A reference I made to Jordan Peele backfired. Nope is a lot of things, but what it also is … is a really fun alien movie. When people have asked me about it, I’ve compared it, in part, to Tremors. Now, I had no intention of telling Jordan Peele I’ve been comparing his movie to Tremors. I mean this has a huge compliment, but I have no idea if Peele likes Tremors or not. What if he hates Tremors? He’s going to take that comparison as an insult.
Of course, during the course of this interview, it slipped out anyway. Now, as it turns out, Jordan Peele is a huge fan of Tremors. As soon as he said this, my mind started racing, “Oh, god, he’s going to ask me what the creature is called and for the life of me I can’t remember.” And then that’s exactly what happened. (For the rest of my life, now, I will never forget the word “Graboid.”)
It wouldn’t be a Jordan Peele movie if Nope had nothing to say, but the thing about Nope is it’s a great summer alien movie. At a certain point during the movie, I kind of just decided, “I’ll think about the meaning later, I’m having too much fun.”
Daniel Kaluuya and Keke Palmer star as OJ and Emerald Haywood, the sibling owners of a horse ranch that has supplied horses to Hollywood film and television productions for years. Steven Yeun stars as former child star Ricky Park (who is best known for starring in a mid-’90s sitcom in which a monkey attacked the cast), who needs horses for an upcoming project. And then OJ and Emerald start seeing a UFO lurking around their ranch and concoct a plan to try and film the alien so they will go down in history as the people who discovered alien life. Things do not go quite as planned.
Ahead, despite the kind of secretive marketing, Peele is pretty open about this being an alien movie. As he says, it’s about spectacle, and inviting people to a spectacle, and the horrors and repercussions of spectacle. Yes, Peele has things to say, but he also loves genre movies … yes, like Tremors. (The last time we spoke I was surprised how much he spoke about The Man with Two Brains, The Lost Boys, and Corey Feldman.) And there’s no doubt Peele also wanted to make a fun summer alien movie. And, as Peele points out (with a big hint in the movie, via a poster for the Sidney Poitier film, Buck and the Preacher, which I watched the day before we spoke), this is the first big-budget alien movie with a primarily Black cast.
There’s a poster for Sidney Poitier’s Buck and the Preacher displayed prominently in Nope, in a “you should watch this,” kind of way. So I watched it yesterday. That movie is amazing by the way…
It is. And I think it’s the first example of Black cowboy representation that I know of in Hollywood mythology.
So then it hit me after watching Buck and the Preacher, that you just made the first big-budget summer sci-fi movie with primarily a Black cast, just like Buck and the Preacher is the first Western movie in the same vein. Am I off-base?
That is what happened. And I think the result of that is something that even, I think, surprised me. You come up with this nightmare, or this vision, and then you bring this team together. And you launch into it full tilt with collaboration and the product ends up being even something surprising to me if it works out well. And it did this time.
So what surprised you about it?
Well, I think a part of the journey, this was written in a different way for me and created in a different way. Whereas my other movies – specifically, Get Out – started with this notion of: what if I write a script that no one would ever let me make? And how can I make a movie that’s impossible? Well, with the fortune of success, I’ve had greater tools I can work with. So it’s very important to me to continue to push and continue to start from that same starting point of, what can I do that’s impossible? What is the movie that I’m not supposed to make? That I can’t make? That I don’t know how to make? And that was the starting point. But having those tools and trying to understand what it meant to be inviting people to a spectacle that was different than my previous films. It changed the process in itself.
Well, that’s interesting because there’s literally a scene in this movie where there is a spectacle that people are invited to. I won’t say what happens…
It doesn’t go well. Spoiler alert.
Yeah, it doesn’t go well. But was that in your head when you were doing that scene? Inviting people to a spectacle?
Certain films, like King Kong, Jurassic Park, films that are about how humans consume spectacle and addiction to it… I felt like I had a take on that same notion. So the scene you’re talking about, I think it has some DNA connection to that idea that you can simultaneously invite an audience to a spectacle and indict them and yourself for putting it on and needing that spectacle.
Obviously, this movie has undertones and a lot to say, but I also feel it is a kick-ass alien movie. Because of the past movies you’ve made, I found myself trying to figure it out, but I got to point where I was like, you know what? I’m having a great time. This is a great alien movie.
