Written by | Ray Cornelius
I had the distinct honor and pleasure of attending a special advanced screening of HBO’s “All the Way” last night at Atlanta’s historic Carter Center. The viewing also included a pre-film reception and post-film discussion with the director Jay Roach, the award winning-screenwriter Robert Schenkkan and one of the film’s stars Anthony Mackie.
All the Way
“All the Way” is a retelling of President Lyndon B. Johnson‘s efforts to maneuver members of the 88th United States Congress to enact, and civil rights leaders including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to support, the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The film takes its name from Johnson’s 1964 campaign slogan, “All the Way with LBJ.” It’s also based on the Tony winning-play of the same name and is directed by the legendary Steven Spielberg.
Bryan Cranston reprises his role as President Johnson and totally nails his performance much like Jamie Foxx did in “Ray.” Oscar winning-actress Melissa Leo stars as Lady Bird Johnson while Mackie takes on the role of a lifetime as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. According to the versatile actor, he wanted to play the “King” he knew growing up and was more interested in “capturing the essence of him” versus trying to look and sound like him.
“I feel like Dr. King is one of the only men in the history of the world who are known and recognized for their achievements and not how they look. I felt that it would be a huge disservice to try and look like him and act like him as opposed to capturing the essence of the man. So it was very important to me to hit a home run with his actions as opposed to being selfish and hitting a home run with the way I look. I would much rather portray him in the light of a progressive leader than Anthony in a fat suit.”
Mackie also admitted that he got the role while filming “Captain America” in Atlanta and immediately began doing research at Morehouse College. While he didn’t connect with the King family, he did stop by historic Ebenezer Baptist Church and King’s childhood home where he sat, prayed and listened.
Robert Schenkkan’s “All The Way” premiered at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival on July 28, 2012. The production later opened in Boston in 2013 and then made its way to Broadway in 2014, where it picked up a Tony Award for Best Play and Cranston won for Best Actor in a Play. When Schenkkan was offered the opportunity to take the epic story from the stage to the big screen, he said he couldn’t resist.
“This was a second opportunity to get a bite at the apple and to do things that I couldn’t do on stage. To have that opportunity is extraordinary,” said Schenkkan. Film also offers you the unique possibilities like the epic wide shots or the ability to place your actors in very naturalistic environments or intimate over the shoulder closeups or the ‘in their face’ shots that are so revealing of character. These are things you just can’t do on stage.”
He also confessed that the film’s subject matter is very timely considering the social and political landscape of the United States right now.
“I think 1964 is kinda the origin story for 2016. We live in a world that LBJ created. All of the issues over which people fight so bitterly today—-budget, immigration, institutionalize violence against black bodies, voting rights—-all of these have their origins in 1964. You also had a charismatic but very controversial candidate who threatened break the Republican party apart and here we have Donald Trump. It’s kinda Déjà vu all over again!”
Anthony Mackie talking to Ambassador Andrew Young
“All the Way” features a number of standout performances including Bradley Whitford as Hubert Humphrey, Frank Langella as Sen. Richard Russell, Joe Morton as Roy Wilkins, Stephen Root as J. Edgar Hoover, Aisha Hinds as Fannie Lou Hamer and Mo McRae as Stokley Carmichael.
Civil Rights icon Ambassador Andrew Young, who was in attendance last night, also served as one of the film’s consultants. Other Atlanta notables spotted in the audience included BronzeLens Film Festival creator Kathleen Bertrand and actress Porsha Ferguson from OWN’s “The Haves and the Have Nots.”
Check out more photos and the film’s trailer below:
Darlene Hamilton with BLFF’s Katleen Bertrand
Ambassador Andrew Young with actress Porsha Ferguson
Post-film panel discussion
“All the Way” debuts TOMORROW Saturday, May 21 at 8 p.m. EST
Photo Credits: RayCornelius.com