With Bob Marley: One Love, this will be Reinaldo Marcus Green’s third film in a row focusing on the true events surrounding a man, following Mark Wahlberg as the title character in Joe Bell and Will Smith in King Richard. (You are probably much more aware of that second movie.) With Bob Marley, it’s easy to throw out descriptions like “larger than life” and move on, but that doesn’t really do justice to how much larger than life Marley still is to this day and what he still mean to the people of Jamaica. And that’s the thing, Marley (played in the film by Kingsley Ben-Adir) is such an icon, we often don’t think about what this guy was like in his quiet moments. What his relationships were like. And that’s what Green’s movie focuses on: who even was this guy that is still so famous today?
Ahead, Green explains what he learned the most about Bob Marley about making this film and he tells us why he decided to focus on one time period of Marley’s life – Marley planning the Smile Jamaica concert in 1976, then the Concert for Peace in 1978 – instead of a sprawling look at his whole life. And how the people of Jamaica were his inspiration in many ways, including being told many times, “Don’t mess this up.”
How much time did you personally get to spend in Jamaica? Because that sounds like a pretty good deal.
Yeah, it was a fair amount of time. Fortunately for me, it was my second time actually filming there, so I had rapport with the crew. And I think we filmed for a total of 25, 26 days total in Jamaica? And we had a fair amount of prep there. So yeah, it required it, just how much we had to build, how much we had to capture while we were there. So yeah, it was great to be back.
Did you go to Scotchies?
[Laughs] Yes. We went all over, man. Which is great.
Every time I’m there, all the locals are like, ‘You have to go to Scotchies.” There are a lot of fun dogs.
Yeah, there are lots of stray dogs. We were tempted to bring home a lot, but yeah, that’s Jamaica.
If you’ve never been there, you might think the love for Bob Marley is a cliche, but it’s not. Did you feel like you had to bring this movie home for an entire nation?
Yeah, but it was cool because I equally felt like everyone was reminding me not to mess it up. But also just like, okay, we’re not going to let you mess it up. I was propped up by the entire nation, whether it was our drivers or the grip truck or the craft team. Everybody had an opinion and everybody was like, look, we’re going to help you out. This is an important movie for Jamaica. Bob’s the biggest artist that ever came out of Jamaica and his reach is enormous. And so for them, it’s important. It was important that we did it right or that we at least attempted to.
Yeah, this probably means more to them than, say, Cocktail or Club Paradise.
I’m sure they’re all important. They’re all important.
Admittedly, movies I do like.
I think this one, Bob helped to put Jamaican music and reggae music on the map in a way that no other artist had done that before. So I think when you go to Trench Town, there are murals of Bob and there’s so much that they’ve held in such high regard for him and his family. And so, yeah, there was a certain aura around the film in trying to make sure that we upheld the legacy, which was already so strong.
During the end credits, there are a lot of people with the last name “Marley” listed. If I’m a filmmaker I can see how that would be helpful, but also can see times they might not want something in the movie as you’re trying to tell the story of a real person, and all people have flaws. How did that work?
Look, I couldn’t have made this movie without the support of the Marleys. And I mean that sincerely. Number one, the music, we had to get the rights in order to be able to do this.
Right, there’s no chance without that.
There’s no chance without it. And so that was number one. I wanted Bob’s voice to be the voice of the film. And the good news is that they’re not filmmakers. They’re musicians and artists and they love film. They wanted to be there to support us. And look, if I were making a film about my dad, I’d be protective, too. More oftentimes than not, it’s the little things, like the shirt that he’s wearing or colors or things like that. It’s like, don’t put him in that shirt. That kind of stuff.
So there’s a shirt and they’re like, “He would not wear that shirt”?
Or how we would style it or that kind of stuff. It’d be little things. “Story” were the things that I can talk to them about. We were making a movie about their dad that had to fit into two hours, so we were going to have to take certain liberties for the purposes of making a film, and they understood that.
