated or Additional Dialog Replacement] [and] you’re really in the trenches in the in post, like the day was delivered, I was on the phone to Adamma, like once every hour, essentially, talking through the notes. So it was a different kind of creative track.
Can you share if there’s any particular elements or choices that you contributed to the film when it was first being adapted from a short to feature film?
I gave a lot of extensive script notes. I came up in the screenwriters’ room, so when I got into the game, like 17, 18, I was giving notes to like, Jack Thorne or Lucy Kirkwood. That’s what I was doing back in the day, so I’ll give a lot of notes. I don’t see it as like, “Oh, I did this and I did that.” It’s just that we support them actualizing their vision, they get the best version of the film that they want to make … I can see my fingerprints … on a lot of it, but that’s my job. But the final choice is on the filmmakers — they’re artists — and what they want to do. So it’s like you suggest things and you present it forward because you see what they are the direction they’re heading to, then you just support them in that direction, and then hope for the best.
Can you share any particularly memorable moments during production, like maybe filming some of those roadside scenes, and also the baptism scene?
There’s a part of the process I wasn’t really involved because I was doing “Nope.” So … I couldn’t really get to set. But in terms of the development and behind the scenes, there was a lot of funny, funny instances, but it would be Rowan Riley who knows about this stuff happening on set. I know getting a Black Jesus was a funny escapade in itself.
The film satirizes the wealth and status achieved by leadership in some religious institutions. Can you speak a bit about the film satire and its impact?
It’s [a] really interesting thing. It’s something I have to navigate like doing talks to kids, and then just knowing that, sometimes, you have to speak their language in order to get through to them. So, if you show up with like a car, like a Prius, and you’re supposed to be on TV, they would just listen to you less. Because they [are] much more materialistic; the kids [are] asking too much more. They want to see this, they want to see that and that makes them engage with it.
And I feel like, in culture, we’ve been doing that in church where … all that that culture shows is a symptom of what a congregation and that social context values. Sometimes you have this signal that in order for people to listen to you. But often the most interesting thing is when that said person loses themselves, whether they’re doing it for the betterment of the congregation, or they do that for the betterment of their self-seeking, and desires and passions, which goes against them, either, as a) Christian and b) as a Christian leader, a religious person and a religious leader. So I always feel like that’s an interesting conflict within this world.
Did you enjoy serving as a producer? Do you want to be a producer on future projects?
That’s the plan. That is the plan, I can’t lie to you. Yes, I enjoy it. I like making things. I just enjoy telling stories and making things and helping people tell a story. A lot of my acting career, I’ve always thought of it as helping a director tell a story. I see that producing the same intent, just in a different accent. It’s like, I’m helping you tell a story in this way. And I can spot things because of my experience, because of what I’ve been through and how much I’ve studied and how much the team around me has studied and all their ideas. So … it’s a direction that everything is going.
Are there any stories that you haven’t yet been able to pursue what you really want to tell in the future?
Yeah, loads, loads. I don’t know if we got time on this phone call… There’s a couple of ideas that I’m genuinely excited about, bringing them to life. We’re working with some great filmmakers. on that?
Turning towards “Nope,” how do you feel about the huge enthusiastic reaction to “Nope?”
I’m just happy that people are embracing original cinema; that’s one of the big things for me. Jordan’s really presented something that’s unique and that’s one of the reasons why I was involved. The fact that it’s getting received enthusiastically and people have an opinion or people say, “I really want to see it,” that all helps. Just how much we put in it, it helps us feel better about it.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
“Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul” opens in theaters and is streaming on Peacock on Sept. 2.