Dang it! I had to be all the way overseas and this is premiering in days.
Bad Boys & NYPD Blue alumni Esai Morales comes back to his old stomping grounds to star in director Rashaad Ernesto Green’s gritty, coming-out drama, Gun Hill Road, which is a story about ex-con Enrique, who is played by Morales, coming home to the Bronx after a 3-year bid in prison, only to find his wife, Angela (Scrubs’ Judy Reyes) struggling to hide an emotional affair and his teenage son, Michael (newcomer Harmony Santana) exploring a sexual transformation that is beyond Enrique’s understanding. Unable to accept his child, Enrique clings to his masculine ideals while Angela attempts to hold the family together by protecting Michael. Still under the watchful eye of his parole officer (Isiah Whitlock, Jr), Enrique must become the father he needs to be or, once again, risk losing his family and freedom.
Can a father’s fierce love for his family overcome his street-hardened ideas about manhood and end the vicious cycle controlling his life?
Rashaad Ernesto Green is know for his short films such as Premature, Cuts and Choices. This is his first feature length film and first wrote it in 2009, setting the scene in his Bronx birthplace. This movie won the jury over in the 2011 Sundance Film Festival.
He specifically chose Esai, Judy and Harmony to play these characters. All being originally from the Bronx, Green thought that the three would be a perfect fit for the movie.
“My brother and I watched La Bamba over and over again as kids and loved Esai Morales in the film,” says Green. “Esai is co-founder of the National Hispanic Foundation of the Arts with Jimmy Smits, Sonia Braga, and Felix Sanchez. I was fortunate to win the scholarship three years in a row. I got to know Esai as a person and already had a deep respect for him as an actor. He was my natural choice for the lead in Gun Hill Road. Judy Reyes, whose work I also love, was also my first choice for the role of Angela.”
“We’ve seen the gangster and prison stuff,” says Morales of his previous roles, “and now I finally have a chance to play someone I haven’t played before: a New York Puerto Rican, which is what I am. Enrique is kind of a Biblical ‘Job in the ‘Hood.’ Everything happens to him in the weirdest ways and he tries to fix his son in the most un-artful ways possible.”
The casting for the character of Michael was a difficult one. “We scoured every over-18 club, bar, parade, drag show and poetry slam in New York for weeks, staying out until three in the morning or handing out flyers at daytime events in the city. We knew it was not going to be easy to cast such a specific role. We had to find a person to really inhabit this role psychologically,” says Green. Just two months before production was slated to start, Green met Harmony Santana, who was working at a parade booth in Queens. After two auditions, Harmony landed the role of Michael and then went through six weeks of intense acting workshops and rehearsals to prepare for the role. “Harmony had a sense of naturalism that was the right fit for this very challenging, hard-to-cast role and showed a lot of heart and dedication, dropping everything to work on this film for nearly three months,” says Green.
“Rashaad has written and directed a powerful story about a family struggling to reconnect as cultures, values and generations collide,” said Gun Hill Road producer/executive producer Ron Simons. “We were blessed with a talented, hardworking cast and crew who brought the right combination of professional experience along with different perspectives on race, culture, sexuality, age and gender. With Rashaad’s vision, we were able to make the story of Gun Hill Road resonate on the screen.”
Gun Hill Road premiered January 24th in the Dramatic Competition at Sundance 2011. Selected for the 2010 Tribeca All Access Program, Gun Hill Road was also named recipient of the 2009 Spike Lee Fellowship, the Princess Grace Foundation Award, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association Grant, and was recognized by the Urban Arts Initiative in New York City and the Northern Manhattan Arts Alliance. Gun Hill Road was also selected for the 2010 IFP Project Forum, which took place September 19 through 23, 2010. The movie is also getting rave reviews from indieWIRE , CNN American Morning, FilmMaker Magazine, and from stars such as The Real L Word’s Rachel Castaneda.
“By making this film, I hope to encourage dialog about an issue in this community that needs to be addressed.” says Green. “It’s happening right now. The old school culture of the Bronx is at war with its youth. The younger spirited generation is much more open minded and accepting of difference than ever before, leaving them at odds with their parents who raised them. I want to explore a side and complexity of the Bronx and Latino life that is rarely seen in films. At the end of the day, Enrique is a beautiful person who loves his child dearly. He just hasn’t been equipped with the tools necessary to break his mental chains. The struggle that exists within Enrique is the same plight that plagues the entire Bronx. And if it’s happening here, it’s happening everywhere.”