CS Interview: Courtney B. Vance on culturally-rich Uncorked
ComingSoon.net got the opportunity to chat with Emmy-winning actor Courtney B. Vance (American Crime Story) to discuss his upcoming Netflix drama Uncorked in which he plays the owner of a mom-and-pop Memphis barbecue joint whose son is struggling between his dreams and his family.
In Uncorked, fueled by his love for wine, Elijah enrolls in a course to become a master sommelier, an elite designation given only to a handful who are able to pass its notoriously difficult exam. It’s a dream that upends the expectations of his father, Louis, who insists Elijah take over the popular Memphis barbeque joint that’s been passed down from father to son since its inception. Elijah struggles with the demands of school and a new relationship, while Louis wrestles with the feelings of his son rejecting the family business until a tragedy forces both of them to slow things down.
The film stars Mamoudou Athie (The Front Runner, Jurassic World 3) as Elijah, Niecy Nash (When They See Us) as Sylvia, and Courtney B. Vance (American Crime Story) as Louis. It will also feature Matt McGorry (How to Get Away With Murder), Gil Ozeri (Brooklyn Nine-Nine), Kelly Jenrette as Brenda, Sasha Compare as Tanya, Bernard David Jones as JT and Meera Rohit Kumbhani as Leann.
Uncorked is written and directed by Prentice Penny with Jill Ahrens, Ryan Harris, Jason Michael Bermon, Chris Pollack, Ben Renzo and Datari Turner serving as producers.It is a production by Argent Pictures and Mandalay Pictures.
When it came to getting the script to the project, which sees a dive into both the barbecue and wine worlds, Vance found his biggest draw to the project was his character, who he says he’s known the same kind of people in real life, the “Souther-rooted men.”
“I knew the character, I’ve seen those black men my whole life,” Vance described. “The larger thing for me was just learning the culture, the Memphis barbecue culture, which is so cool and rich. There are so many people who are in that world and the ingredients, the type of wood, the length of time in the smoker, the kind of smoker, the kind of sauce. I mean, it’s a whole world and they brought me in and it was wonderful to be able to go around and sample different meats and sauces and barbecues and it required me to get up early because they cue very early. They put that meat in there at four or five in the morning so that it would be ready. That was extraordinary in terms of me actually getting to see and meet the people, see how wonderful and colorful and how much they love what they do. There’s nothing like Memphis, they’re all about the cue, Kansas City and barbecues, the headquarters of the country, they are very serious about the cue. Tri-tips and the chicken and the wings, it’s a whole world, and I had no idea how intense t was and with competitions, their lives are built around their cue, so I got an immense respect for the people in that world.”
Vance described working on the film as a “wonderful time,” but despite being around many of the cooking masters and getting to eat a lot of the various foods on display in the movie, he says he didn’t bring any of the recipes home with him, choosing instead just to enjoy the dishes he was immersed with.
With the film’s main focus being on Athie’s Eli as he struggles between his responsibility to his father to take over the restaurant while also seeking to pursue his dreams, a certain level of chemistry needed to be had between he and Vance, as well as Nash as the mom trying to keep their family together. The actor credits that chemistry to Penny’s script, in which he “set up the world with a wonderful” attitude of “this is my idea, make it better or if it doesn’t work for you, let’s restructure it.”
“Everyone bought into that, from the crew, the caterers, all the way up and down, we all were invested,” Vance said. “Because of that, we became very, very close, very quickly. That chemistry it really translates into every scene, but the dining room table scenes, where we’re all there and eating food and figuring out what the dynamics of the family, that’s where all that chemistry came into play. We jumped in really quickly and Prentice, because he is who he is, afforded us a shorthand language that we got to grow fast and concretely. I say that chemistry thing is always about the director being good or bad. If the director sets up something good for the actors that will build them into their world together, if he or she does not help it will drive them into a self-preservation kind of mode or world, which will potentially get them to the same place in terms of their chemistry. So we were all together, and I appreciate that. I appreciate not having to band together to fight the director to be able to stand alone.”
Vance found his favorite creative challenge in the film to be the “transition between being kind of passive and negative” in the way his character approaches his “my way or the highway” personality and outlook on life and raising his kids.
“Whatever way that my wife was, you know, being an active participant parent in the process and albeit I got to it late with my son, but I got to it and we were able to make transitions,” Vance said. “Some parents and children, because they don’t make that turn and the parents and the children’s relationship is frozen and it’s broken and fractured, and in some cases never repaired and they only come together when one of them is potentially ready to leave this world. So life is short and eat dessert first. So I’m glad that this project is one where the audience sees the father come back and say I was wrong. Everyone loves a comeback story and that’s what this was, even though there were some challenges in getting us in a place where I was able to say I want to help. There was some loss there, but the main thing is that having people relate to ‘You gotta get it. You’re right, but you’re wrong.’ Everyone can understand that and appreciate that story.”
Being a father to twins with his wife, Golden Globe-winner Angela Bassett (Black Panther), Vance found he was able to bring over aspects of his life as a parent, including a recent lesson learned from a trip to his Sunday service.
“I heard our minster talk about it on Sunday that children need to learn obedience and they need to be taught so that from 13 to the rest of their lives, parents and children can have discussions and talk about, ‘Well how do you handle that or what do you want to do?'” Vance said. “That idea of parenting, of actually laying down, as my mother said when we began our journey with our children, ‘You got six years, Court, to put in and get your digs in. After first grade, it’s basically over because they’re in school more than they’re home.’ After that, you’ve got to begin the transition of eventually, as we say to our children, you’re going to be taking over and taking care of us. We’ve got to prep you and get you ready for that transition, where you know how to take over. You know how to, as a servant and leader take over and take care and be the help, how can I help. That’s the mentality that in our project, my wife was a helper and I got to transition and become the helper in her stead and help my son. My son needs me and I’ve got to let my thing go and be more engaged in what he wants to do and help him achieve his goals.”
Uncorked is set to premiere on Netflix on Friday!