Peele ‘had to go as big as possible’ with movie
‘Nope’ filmmaker weaves Hollywood fiction with reality
There’s little in contemporary movies quite like the arrival of a new Jordan Peele film. They tend to descend ominously and mysteriously, a little like an unknown object from above that casts an expanding, darkening shadow the closer it comes.
“Nope,” the writer-director’s third film, is here. After Peele’s singular debut, “Get Out,” about the possession of Black bodies and the fallacy of post-racial America, and his follow-up, “Us,” a monstrous tale of doppelgangers and societal mirrors, “Nope” brings a new set of horrors and unsettling metaphors. For Peele, who writes through shooting and considers the conversation generated by a movie one of its main ingredients, “Nope” is far from a finished project.
“Movie’s done,” Peele said in a recent interview. “I’m still writing it.”
It’s Peele’s most ambitious film yet, a flying saucer horror that digs into the nature of spectacle and the desire to document it — a multithreaded theme that encompasses Hollywood history and “Nope” itself. Daniel Kaluuya and Keke Palmer star as a brother and sister in a family horse wrangling business for film productions. Their California ranch is visited by a strange and violent force in the clouds that they strive to capture on film.
“Nope,” now in theaters, also extends Peele’s own self-conjured mythology. His movies are very loosely tethered together (some fictional establishments appear in several of them), and even encompass a “Nope” theme park attraction at Universal Studios Hollywood. Peele’s dark world is increasingly ours.
For Peele, “Nope” is about reaching for a kind of Hollywood movie once unattainable. He pointedly opens the film with Eadweard Muybridge’s 1887 photographic study showing a Black rider on a horse. It was one of the first moving pictures. But while the name of the horse and its owner was recorded, the name of the Black jockey is unknown.
“I feel like this is the first moment that anyone would ever allow me or anyone to make this movie. And so I had to take advantage. I had to go as big as possible,” said Peele. “I was like: ‘Let’s go.’ ”
This interview with Peele has been edited for clarity and length.
Q: The Eadweard Muybridge loop looms over “Nope”; your characters are said to be descendants from its unnamed rider. To you, what does it mean that the erasure of Black men was there at the foundation of cinema? A:
It’s a sad part of this industry. It was something I was learning at a good point for myself in this story. I felt like five, 10 years ago, I would never have been able to sell this movie to anyone. So I’m juxtaposing this origin
story of film at the same time I’m trying to make a story that’s scary and joyous and adventurous and everything I love about film. It just felt very fitting for that starting point to be acknowledged and have ancestral implications for our main characters.
Q: Do you think of your movie as like an antidote to that film? A:
Yes. I’ve been trying to put that together. It’s a sequel, it’s an antidote, it’s a reboot, it’s an answer to the way films began and have continued.
Q: Kaluuya and Palmer’s characters work on movie sets, and “Nope” centers on their attempts to capture
something on film. To you, is “Nope” about the movie industry? A:
It became very meta very quick. Making a movie is basically like chasing the impossible, trying to bottle something that doesn’t exist. I was inspired by films like “King Kong” and “Jurassic Park” that really deal with the human addiction to spectacle and the presentation and monetization of that. The meta part is you’re commenting on this notion at the same time you’re trying to utilize it and trying to create something that people can’t look away from.
Q: Why do you think in writing “Nope” your thoughts went back to the beginning of film? A:
Part of the world of “Nope” is flirting with real Hollywood and the Hollywood that takes place in my liminal dreams and nightmares. In real life, of the prominent Hollywood horse trainers, there’s not an African American one I’m representing. The Haywoods are a very made-up family and notion. It was fun to weave the Hollywood fiction with reality and try and make a seamless immersion into what’s real and what’s not.
Q: A poster of Sidney Poitier’s 1972 Western “Buck and the Preacher” is seen in several shots. Was that an important film to you? A:
It’s the first film that I know of that had Black cowboys represented in it. The myth that cowboys were just white guys running around, it’s just not true, but we don’t know that because of Hollywood and the romanticized view of a very brutalized era. The film, it shares a spirit.
clouds have taken on a sinister appearance to me. What led you to build your film around that image of an unmoving cloud? A:
The beauty of the sky is enthralling — the first movies, in a way. Every now and then you’ll see a cloud that sits alone and is too low, and it gives me this vertigo, and this sense of Presence with a capital P. I can’t describe it, but I knew if I could bottle that and put it into a horror movie, it might change the way people look at the sky.
Q: How much were you thinking about “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”? A:
Yeah, “Close Encounters” is something I think about a lot, as is “Signs” by M. Night Shyamalan. These are big-vision directors who have taken flying saucers and science fiction and have brought magic to the way they told those stories. I wanted to toss my hat in the ring to one of my favorite subgenres, in UFOs, and do it in a way only I can.
Q: Do you get asked a lot about a sequel to “Get Out”? A:
I do get asked that a lot. Never say never. There’s certainly a lot to talk about left. We’ll see.
Q: After “Get Out,” you suggested you would embark on a series of genre films that grapple with big societal issues. Three films in, where do you feel you are in that project? A:
I feel like I’m off to the races. I just don’t know if I could limit how many films I have that are me. I’m starting to lose sight of what I would be doing if I wasn’t doing movies like this. So I would say the project has extended.