Bet You Didn’t Know: Secrets Behind “The Secret Life of Bees”

November 5, 2012  |  
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Riding on the success of a New York Times best-selling novel, it wasn’t a stretch to see that The Secret Life of Bees would be made into a feature film. Six years after the book was published, it hit the big screen with an all-star cast. The movie, which was highly anticipated was number 3 in the box office, raking in over $10 million during its first weekend and then over $47 million by the time it finished its run. The movie eventually received mixed reviews, with some calling it too syrupy sweet while others thought it was delightfully moving. Whether you loved it or just thought it was “aight,” check out these behind the scenes secrets.

How did Gina Prince-Bythewood decide to make this film?

Someone gave Gina Prince-Bythewood the book long before she was even thinking about making the movie; but she threw it down and didn’t pick it up for years. During this time,  her family and friends encouraged her to read it, all to avail. She put it off for two years until she decided to read the book. By the time she’d finished it, she learned that someone else was going to be directing it, that she decided to get serious. And Prince-Bythewood wasn’t having it. In an interview with City Paper, Prince-Bythewood explains how she almost missed out on the chance to direct the film:

And then about two years ago, a friend of mine–an actor–said she was going in to audition for The Secret Life of Bees, and this guy was doing it, and I got really jealous. I said, ‘No, this is mine. This is supposed to be my movie. I’ve never seen black women portrayed like that, it just kind of smashed every stereotype. Just the opportunity to bring them to life I thought would have been a gift, and again, I was like, I blew it.

I don’t know who in the world made it happen, but two months later I got a call from my agent saying that it fell apart at the other studio, they wanted to start over–would I be interested in writing and directing for another studio? And I jumped at it this time and went after it hard and thankfully got it.”

Too many women on the set?

Ever since her start, working on the set of A Different World, Prince-Bythewood, has worked in environments filled with women. Still, she didn’t know how all-female cast was going to respond to one another. But it turns out everybody was humble and down for the cause.

“I think the thing that drew everyone . . . everyone came aboard for no money, I mean, no money. [laughs] And that really set the tone, I think. We’re all here because we love this movie, and if we don’t take huge cuts in pay, it doesn’t get made–and that means films like this don’t get made. Everyone coming in with that belief just made it. It was a great set.”

Jennifer Hudson attacked?

Director, Gina Prince-Bythewood, asked Jennifer Hudson and Dakota Fanning go to the store to pick a few things. While she was there, the staff and other customers in the store verbally abused Hudson, shouting racial insults while she shopped. The incident was arranged by Prince-Bythewood in order to help Hudson prepare for her most dramatic scene.

Tristan loves the ladies

The mention of the ladies being a force on set was not just talk. Even one of the few [young] men on the set noticed it. Here’s what he told Eclipse Magazine:

“It was amazing to be around so much female power. It’s weird, it’s tangible even, you can feel it. It’s crazy, it gives you such a good feeling. You always feel at home you always feel safe. Just like my character in the story, he always felt safe around because they had so much power…togetherness. You would catch me on set days when I wasn’t working just to be around them.”

That Kiss

I remember watching this scene thinking, ooo Dakota doesn’t even know what to do with Tristan’s lips. But it turns out, she wasn’t the one who was nervous about the lip lock she shared with Tristan Wilds. Wilds told Eclipse Magazine that he was the nervous one.

“You know what was funny; it was a lot more awkward for me than it was for her. She took it like it was nothing like “come on now I’m ready, let’s do this” and I’m like “I hope I kiss her right, are my lips nice are they moist”…but it came together really nice.”

Musical Genius

Alicia Keys got to play a character she could relate to: a musician. Her character, June Boatwright, played the cello. So Alicia learned to play the cello…in four weeks.

Working with Bees

I like to think that I’m pretty bold and adventurous; but that doesn’t mean I’d jump at the chance to work with bees…uncovered. But Queen Latifah had to be bold, go to bee school and jump in there with the stingy creatures. See how she described the experience and then watch her theatrics in the video below. You know Queen is a character.

“To work with bees, with no gloves…and you’re picking up these racks that they’re on and they’re crawling on you sometimes. And you’re trying to get them out without smashing any of them. And they’re everywhere. It was kind of nerve racking. It was tough. After a while it got a lot easier and it got warmer and the bees like warmer weather, they were just in a good mood.”

Watch Queen Latifah explain how the bees responded to their real queen in the video below.

How did Sophie Okonedo tap into May?

You may remember that May was very emotional. She was either giddy and bubbly or completely distraught, sobbing on her wailing wall. Here’s how said she prepared.

“I just imagined, very much, that I had no skin, that all my nerves were showing. So the slightest change of wind, the slightest change of atmosphere she absorbs it.”

How did Dakota prepare?

We’ve known for some time, since I Am Sam, in 2001, that Dakota Fanning was a very talented young lady. And though acting seems to come very naturally for her, Fanning still had to prepare for the role and Prince-Bythewood helped her with that process. In an interview with Eclipse Magazine Fanning explained what she used to get into that time period.

Gina, the director, gave…I think she gave everybody different things based on what their character would have felt or what they were going through in the movie so I don’t think we all got the same thing. I got a documentary called “Four Little Girls”. I loved it so much I watched it a bunch of times. I also got a documentary about what goes on inside a hive (bee hive), about bees. So those were kind of my two movies and then she gave us music from the sixties and I think that’s all she gave me.”

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