It’s a common story. Two people fall in love and decide to get married – but what should be the most thrilling, romantic and fulfilling day of their lives turns into a near disaster – well before the first guests have arrived, even before the dress and the cake have been ordered. In director Rick Famuyiwa’s warm and very funny film, two cultures clash as the parents – or more precisely the fathers of the happy couple, come to blows over practically everything.
UGLY BETTY star, 25 year-old America Ferrera is feisty, funny and charming as Lucia Ramirez. The actress, who also starred in REAL WOMEN HAVE CURVES, THE SISTERHOOD OF THE TRAVELING PANTS films, UNDER THE SAME MOON and the new film she’s produced, THE DRY LAND, plays an intelligent and highly attractive young woman from a close-knit family with Mexican roots. She is getting married to an equally delightful young doctor, Marcus Boyd, an African American, played by the handsome and gifted rising star, 28 year-old Lance Gross. Marcus and Lucia have kept their relationship a secret. They are hoping for a lovely wedding, before setting off on life’s adventures. But when they announce their plans to their families, they quickly discover love is not enough to guarantee a perfect wedding day.
“I was really excited to play Lucia who is a woman of her generation,” says the charismatic Ferrera, sitting down to chat about the film in Los Angeles, looking stunning and stylish in a grey, high waisted short, fitted dress, her long dark hair loose over her shoulders. “She is independent and strong and knows what she wants in life. But like many girls she has a dilemma that I think is universal. No matter how far you travel or how independent or successful you become, the second you’re around your family it all goes away and you revert to being twelve years old again. It is about pleasing the family and playing your role inside the family. For me this was a journey about a woman having the courage to say ‘this is who I am and this is who I’m going to choose to be and I can’t keep playing this role who want me to fulfill.’ So I thought that was exciting.”
“America was the only person I ever had in mind for Lucia,” says director Rick Famuyiwa, “ because she’s one of the best young actresses around right now. She is funny, she’s serious, and she has amazing acting chops. I wanted to work with her.”
Ferrera’s on screen fiancée Lance Gross is engaged in real life to actress Eva Marcille – which made the role in OUR FAMILY WEDDING even more interesting for him. “It was weird working on this film because it was almost like a very crazy – very crazy – practice run for my own wedding,” laughs the lean, muscular and very attractive actor, wearing a black t-shirt and grey vest over jeans. “I’ve got a feeling that my wedding is going to run a lot more smoothly than this one,” says Gross. “ Our families get along great, so I am not worried about any conflict.”
What kind of guy is Marcus? “He is a structured, respectable young man with a clear plan of what he wants to achieve in life,” says Gross, who made his film debut in MEET THE BROWNS. “Marcus has graduated from medical school and is going to volunteer for the organization ‘Doctors Without Borders’ in Laos. And he is madly in love with America’s character, Lucia. Working with America was fun, she is so cool,” enthuses the actor.” She is a ball of joy, I think she is the only person who smiles as much as I do. She calls me ‘smiley’. If you’re having a bad day she’ll cheer you up. We both laugh a lot. You can’t be sad around her.”
Like all the other cast members, Gross says he was thrilled at the opportunity of working closely with one of his heroes, Forest Whitaker, who stars as Brad Boyd. “It really was a dream come true working with Forest because I have always admired his work, it was amazing. I was nervous when I found out he was playing my father – he is an Oscar winner. But meeting him was a breath of fresh air because he is so humble and so relaxed. He goes out of his way to make you feel comfortable. He took me to a Lakers basketball game, which was amazing and we hung out and had lunch a lot and discussed our families in order to build a bond. It worked because we are still friends now and I could call him anytime for advice.”
“We spent time together and built a strong connection as father and son, I am very impressed with Lance, I think he has some great work ahead of him,” says the charismatic and formidably gifted Forest Whitaker, who won the Best Actor Oscar for THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND and has starred in many powerful dramas, including PLATOON, BIRD, PANIC ROOM, PHONE BOOTH and THE GREAT DEBATERS. Whitaker is equally adept at comedy. “This film was really freeing for me,” says the actor, looking casually stylish in jeans, a blue checked shirt and dark blue blazer. “ I worked on the character a lot, but with a comedy like this I could just be myself, relax and allow things to flow. It was great, I don’t do it too often. It is kind of nice to do a part which is not emotionally intense like many of my other roles.” He laughs. “It’s hard sometimes for me and when this film came along I was tired and ready for a change. I had played a schizophrenic, I had played a torturer, I did not need one of those parts at that particular time, so it was a great relief for me.”