Thank you, man.
Does that make sense what I’m saying?
It does, yeah. It absolutely does. Look, all of my movies, I’m trying to give you something for whatever mood you’re in. Okay? So I think that there is a way to watch this movie in a way that you’re going to come armed for that conversation afterward. There’s also a way to watch this movie where you say, Look, I’ve been working all day, all week. I want to shut off and see some wild stuff. Then I want that to be there for you as well, and if you want it all, I want to give the audience that, too.
There are two casting choices I want to ask about…
I know what they are.
Yes. Keith David and Michael Wincott.
The second one is not one of them, actually.
Oh, okay. You seemed like a Wincott guy, that’s why I said that.
He’s great in this, but I have limited time and there’s someone else I’d rather ask about instead. But Keith David is first, you literally have The Thing in your movie.
Yes. A genre… God, as much as we have one. The Thing, They Live, he’s in hundreds of films and he is one of the nicest guys. A real honor. And spoiler alert: He doesn’t make it very long in the film.
No, he doesn’t. He has some flashbacks though.
He’s got some flashbacks, but his presence and voice resound over the entire film. So I needed somebody that was just simply iconic to base that ghostly presence on.
So the other one… The last time we spoke for Us, I was surprised how much you wanted to talk about The Man with Two Brains and The Lost Boys. So I’m really curious where this goes because when I was a little kid, my mom loved Knots Landing, and Donna Mills is in your movie. And I am fascinated by how that happened.
[Laughs] So I have to admit, I’m not a Knots Landing fan. I’ve never seen the show. The great Donna Mills honored me with an audition.
And she crushed. So it’s just like that.
What’s that day like? “Hey, Donna Mills wants to audition for your movie.”
If I had known, I don’t know, I would not have let her audition. One day I’m just looking at some tape, and there’s Donna Mills. She just did a wonderful job, and it was more than the fact that she is an icon herself. She really nailed it.
She’s really great in this.
Yes. Yeah. She’s great.
Steven Yeun has this amazing monologue about Saturday Night Live that involves the enthusiastic line, “Chris Goddamn Kattan.” I enjoyed that immensely. What was going on there for you?
Well, Stephen has this ability to ground the absurd and he can take anything and make it feel real, like it’s coming out of a real person. And he does so much work to make things look so effortless. The character he plays is a total character study, and it’s a unique guy that’s based on, I think, observations about the type of trauma that this industry can in inflict on people who are launched into the machine of attention. Yeah. I won’t… I’m very close to that character. Let’s just put it that way.
I’m sure there are a lot of influences for this movie. And I’m sure some are obvious. What’s an influence for this movie that no one would ever think of?
Well, as soon as I say something, I think anybody would, of course, be able to tell what it is. But I would say The Wizard of Oz. There’s a spirit connection in the commitment to spectacle and the ponderance on exploitation that the film represents in movies.
When people have asked me about it, I’ve listed off a few movies. But I end with, “it’s got a hint of Tremors,” and people get really excited. I don’t know if you like Tremors or not, but I mean that as a huge compliment.
Big Tremors fan over here.
Okay, I didn’t know…
Come on, bro.
I didn’t know!
Come on. Yes.
Well, you’ve got some Tremors in this movie.
By the way. Can I ask you? Here’s your trivia question. What are the monsters in Tremors called?
I knew you were just going to ask that. And I’ve been blanking and I can’t think of it. I can’t think of it…
The Graboids! But at least you didn’t say “Tremors.”
Our Zoom host just gave me the answer in a message, trying to help me out. As soon as I brought it up I started thinking, “He’s going to ask me, and I am blanking.” And you did. But I do love that movie. The great Fred Ward, who we just lost, he’s awesome in that.
Yes. And the great Kevin Bacon. He’s still here.
Yes, he is still here. In fact, I just saw him on the street a few days ago.
Really? You’re involved in the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon game now.
He was headed into a movie theater as I was walking out. I think he was seeing Top Gun: Maverick.
[Laughs] Wow. That’s a lot of… If you ever see me on the street, don’t tell people where I’ve been.
‘Nope’ opens on July 22nd. You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.