The realization of growth hits when least expected. It typically takes place during a normal routine, going about daily business, when suddenly an epiphany comes. You realize years have passed. Gray hairs now poke from the chin. Friends need divorce therapy. Family members fade to the grave. And there’s an underwater mortgage, with a credit score that’s sunk to a low level you actually know. The emotional intensity of truly growing is the mature stuff that cocky, know-it-all, 20 year olds can’t fully fathom. It’s these heavy and often funny complexities of life that come to play in The Best Man Holiday.
Written and directed by Malcolm Lee, the memorable story of 9 friends moving through the unpredictable flow of growth, is revisited 14 years later after the original Best Man debuted in 1999. Moments of Lee’s world became a driving force pushing him to get this sequel made. “Well since 2008, I had done Soul Men and [Welcome Home] Roscoe Jenkins virtually back to back. I was tired and had been out of town and my wife was pregnant at the time. We just had our third child and I said, ‘Let me just stay home awhile and write a script,” says Lee. “I wrote something that I just knew was going to get made. And it got no traction. So I was like, ‘Okay, that deprived me.’ But the business had gone through a little bit of a change. There were a couple of African American movies, [that] just didn’t perform, including Soul Men. And the studios were saying, ‘Well we’re not making these types of movies anymore.’ The distribution costs had gotten higher, the international dollar was more important. DVD was a cash cow for the studios, and it wasn’t producing the same kind of results. So the business was going through a real shift. And I was developing a couple of things, including a television show, a sports comedy with LeBron James with Imagine Entertainment that didn’t come to fruition. And it was getting a little frustrating. I was ready to go back to work and needed to make some money. And mind you, I had a couple offers on some movies, but we didn’t quite see eye to eye on the project for whatever reason. Some of those movies went on to actually help Best Man get made, or at least [they] made me think, ‘Hey let me see about reviving this again.’”
Lee was only able to convince the studio to back the film after assembling the entire cast for a table read. His creative angst is slightly mirrored in The Best Man Holiday, where writer Harper [Taye Diggs], finds himself professionally frustrated. “The idea for this movie came to me a long time ago, I’d say 2006. And certainly, around that time I had lost my mother-in-law. But it wasn’t really something that directly affected me,” says Lee. “I mean, there were certainly things I wanted to include in the movie that are up to date like the economic recession. We’re at that age where a lot of people are losing loved ones, parents, and peers, family members in a society that takes a lot of time to work and think about career and not enough time for friends, family, and fellowship. So I wanted to comment on those things as well, especially around the holidays. That’s the time that people start to think, reflecting on the year that has passed, and the year that’s about to come the kind of changes they’re going to make and where they’re going to be and what their goals are, and putting the year behind.”
Fast forward to the present. Beverly Hills. Four Seasons Hotel. A room filled with name brand stars Nia Long, Taye Diggs, Sanaa Lathan. In the 90’s, the biggest celebrity of the trio was Nia who was popular in the "heyday" of Black Film after appearing in cult classics like Boys in the Hood and Friday. Today, the room is equally balanced in professional resume length, where they all can pontificate with the utmost experience on the ins and outs of the movie-making business. “The fact that after 14 years all of us have done so much work. We really understand the process,” says Sanaa. “And I think for Malcolm it probably… We weren’t as easy as we were the first time. Let’s put it that way. Because we had a lot of input, because we have perspective now. We have a lot of experience.”
Thinking back on dealing with his now “seasoned” cast of actors, Lee smirks. “Yes, it was difficult. But at the same time I knew that going in they would have ideas and they’ve been on a lot more movie sets than I have at this point in their careers,” he says. “So of course I had to listen to what they had to say. But at the same time they had to also listen to me. It’s a give and take. And I had a vision for the movie that’s very strong and they better listen to me because they’re gonna end up on the cutting room floor if they’re not. Okay?”
He stops for a long sarcastic pause.
“No. But in all seriousness there was a little bit more. They had their opinions in this, and that’s fine. Anything that helps to aid the vision of the movie I’m all for.”
Terrence Howard is a bit more direct about the difficulties of making The Best Man sequel. “No, the hardest thing was really making it through the glare, because a lot of my friends they didn’t have no more hair. And you just wonder what happened…” He smiles at the physical changes some of his castmates have gone through. “Wigs. Why don’t they wear a weave?”
Looking on at Howard from the side is actress Melissa De Sousa, who plays drama queen Shelby. She shakes her head at the silliness after getting more serious about personal challenges that came in making the film. “It was a little scary, you know, trying to live up to the first one. Kind of putting Shelby’s shoes back on, per say,” she says. “I kind of felt like it was a fluke the first one. He just wrote such a great character. It was a character that just stood out. When I read it, it jumped off the page, and I thought, ‘Wow I would kill to do this part,'” said De Souza. “But then coming up again, it’s almost like, ‘Oh god, do you want to touch that again?’ Because it was so special.”
Admitting fear is a beautiful sign of maturity. It's a poignant example of growth and self-power when one can clearly admit to being nervous and unsure. The ability to confess to trepidation is less a moment of weakness, and more like a wave of pure honesty flowing down the spine beside chills vibrating from an unpredictable life.
“You know, there’s been times where I’ve doubted my own abilities and what my place was in the world, where my career was,” says Lee, before switching to a more confident approach on the film. “I don’t feel nervous about how audiences are going to react to it. I’m a little nervous about what the box office will be. I mean, I know there’s great enthusiasm for it. But you can never quantify that until you see people show up at the movie theater. You know, with Thor: The Dark World in our rear view mirror, and still moving large. And then the big shadow of Hunger Games: Catching Fire coming behind us. You know it’s a little bit daunting. But I think if fans come out in strong numbers it’ll be great. But you just never know if they will.”
Back at home in New York, after an everlasting press run, glitzy Hollywood premiere, and tireless push to succeed, Lee comfortably sits back thinking on how he grew during the making of The Best Man Holiday. “The things that we think about when we’re in our 20’s and just out of school are way different than the things we think about later on in life when we have kids and house and mortgage and bills to pay and career roadblocks. So it’s all those things that allow me to grow and figure out, ‘Okay if I want to do something, I have to will it to happen.’ I have to make the calls and talk to the talent and then talk to their representatives, and write the right script and give the actor the right moments. And also try to market it the right way,” he says. “You gotta think about business. This is not just about commerce. It’s about business. What do the fans want? What does the industry demand we do?”
“There’s some parts I’m going to miss. But at the same time I’m ready to release [this film] to the world,” he says. “That’s the thing that I’m most excited about: Letting them get the chance to experience what I’ve been wanting to bring.”
The Best Man Holiday hits theaters, Friday November 15.