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Interview: Ernest Dickerson On ‘Juice’ 30th Anniversary, Working With Tupac & More

In honor of Juice’s 30th anniversary, I got a chance to sit down with director Ernest R. Dickerson to discuss why the film stands the test of time. One fascinating revelation was that Hollywood initially wanted to turn Juice into a comedy! 

Mr. Dickerson revealed that when he and co-writer Gerard Brown shopped the script around town in the early 1980s, one studio suggested making Juice a farce starring The Cosby Show star Malcolm-Jamal Warner, despite the film’s gritty, crime-ridden screenplay. That request naturally unsettled the filmmakers, prompting them to decline respectfully. “The development process, which has probably ruined so many films, is going to turn [Juice] into something we would not want our names on.” 

Fortunately, a young producer named David Heyman was in search of his first feature when he read Juice’s script. Heyman contacted Mr. Dickerson and Mr. Brown, who agreed to do the movie with David as long as there was a commitment to doing it raw, filming on the streets, and not casting big names. Heyman would later produce Gravity, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and the entire Harry Potter franchise.

Watch the full interview with Ernest Dickerson below:

Director Ernest R. Dickerson’s ability to capture every once of raw authenticity through its locale is what makes Juice so special today. When asking Mr. Dickerson about his approach to depicting New York, he described what makes Harlem so distinctive from every other borough in the city. He also touched on how his upbringing in Newark, New Jersey inspired details like the boys running from cops and jumping across rooftops. 

The camaraderie between the central characters aided in making Juice feel more real than your typical Hollywood crime story. The film’s director discussed how casting the four leads helped create a fifth character out of their friendship. Using mostly undiscovered talent, the team behind Juice looked for actors in church groups and local theater who could draw from their own life experiences. Dickerson talked about working with Tupac before he popped off as a lyricist and how Shakur would often be to himself on set writing about life in his notebook.

We also dive into the social commentary that Juice has to offer today, why hip-hop played such a massive role in Juice, being classmates with Spike Lee and more.

Juice is now available in 4K, Blu-ray and DVD!

Ernest Dickerson - Juice 4K - box art
(Courtesy of Paramount Pictures)

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