2002 was a year of firsts for the people who would come together to create the film based on the life of a man named Antwone Fisher. The screenplay, written by Fisher was his first, it was the first time Denzel Washington stepped behind the camera to direct and it was the first feature film for rising star Derek Luke. And though there was a lot of new talent blossoming, the film about a man with a troubled past struck a chord with critics and audiences alike. You remember how the movie impacted you, you might have a copy of the DVD at home; but we bet you didn’t know the behind the scenes secrets of the film. Check them out on the following pages.
Who was supposed to get the lead role?
Remember the character “Stacey” from The Wood? He was “Alicia’s” older, rough neck brother. Real name De’aundre Bonds, this guy was given the lead role of Antwone; but according to IMDB, the night he learned the good news, he got caught up in an altercation with his aunt’s boyfriend at a family gathering. He stabbed the man to death and was sentenced to 11 years in prison. Bonds finished serving his sentence in 2011, and has since gone on to star in the 2013 film, Gangster Squad.
Derek Luke: the audition
Since De’aundre was out, the years long search for the lead character continued. Derek Luke just so happened to know the real Antwone Fisher, because they both worked on the Sony lot, Luke in the gift shop. When the real Fisher told him about the screenplay and the fact that Denzel Washington would be directing it, Luke knew he had to take a chance to get the role. In an interview with Bullz-Eye.com, Luke explains how he got the audition:
I busted in on an audition. I tricked my friend — I was at lunch with him and I told him I had to use the restroom, but I went to the casting director. He found out about it and he said, “Derek, don’t get me into this. You’re going to get blackballed from the business.” So I said, “Yeah, probably, maybe.” But I took the voyage and went up there, and I was so terrible I started crying. And he (Christian Kaplan, Fox casting director) told me to come back…. He says, “This raw talent, this crying, this is something Denzel is looking for.” So basically, he let me come back the following Thursday, and he says, “You’ve got to be ready this time.”
How Luke got the role
He was ready the next time. And the few times after that. After auditioning four times, Denzel was sure Derek Luke was the man for the role. He was so certain that he decided to walk over to the gift shop where Luke worked to offer him the job in person. In an interview with About.com, Denzel recalls how he offered Luke the role and his subsequent response.
“I walked past the real Antwone and I said to Derek, `Hey, Antwone. How’s it going?’ He said, ‘That’s right, I am Antwone. I’m working on it. I’m Antwone.” And I said, ‘No, you – you ARE Antwone. You got the part,’ recalls Washington, adding, “First he was stunned, then he practically broke down in tears, then joy, then he started to pray…it was really exciting.”
Writing his own story
Before the movie could be made, Fisher had to write the story. When he was working as a security guard for Sony Pictures, and he started telling his story. Eventually, studio executives heard about it and offered Fisher the rights to it. But he insisted that he write the screenplay himself. He wrote 40 drafts of his story for the screen before he sold the 41st draft to Twentieth Century Fox. Talk about perseverance.
You may remember that there was a poem a grown up Fisher recited in the movie. It was actually written by the real Antwone. In case you don’t remember it, it went like this:
“Who will cry for the little boy, lost and all alone?
Who will cry for the little boy, abandoned without his own?
Who will cry for the little boy? He cried himself to sleep.
Who will cry for the little boy? He never had for keeps.
Who will cry for the little boy? He walked the burning sand.
Who will cry for the little boy? The boy inside the man.
Who will cry for the little boy? Who knows well hurt and pain.
Who will cry for the little boy? He died and died again.
Who will cry for the little boy? A good boy he tried to be.
Who will cry for the little boy, who cries inside of me?”
– Antwone Fisher, Who Will Cry For The Little Boy?
A few days after the movie was released into theaters, Fisher also published a book called “Who Will Cry For the Little Boy?” The title poem was the same one recited in the movie. Fisher said after attending a lecture from Maya Angelou, where she said poetry is a way to pull ourselves from our suffering. Fisher explained what poetry does for him as an outlet.
“… I find that writing poetry allows me to be whatever I want to be. Even when I had never been in love, I could write about what I hoped it would be once I found a love of my own. If I felt alone in the world, as I often did, I could write about how I had to be there for myself, because at the time the reality was that I was all I had. What poetry gives me is truth.”
Knowing how people in the community he came from was often struggling, the cast and crew decided to leave each location where they filmed, better than how they found it. For instance in Cleveland the apartment building where Antwone’s biological mother lived and house where his foster mother lived, were renovated or reinforced before the production team left. They further helped the people of that community by allowing local residents to work on set.
The time frame
The way the movie was shot, it would seem that Antwone grew up in the ’70’s or ’80’s. But in reality, Antwone grew up in the sixties and seventies. In an interview with About.com, he explained why they decided to make the movie more current.
I was born in 1959 but for the movie’s sake, we decided [to change it] so that children – kids – would find it contemporary. If we did it like I grew up in the ’60s and ’70s, then some kids might say, “Well, that’s an old story.” And people might say that a long time has passed since then. But we wanted it to be current so that people would identify with it more.
As was the case with Derek Luke, playing the role of Cheryl in the film was also the first feature film for Bryant as well. Like Luke, Bryant had to audition three times before she got the call that she had been offered the role. But when she got the good news, she literally didn’t believe it. Denzel decided to give Bryant the news himself, deciding to call her on the phone. In an interview with Mahogany Cafe, Bryant recalled the interaction:
“I hear this voice say, ‘Can I speak to Cheryl, please?’ So I scream, ‘WHO IS THIS? WRONG NUMBER!’Then I hear a laugh and this deep voice says, ‘Joy, it’s Denzel.’ So, I screamed, “NAH. STOP PLAYING ME. WHO IS THIS? DENZEL DOESN’T SOUND LIKE THIS, SO I’M HANGING UP ON YOUR —. Two minutes later, the phone rings again and it’s a producer of “Antwone Fisher.” “He says, ‘Joy, would you please hold for Denzel and could you try to believe him when he says it’s Denzel?’ I’m dying inside, but in the most businesslike voice, I say, ‘Oh, hi, Denzel. Is there something you wanted?’ ” After he told her she had the part, Bryant calmly hung up “and then I went to throw up, but it was a good kind of thing.”
We all remember how terrible Antwone’s foster parents and relative were portrayed in the film but Antwone says in reality there was more to the story. When he was asked how accurate the portrayal of his foster parents were, this is what he had to say:
I was kind to them in the movie and the book. I was kind to them. They are worse.
Antwone said the most difficult part of shooting the film was watching the scenes with Malcolm Kelley, the boy who played a younger Antwone. In that same interview, he described how he dealt with it.
I wrote it so that was one hurdle. Derek’s parts were not bothersome to me, to see him perform his parts. It was Malcolm Kelley’s parts that were hardest for me. In fact, some of those days I didn’t even stay on the set. I would leave when he to do his scenes, or I would just not come to the set that day…When Denzel says, “We are doing this for Antwone,” we are all talking about the boy that I was who didn’t have a voice and who was unprotected. We’re not talking about the young adult who Derek played because I was free to make decisions then and I chose to not get help early on, due to my shame. But I did have power to do something for myself. When I was a kid I had no power at all.
Denzel the Director
Just as Antwone was concerned about telling the story of his childhood, that was Denzel’s main focus as well. His main focus was that he not let down little Antwone.
“My prayer was just to take care of this young man’s life. I promised him that I would. Every day in the trailer, I said, “God, don’t let me screw this boy’s life up. He’s been through enough. Just let me take care of him. I don’t care about me. It’s not about me being a director. It’s about the boy.”