Whitaker brings Brad Boyd to life, portraying a highly successful man, who is an art collector and a little neurotic about his home. A devoted dad, he is also an incorrigible ladies man with a few lessons to learn himself during the course of the movie. “ He is a little damaged, his wife left and he’s tried to raise his son well. He is frightened of relationships and overcompensates by dating many different women, mostly young women, so that they don’t necessarily want a commitment. We watch him go through this journey of letting his son become a man and growing and moving on in his life. Brad becomes aware that his real love is right by his side. He discovers that it is okay to be happy.”
Rick Famuyiwa, a long-time admirer of Forest Whitaker, was delighted the actor took the role. “ Forest understands the craft so well and comedy is just a different shade of what he does in drama. Acting is always about finding truth in a character and he is fantastic at doing that.”
Whitaker’s nemesis in the film is played by the talented comedian, Carlos Mencia, (THE HEARTBREAK KID) who stars as Miguel Ramirez, the cantankerous father of the bride, who is not at all happy that his daughter has chosen to marry a girl from a very different kind of family than his own – both culturally and socially. The problems for Miguel are exacerbated because Lucia has decided to drop out of law school and join Marcus in his voluntary work, teaching underprivileged children. Disappointed that his beloved daughter will not be pursuing the high-flying career he had envisaged for her, he is both resentful and angry. Marcus and his father inevitably get the blame. “I have to admit I was a little nervous about working with Forest Whitaker,” says Mencia. “I said, ‘Oh my God, he won an Oscar, I have to be good, I can’t mess up,’ but it was a great experience.”
“We were always trying to one up each other,” says Whitaker, “we would maneuver to get into the best position, we had a lot of fun together.”
The big problem is that both fathers are highly competitive, with big egos. They are not prepared to compromise – even for the children they love. Hilarity ensues and it is not clear that Lucia and Marcus will get to walk down the aisle at all. Ironically, even though they are ambitious, ethical and happy, their divergent backgrounds leads to conflict between the two families about every detail of the upcoming nuptials: from the service itself to the reception. Even the seating plan and the food become sources of furious rows. As for the big day itself: it turns into an explosive, chaotic and hilarious affair.
Although the action revolves around the bride and groom and their respective, belligerent fathers, other family members and friends have key roles in the film. Diana Maria Riva plays Lucia’s mother Sonia, who has her own marital problems – dealing with a husband who has become inattentive. Sonia pours herself into the wedding plans, effectively trying to create the romantic day of her own dreams.
Anjelah Johnson plays Lucia’s sister Isabella. “For me the film shows that love conquers all, love between husband and wife, boyfriend and girlfriend, father and daughter and father and son. We come to realize that we’re the same people, just different shades of color. And in the end we have to learn to respect one another.”
The talented, highly experienced and attractive actress Regina King (who’s movies include JERRY MAGUIRE, ENEMY OF THE STATE, HOW STELLA GOT HER GROOVE BACK, DADDY DAY CARE and MISS CONGENIALITY 2: ARMED AND FABULOUS ) plays Angela, a lawyer and very close friend (and perhaps more) of Whitaker’s Brad Boyd. “This was a really great experience for me, to be able to chat with Forest Whitaker between scenes and get to know him. I may not have this kind of opportunity again. I had to pinch myself, he is such a fabulous, incredible actor and an amazing man.”
Does she think the movie is particularly timely? “Absolutely, I think a lot of us don’t realize we even have prejudices, we just think ‘oh my god I love everyone,’ and then all of a sudden parents say: ‘you’re marrying who? You are dating who?’ No one is going to be the right husband for Carlos’s daughter. She could have brought home a Mexican man who was the first in his family to graduate from Harvard University, and it still wouldn’t matter, he would not be good enough because Lucia is his baby girl. It shows how we are often confronted with some personal judgments that we didn’t even know we had. Ultimately though, the film is about the journeys of these individuals. It is a great story told from a comedic perspective. There are also moments in this movie that are really heartfelt and you believe at the core that these two fathers love their children.”
