Interview: Director Joe Robert Cole Talks ‘All Day and a Night’, Working with the late Charles Gregory Rawson & More
One of Netflix’s latest original movie’s All Day and A Night, starring Ashton Sanders (Moonlight), Jeffrey Wright (Westworld), Isaiah John (Snowfall) and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II (Watchmen) is now available to stream! Directed by Black Panther co-writer Joe Robert Cole, this story is about a young man who embarks on a journey of self-discovery after landing in the same prison as his father.
After seeing the film, I had the chance to chat with director Joe Robert Cole to discuss his latest movie. During the interview we talked about how he brought the cast together, why he choose to tackle themes of toxic masculinity and fatherhood, and why music played an important part of the story.
Check the interview below:
So before we get started with the actual interview, I just wanted to take a second to acknowledge the passing of hairstylist, Charles Gregory Rawson, who actually worked on this film. Can you just talk about what it was like working with him and his contributions?
Joe Robert Cole: Yeah, he worked on our wigs. Our main wig – the primary one was Jeffrey Wright’s and he had worked with Jeffrey, for many, many years, and was just a lovely, lovely man. He was just a joy to be around. He was funny and just knew what he was talking about. And it was a big loss; I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to work with him. And I know this really hit our crew pretty hard. So I appreciate you bringing him up.
I’m so sorry for your loss. And I hope you and your family in particular are doing well during these scary times.
Cole: Thank you man. Same to you!
So this is the second film you’ve directed. What specifically attracted you to this project because I’m sure over the years you’ve had other chances or opportunities?
Cole: You know, this film was inspired by things I’ve seen throughout my life, folks I’ve met and spent time with. My grandmother used to say, ‘Our family didn’t grow up with a silver spoon in our mouth.’ I wanted to humanize someone that our society often struggles to see the humanity in. And so, I felt like based on my closeness of some of my interactions, I felt I was in a unique position to tell this story in the way that I told it.
When it was originally announced that this movie was dropping, the first thing that really got my attention was the power house ensemble. Can you talk about putting that cast together?
Cole: What I was trying to do was visually embrace the crime movie genre, while staying rooted to the humanity of the story’s characters. And I knew to do that I would have to have a really strong cast. So my focus along with my casting director, Ken Coleman, was to find actors who could embody the humanity of the story. And Jeffrey Wright was the first piece of the puzzle. With him I was really looking for somebody who could vanish into the character of JD while capturing the nuance of the disappointment and regret and frustration, frankly beneath his anger. Ashton came on after that and I really felt that he possessed a unique ability to naturally and empathetically exist in the skin of Jahkor. Ashton can say so much without any words, and I think his ability to kind of speak loudly without saying anything or without saying a word makes the movie what it is.
Those were those two roles and then, you know, we went about building out the cast from there. Yahya was the next to come on board and then Regina Taylor. And then, I just feel like we were really fortunate to build out our ensemble around them. We had a wonderful group of people who poured themselves into the role within a dense schedule, and they were present and and gave everything they had to those characters. And I think I think it comes through on screen.
Although this is an intense movie, there are some glimpses of optimism with Ja (Jahkor) when he talks about his music. What was it like weaving that underlying narrative of music and why did you feel that was important?
Cole: Yeah, you know regardless of our circumstance we all have hopes, we all have dreams. You know, even if our environment makes those dreams seem unlikely, they exist and they’re there. What I was really trying to do with the film and with Ashton specifically, is to humanize this character – to peel back the layers of who this man is to show that he’s the sum of his parts and not just the end result. And that means showing his hopes, showing his dreams, showing those disappointments, showing the joy of finding out he’s going to be a father. All of these things they exist in this pressure cooker of an environment that causes some of the behaviors that we see occur in the film: self medicating, lashing out with violence; those sorts of things that that exist in underserved communities across the globe, honestly.
And with this film, in particular, it also deals with topics like Black male masculinity, and like you said, fatherhood. Can you just talk about how you went about approaching that without making it feel too preachy?
Cole: Yeah, that’s a good question, man. There’s a couple things. So there’s this perception that underserved communities are full of men with no interest in being fathers and I think often the case is someone’s desire to be a parent doesn’t match up with the resources or life tools. They need to take care for, to care for a child or a family. And so I was interested in exploring that aspect of fatherhood – the man who relished the idea of being a parent, and how reality undercuts that joy, and then I wanted to explore that generationally. And so, you’re seeing Ja’s journey is a journey of self discovery about himself and about his father, and how he perceived his father to be and he had a greater understanding of having the reasoning of why his father was the way he was. And then using that to find a sense of if his own son might be able to break that particular cycle.
And so, I definitely wanted to explore that and approach it in that fashion. I feel like you know, the movie exists in a world of a world where misogyny exists. And so, I think we all went into the project understanding that what I tried to do was to approach that behavior by trying to explore the things underneath that would be the root of the actions. So, the example is with Jeffrey – he’s failing in the kind of traditional, stereotypical traditional role of a man taking care of his family, so then he’s acting out. So I tried to explore that. And then he acts out in these kind of aggressive, masculine ways as a result to that. So I tried to tie those things together to give a human element to the behaviors that we might see.
Well, Joe, thank you so much for sitting down with me and Geeks of Color. I truly enjoyed the movie. So thank you again for spending a little bit of time with me today.
Cole: No problem man, thank you!