You just mentioned trying to condense this man’s life into two hours. We only see his childhood in some short flashbacks. You start the movie with him planning the Smile Jamaica Concert, then ending with the Concert for Peace.
I think we were trying to figure out the window that captured the essence of who Bob was, and in particular, 1976 to 1978 was just like a period of time of rich musical creation. There was an assassination attempt on his life and that would change anybody. And what did he do? He created Exodus, arguably the greatest album of the 20th century. So he clearly was in a state of just rich musical genius and the outpouring of what essentially took him from being a national star to a global star. Exodus is the album that put him on the map in a global way. And it changed him from being just a musician to a revolutionary. what he was after, his music, his message, and how it just got out there in a massive way. So that period of time was just so essential in Bob’s life. And I think, yeah, it just felt like the richest period of time to focus on that could give us a snapshot to the man behind the myth and all the legends.
That’s a good point because a lot of people only know his myth or legend. But he was also someone who had to make choices about his career, things like deciding what album covers should look like.
That’s what I loved about Bob. And honestly, that was the reason for the film to exist. He’s the guy that you see on the buttons and the bags and the T-shirts, but you could even sing along to some of the songs. But I didn’t know. I didn’t really know. I didn’t really know until I took on the journey of this film and realized, man, how regimented he was. He was running his band on the beach. All the things he was doing, everything he put into his body was to reach a deeper state of consciousness. They said he didn’t sleep, he “rested his eyes.” That’s insane. What do you mean you don’t sleep? He just rested. Maybe just felt like he didn’t have a lot of time. He had no time to waste.
What did you learn that you would not have guessed in a million years?
I think it’s the thing that ended up being the core relationship in our film, which is his relationship with Rita and what that was like. And because I didn’t know, I was not aware that Rita was the one that introduced him to Rastafarianism, which is I think the single most important thing in Bob’s creation of music and his rich belief. And their unconventional relationship. Their unconventional courtship, but a love story nonetheless. I felt the same on King Richard. Behind every great man is a great woman, and that relationship was really important to me.
Well, speaking of King Richard – and I promise it’s not the part I assume you don’t want to talk about – but you had Will Smith set as Richard. This is different because you had to cast Bob Marley. How many auditioned and how did you get to Kingsley Ben-Adir?
Look, I want to say I looked at hundreds or thousands. It was a lot. And they were good actors, but just nobody was right. It’s finding a needle in the haystack. And again, we weren’t looking for an identical replica of Bob. I knew I wasn’t going to find that. But I needed someone. And look, it was the 11th hour, man. The rights were about to lapse.
So it was now or never?
It was a now or never. And it was one of those things where it was like, well, I guess I can’t make the movie without Bob. And lo and behold, this tape shows up in my inbox. I get this link and it’s of this guy named Kingsley Ben-Adir. And I didn’t really know Kingsley or his work, and when I saw the tape, I just said, whoa. Leaning in. It had the it factor.
Was he singing and dancing?
No. He wasn’t singing and he wasn’t dancing. And I learned shortly thereafter that that was not in the cards right away. That was something that we were going to have to learn and develop. But I was interested, man. And in the same way that with King Richard, I didn’t need tennis players. I needed a good actor. I could cheat everything else. And that was the most important thing. I needed somebody that could play under the surface, that could dig into the humanity of who Bob was. The guitar, the singing, and the dancing, of course you want to get to be right, but I’m thinking, we’ll see how far he can take that and the rest we’ll have to figure out some movie magic. But luckily for us, we had somebody that dove insanely deep into the research and was able to just capture the essence of Bob for us, which was remarkable. I think my job was not to add more pressure.
So the way people were saying to you, “Don’t mess this up.” You, as a good director, did not pass that along to him…
I was definitely trying not to. Look, it’s trickery, right? What we do is try to get performance. We’re trying to get something that allows your actors to disappear in a performance and a story to be revealed. And no matter how intense it was, I think he was able to let go in the key moments that we needed him to to deliver what I think is a stellar performance.
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