Both Mencia and Whitaker are fathers themselves. (Mencia is actually one of eighteen children.) Whitaker has four children and believes he will do his best to accept whatever choices all his own offspring make, including choice of spouses. “ I hope so, I don’t know,” he smiles. “ All my children are so different from each other, so it’s a journey for me, but I want to allow them to be who they are and do my best not to censor their way of being. My kids are great. My son is very politically minded and his sister right under him is a rocker, she loves music. The middle one is really spiritual and the littlest one does everything, she’s a powerhouse. So you know, I love all of them and accept them all.”
Integral to the authenticity of the movie is the tangible chemistry between Ferrera and Gross. “They were like a real married couple on the set,” laughs Rick Famuyiwa. “You know they were fixing each other’s clothes and completing each other’s sentences and laughing at their own inside jokes. It was fun to see them playing off of each other. I think that their chemistry is evident on screen.”
“I loved working with Lance, he’s wonderful, very charismatic and he’s not bad looking,” says Ferrera.
“We developed a real friendship so that it was easy to play this couple. We would always poke fun at each other,” laughs Gross. “I would mess with America a lot. I’ve kept a tally of how many times she got hurt on the set. Not seriously, but she would fall over, bump into the camera, into the lights, into the boom and everything. So we have a running joke and we still play along with it. She laughs at me and I count her mishaps … even today if she falls, I’ll add it to the count. She’s up to 100,” jokes the actor.
“I did run into a lot of things and I fell over and Lance just thought it was really funny to count my accidents,” laughs Ferrera. “Film sets are precarious places and when you’re tired and overworked and you are Blackberry-ing at the same time as doing other things, you have accidents. My biggest was a major fall which happened when I was trying on wedding dresses for a scene in the film,” says Ferrera. “I just sort of took two steps in the gown and fell flat on my face. It happened literally as we had started filming and I said ‘ok, I did the most embarrassing thing I could do, now that’s out of the way, let’s make a movie.’ I don’t know if it hurt, when you fall like that, you’re so overcome with embarrassment you don’t feel anything. You say: ‘I’m ok, I’m ok, it is fine.’ ”
The film is very funny throughout, full of witty repartee and physical comedy, which becomes increasing outrageous. For example, a goat (apparently a Mexican wedding tradition) is delivered to Brad’s pristine and beautiful home, where the marriage is taking place, and proceeds to run amok causing all kinds of chaos. But aside from the raucous hilarity, what sets OUR FAMILY WEDDING apart, is the way in which it tackles the unconscious prejudice that still exists in contemporary society, all over the globe, between different cultural communities. Ultimately there is a strong theme about the need to let go of judgment and accept people for who they really are. “President Obama is half black and half white,” says Carlos Mencia, ” so our movie reflects everything that’s going on in the world right now, at every level of society. For me it is a story that everybody will connect to, as well as being inspiring and entertaining.”
“There have been many films about cultures coming together because of a marriage,” says Famuyiwa, who was also one of the screenwriters, along with Wayne Conley and Malcolm Spellman. “The subject has been done before and I’m not reinventing the wheel. But what I wanted to do, was to tell a story about conflict between black and brown families, rather than between black and white families. This is a story we have rarely seen. Yet In big cities everywhere, certainly in America, there are divergent cultures and vibrant societies. Societies are being interconnected and we have to adjust to that fact. Those cultures help to make cities like New York and Los Angeles great. But the differences also create tensions and animosities that shouldn’t exist. I wanted to deal with that in a way that didn’t feel didactic or preachy, but felt contemporary. Ultimately we’re all moving towards a time when the races will be more and more mixed and we will all be brown to some extent,” he says. “ We are all going to have to figure out how to live with each other.”
At the end of the day, smiles the film’s enthusiastic director, weddings and really good films about weddings are enormously entertaining. “I really love weddings,” says Famuyiwa, “you are surrounded by people who are strangers and then after you say ‘I do’ those strangers become family.”
Underpinning the film, according to Forest Whitaker is a positive story about the power of love – against all the odds. “The theme of the film is really about the people overcoming all kinds of major obstacles, to find love and happiness in their lives, whether they be racial or emotional,” sums up the actor. “ I think the movie is about love and togetherness in the end. People are going to laugh, people are going to cry and they will definitely have a lot of fun.”